Arising at 6:30 this morning, it is still velvety dark. I get ready for patrol, ready to be out there at first light when the “hunters” will be there. As I prepare, trucks already begin to arrive at the Beattie Gulch trail head. Seven hunt rigs soon make a bee-line to the north. Last evening a group of about 175 buffalo were north of Beattie Gulch on Church Universal & Triumphant (CUT) land, where they are safe. Being migratory, we knew they wouldn’t stay there long. I gather my things, warm up the car and head out. Sure enough, there are now no less than now fifteen hunt rigs lined up along the north boundary of Beattie Gulch. In the night, the buffalo had moved south into the hunt zone – better known as the killing fields of Beattie Gulch.
The beautiful woollies were all bedded down, peacefully awaiting the morning sun. The gunners didn’t care. They poured out of their warm trucks, rifles in hand, and headed towards the buffalo. Shots began to fire off, over and over and over. More than forty shots were fired. Buffalo who had not been hit – or at least not fatally hit – were running back towards the relative safety of the Park. But many fell. Down, down, down they went. Not all were killed. Many were left shot and suffering as the gunners pursued other buffalo, the wounded left wriggling and writhing on the cold ground. One last near-yearling was left, wondering where mom went, unsure of what to do. A rifle made the decision for her. From our vantage point, we counted thirteen bodies, but we know there are more.
Soon after the killing was over, most of the trucks went up a Forest Service access road, known as “the recovery road” where they are allowed to drive in to make it easy for them to retrieve their buffalo.
This is not a hunt.
It is a slaughter.
Leaving them to their field dressing, I ventured into the park to get counts on buffalo in danger of being captured for slaughter or domestication (quarantine), or those who may head north back towards the killing fields. The lands around Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap are teeming with buffalo. There are no less than 600 of the gentle giants gracing the landscape. It is a wonderful, beautiful sight until you remember what fates may await them.
As I write this, a small group of thirteen bulls and one female (an odd dynamic) are getting dangerously close to Beattie Gulch. We are watching closely.
Later in the afternoon, that group of fourteen suddenly turned into a group of about 120. They were headed right down Old Yellowstone Trail, almost across the Park boundary into Beattie Gulch, when they just stopped. They were sniffing around, and some of the bigger bulls started bellowing, like they do when in mourning. Their tails were up, and a sense of unease could be felt among the herd. They could probably smell all the death at Beattie Gulch. It seemed that one big bull in particular wanted to turn the group around, but they continued to stand there.
A few adult females were restless and wanted to go where they could find food, danger be damned. So, a matriarch lead her small family group right into Beattie Gulch, where hunters were still busy field dressing their kills from this morning. The rest of the group remained standing at the Park boundary, but eventually, the dam broke, and they all came into Beattie Gulch, walking right into the hunt zone. We were certain there was going to be another massacre and so we stood watch, ready.
At one point, the first small family group walked right up to where the hunters were field dressing a female – probably a friend of theirs. They walked right up to the hunters’ kill site to pay respects to their relative. Fortunately, the hunters let them have their time and backed off. So often when buffalo come to mourn, hunters will throw stones or sticks or snowballs at them to chase them off. Giving credit where it’s due, these folks allowed the buffalo their time. Then another group approached, and the same was granted. Eventually, all of the buffalo were in the heart of the hunt zone and we waited for shots to be fired, but, none ever came. I guess the hunters had their fill.
A small portion of that large group bolted back into Yellowstone, reasons unknown. The rest are currently safe on private property. But who knows where they will be in the morning, and, as they say, tomorrow is another day.
There is no way that natural wild buffalo restoration is going to happen with what is taking place on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. Barring Endangered Species Act listing, the buffalo really don’t stand a chance. Please be a voice that gives them that chance and take action now.
WILD IS THE WAY!
P.S. Web cam footage from Yellowstone Voices will soon be available, and when it is we will share it with you.