Have you ever felt like you wanted a change in scenery for a few days? After church on Sunday April 10, Betsy and I headed for the Black Hills. We took the scenic route by heading west on State Highway 44, crossing the Platte-Winner Bridge, turning north on Highway 47 at the Lone Star corner, and driving to Interstate 90 by way of Iona and the White River. South Dakota Highway 44 should be officially designated as a scenic highway. I think our little getaway was just what Betsy and I needed.

Conditions could not have been better as traffic was minimal and motels cost a fraction of what they will charge after Memorial Day. Other than a trip into Custer for a snack at the Dairy Queen, we spent Monday in Custer State Park. It had been over 50 years since Betsy and I visited the Needles area, and we had forgotten the narrow tunnels on Hwy 87 that barely permitted the passage of our pickup. The Needles were spectacular - equal to anything we've observed anywhere!

We found ourselves within 30 feet of mountain goats in the Needles, and deer, antelope, and buffalo on the game trails. The same was true of the bighorn sheep we observed in the Badlands on Tuesday, as we traversed that loop on the way home. I was surprised that the pronghorn antelope horns appeared to be fully formed, including the ivory tips on the trophy animals. I believe they shed those horns in November and are ready for the rut jousting in September. Those horns grow quickly!

It was reasonably early when we did the Badlands loop, and the shadows made those eerie formations absolutely breath-taking. Like Custer State Park, the Badlands prairie was dotted with buffalo. There was no entrance fee, as I had a Golden Age pass.

Speaking of buffalo, our American bison or buffalo are no less spectacular than their Cape buffalo cousins in Africa or the great water buffalo of Australia. If a hunter's blood flows through your veins, I think it is natural to desire a buffalo. The meat is excellent and a tanned hide, as well as a bleached skill, make treasured possessions.

Some years ago, Doug Koupal and I had the opportunity to "hunt" buffalo on a rancher friend's 2,500-acre pasture. I'll use the word "hunt" loosely, as the herd was inside a fence. However, these buffs had never been shot at, and the rancher had some apprehensions about their behavior under fire. We did have to stalk them to get within range of our .45-70 black powder rifles. These were no "petting zoo" buffalo. A deer hunter who spent a day in a tree the previous November would attest to that.

All went well, and the experience was as close to a real buffalo hunt as one will find today. Both Doug and I took 3-year-old bulls. The story of my buffalo experience appeared in the Single Shot Exchange magazine.

Our own Custer State Park puts a buffalo hunt within reach of all of us. CSP offers two hunts - the trophy hunt and the non-trophy hunt. The trophy hunt is for bulls that are 10-years-old or older. These bulls are eligible for Boone & Crockett recognition and the tag costs $5,000. It is a guided three-day hunt, and transportation and field-handling are provided. These trophy hunts take place between November 30th and January 15th. Eight tags are available, with two designated as "resident only."

The CSP non-trophy hunts are for excess two-year-old cows and bulls. A guide will be provided to locate the proper buffalo. Fifteen non-trophy bull and 10 non-trophy cow tags are available at $2,256 and $1,756, respectively. This season runs from January 25 through March 11th. These are one-day hunts. A non-hunting guest may accompany the hunter on either hunt. Contact Chad Kremer or Gary Brundige at cspbisonhunts@state.sd.us for more information.

Let's look at the CSP bison hunts in terms of value. A non-trophy buffalo will average around a 1,000 pounds. A hanging carcass will dress out at 50 to 55 percent live weight or 500 pounds. This will produce about 325 pounds of packaged meat. Divide this into $1,756, the cost of a cow, and the meat runs about $5.40 a pound. That's not too bad, as better hamburger can't be had at any price. I haven't figured in processing but with the retail value of a tanned hide at a $1,000 dollars, plus the skull at a $100, cost isn't excessive. What about the pricey trophy bull? One's name in the Boone & Crockett book means nothing to me but it would be priceless to some.

Bryan, a good friend, recently did a Custer State Park buffalo hunt. He brought two friends along and was totally pleased with every aspect of the operation. When he received his tag, a list of local meat processors was included. Black Hills Meats of Hot Springs was his choice, and the CSP staff delivered the carcass to Hot Springs for a $100 fee.

A shot behind the ear with a Winchester .325 Short Magnum killed the buffalo instantly. Black powder or archery were options. Chad Kremer was Bryan's guide, and Bryan had nothing but high praise for Chad. Bryan is going to have a shoulder mount done of his buffalo, and he was very pleased with the caping job (skinning out the head) performed by Black Hills Meats.

I want to conclude with a personal bit of advice. Doug and I hauled our bulls to Mobridge in a full-sized pickup with an 8-foot box. They barely fit side by side. The Mobridge butcher specialized in buffalo processing, and when I told him I wanted steaks and hamburger, he strongly recommended that all steaks be tenderized. It was great advice.

See you next week.