Hal was born in Scotia, New York, on August 5, 1918. In 1941, he received a BS degree in forest zoology from New York State University, which included work in zoology, botany, wildlife management, and forestry. He moved on to Texas A&M College where he received his MS degree in 1943. He earned a PhD degree in zoology from Oklahoma State University in 1949.
Hal began teaching and research during his graduate training. He worked as a field biologist at College Station, Texas, from 1943 to 1948 under Walter P. Taylor. It was during this time that Hal’s lifelong interest in large wild mammals began to show. In the midst of this early work, he was a bomber pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 28 months, engaging in four major campaigns of World War II before leaving as first lieutenant with a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal.
From 1948 to 1949, Hal worked as a research assistant in the Oklahoma Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. After completing his PhD degree, he became an assistant professor in zoology at Washington State University in Pullman. He later became a full professor there, teaching and conducting wildlife biology research. His research focus was big game of both North America and Africa. In 1966, he moved on to head the new Office of Ecology at the Smithsonian Institution until his death. At the Smithsonian Hal greatly encouraged and facilitated field research in Africa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Korea, and Poland, being especially effective at setting up new zoologists to work in foreign countries.
In 1950, he was given the George Mercer Award of the Ecological Society of America for his famous study called Life History, Ecology, and Range Use of the Pronghorn in Trans-Pecos, Texas. He also received The Wildlife Society’s Terrestrial Research Award for his work with bighorn sheep. Twice Helmut Buechner was awarded Fulbright Appointments as Senior Scholar on Wildlife Research in Uganda, from 1956 to 1958. His precise and meticulous writing style was widely recognized.
Hal served as editor of Northwest Science as well as review editor of the Journal of Wildlife Management. Some of the organizations he belonged to include the Ecological Society of America, The Wildlife Society, American Society of Mammalogists, Society for Range Management, Pacific-Northwest Bird and Mammal Society, Northwest Scientific Association, and the Wilderness Society.
He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1967.
Hal died in Washington, D.C., on October 7, 1975.