What do you need for a buffalo?


Well-Known Member
It’s hard to imagine a tougher debate than that of caliber suitability. Everyone seems to have their ideas on what constitutes “too much gun” or what is just too little. I thought I’d toss out this hunting story as food for thought.

The Crow Indian Tribe of Montana keeps a wild bison range in the Big Horn Mountains south east of my home. They have a fairly extensive herd of wild bison there that are periodically culled by dignitaries and their Game Fish and Parks Rangers. Often they donate a buffalo (bison) to local events and recently, they donated two animals to the local County Food bank which distributes food and other necessities to residents who are having a hard time making ends meet. My good friend Randy is a local minister, director of the Food Bank, and an avid hunter. It was his job to shoot the bison and remove them to town for processing. He took his son and another fellow along to help. They brought two rifles along specifically for the bison: a 270 Winchester loaded with 150 grain factory ammo and a 300 Winchester Magnum loaded with 180 grain factory ammo.

The herd was skittish and they were having a hard time lining up a shot. It’s important that the animal you shoot is standing free from the herd to avoid shoot-throughs and inadvertent wounding of a second animal. Like most herd animals, buffalo tend to bunch up when agitated and they used up half a day getting in place for the first shot which was made with the 300 Winchester at about 200 yards. It was a clean lung hit and the buffalo, as large cow, bolted off into a thicket while the rest of the herd went over a rise in the other direction. Randy decided to hedge them back towards his group so he got into his pickup truck and skirted the rise. There he found the herd stationary, about 100 yards distant with a large bull standing proud from the group. The 300 WM and the 270 were with the other fellows so he reached into his truck and pulled out his Marlin 30-30 deer rifle loaded with 150 grain jacketed soft points and shot it low in the chest. It staggered so he shot it again. It ran 50 yards and piled up. It was gasping it’s last as he got up on it. The other group found their cow about 175 yards from where it had been hit. It was lying down in some brush and finished off. It took another 10 hours to slog the 1600 pounds of gutted and skinned carcasses through the snow, back to the pavement.

So there you have it. A 150 grain soft point launched at under 2300 fps dropped an 1100 pound bull at 100 yards with a pair of lung shots. One of the bullets passed through but the other was found under the hide on the far side of the animal, mushroomed beautifully. I can tell you from personal experience that these animals are mean and tenacious and don’t usually go down without a fight. A 30-30 just doesn’t seem like it would do the job.

I thought about it all last night. There was a time when the 30-30 was the highest velocity smokeless cartridge available in the US. You would have been considered under gunned if you didn’t have one of these “power-house” rifles for big game hunting. The same could be said for the 303 or 8x57 or 30-40 US Krag. At one time, they were considered the best you could get for big game. The animals obviously haven’t changed, so I can only conclude that the shooters certainly have! ~Muir


Well-Known Member

Hi Muir
I guess it comes down to, 'can it be done' and 'should it be done'. If a round has sufficient mass and velocity to penetrate to the vital organs then death will follow quickly. However if the shot was out and hit the shoulder joint it would have probably failed.
You got any snow there yet?
Good luck with your vote!


Well-Known Member
for short range shooting I'd take a 30-30 anyday. We were talking about it recently and thought that it would be just right for our deer in heavy cover. in a light rifle with open sights.
I think we are a bit blinded by the sudden death of for example foxes with high speed rounds such as swift or 22-250 that we try to transfer this across to larger animals. This and the quest for the flat shooter brings us to the 7mm going at 3400 fps.
The only thing I prefer for a larger animal is a bit larger diameter bullet. Then the bullet costruction must be adjusted to the speed.



Well-Known Member
When you wrote 'buffalo', I thought you meant proper buffalo: Cape buffalo. The kind of buffalo with a horn boss that is virtually impenetrable, with a tendency to charge on sight. In which case my answer is I use a double .470 Nitro.

If I was shooting bison from afar, I'd want a little more wallop than a .270.


Site Staff
Muir and I do get into some deep discussions over guns, and a couple of weeks ago the question of which rifle Randy and his should use for these two Buffalo came up. I think at the time we settled on the 270 or 30-06 from amongst those that were available, although Muir did offer his H&H 375, which I did favour.

This then led on to talk about the "marksmen" that originally did for the great herds of buffalo that used to roam the plains. There was an accomplished crack shot of the time, whose name I forget but Muir will remember he is younger than me, who went West to be amongst these marksmen and learn their secrets. Was he disappointed or what!

The truth is these men were only as good as the guns they wre using, which meant that a three or four minute gun was normal, and for them accurate. Old black powder muzzle loading rifles were launching a lump of lead, in the region of 4/500 grains at the speed of 1300 - 1400 fps, and less, and devastating the Buffalo of North America.

What he discovered was what these Buffalo hunters lacked, apparently, in their armoury was more than compensated for in their confidence. They were confident that they would hit the kill zone every time they pulled the trigger, and they were confident that the round would kill the buffalo. You have to remember also that these people used to get close to a herd, get themselves in a prone position and shoot off sticks. They were expecting the buffalo to drop on the spot, they did not want them running at the shot and stampeding the whole herd, they wanted them in one place to enable the slaughter.

So it was evident back then that even with what would nowadays be considered an inaccurate gun with low power, confidence in yourself, confidence in your rifle and the ability to consistently hit the target, would carry the day. Shot placement is not new; it has always been a key factor.

So it should be no surprise that when the 30-30 came along with these new high speed 2000 fps rounds the opinion was it would do nothing but make things easier. Let’s face it the amount of big game taken by people with what would be considered inferior rounds is huge and would nowadays be considered improper.

Karamojo Bell always gets quoted in cases like this, his legendary skills, with his 6.5X54, 7X57 .303 etc are well documented, he was however in my opinion, not too different from the buffalo hunters of the old West. He knew the capabilities of himself and his rifle at varying ranges, he knew the kill zones on his prey and he had the necessary confidence to place his shots in these zones with unerring accuracy.
I am not advocating that we all start shooting Elephants and Cape buffalo with 6.5 or 7mm rifles but what I am saying is that having the confidence in yourself, your rifle of hitting the kill zone cannot be compensated for by having a bigger calibre, in my opinion.

Now I know Randy and have been hunting with him and I know that if he did not have the confidence in himself or the rifle he would have never taken the shot. Although he was leaning over the bonnet of his Ford and in the present day he was to all intents and purposes back in the 19th Century putting meat on the table.

Not much changes really. :D



Well-Known Member
JAYB: That was W.Milton Farrow, world champion marksman in the late 1870's and early 1880s. Randy would be mortified to read your description! He shot that buffalo off hand!~Muir.


Site Staff
Off hand eh, I did not realise that well it's big enough for even him to hit! :D :D

Get your steak yet?

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