Where Hunting Happens, Conservation Happens™

A Bison Tale


The bison featured in the logo for the 31st Big Game Awards lived more than a century ago in the Peace River Country of northern Alberta. And you will find the story behind how the bison head became part of the National Collection of Heads and Horns is as wild as the country it called home.

The Slave and Peace Rivers meander through the boreal forest, while caribou run from mosquito hordes. Wood bison (B. bison athabascae) have a stronghold in northern Alberta now, numbering around 2,500. Those numbers, though, hit rock bottom in the late 1880s, which is why Caspar Whitney set out to collect one of the last remaining specimens—or so he thought.

This excerpt was taken from The National Collection of Heads and Horns - Part 1 brochure published by the New York Zoological Society in 1907.

At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was awash with interesting and inspirational adventurers. Caspar Whitney was one of them. He was a war correspondent in Mexico, France, and Cuba. He even reported on the exploits of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.

Did you know: To save the remnant populations of this wooly beast, the Canadian government set aside more than 17,000 square miles of wood buffalo habitat in northern Alberta in 1922. Today, we know it as Wood Buffalo National Park, a World Heritage Site and Canada’s largest National Park.

When he wasn’t reporting, Whitney was hunting. On his expedition to the wilds of northern Alberta in a futile attempt to obtain a wood bison specimen, he quickly learned he was chasing ghosts. Ever the journalist, Whitney recounted the perils of his wood bison hunt in Harper’s magazine in the late 1890s, and he compiled all the adventures in his book, On Snow-shoes to the Barren Grounds. He and his hunting partners tried for weeks to track down the elusive wood bison. Their accounts of hiring local guides only added to the frustrations of brutally cold temperatures, surly dog teams and impenetrable forests.

It has long been thought that Whitney was, in fact, the hunter that killed this particular wood bison, but that just isn’t the case. Rather, that distinction goes to an already distinguished individual: Dr. William MacKay. Dr. Mackay was born in Scotland, became a surgeon and joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. By 1867, he had moved his practice into Canada’s interior. For decades, he was the only doctor north of Edmonton.

Caspar Whitney wrote On Snow-Shoes to the Barren Grounds after his expeditions in the wilds of northern Alberta. The illustration, by Frederic Remington, is in the chapter titled 'Our Wood Bison Hunt'.​​​​​​​

Dr. Mackay was himself quite an adventurous man; no one without a zest for adventure travels northern Canada to administer health care to tiny villages and towns for months on end. Along the way, Mackay and Whitney became acquainted. From his book, Whitney reveals the origins of this particular wood bison that now resides in the National Collection.

“When I was in the country in the winter of 1894-1895 not even a bison track had been seen up to the time of our hunt, and the head I obtained through the kindness of Dr. Mackay was the last one shot, and that two years before,” Whitney wrote. Fortunately, that wasn’t the last wood bison of the land.

Boone and Crockett Club's 31st Big Game Awards.

Honoring where we’ve been. Celebrating where we’re going. 


Take 40% off merchandise commemorating the 31st Big Game Awards.


Support Conservation

Support Hunting

Support Conservation

Support Education

"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt