It seemed that this morning might start off a little quiet. There weren’t many trucks around and no buffalo were visible around Beattie Gulch. But then, shots were fired, way back in the hills of Beattie Gulch – too far to see with the naked eye, or even binoculars. I scanned the land with my spotting scope and landed on a woeful scene: three huge bull buffalo had been shot. Two were dead, one looked like he was just bedded down, but we knew he had been hit because no buffalo would stay bedded down like that while his buddies had been killed.
The one gunner who hadn’t killed “his” bull just stood there as the bull lay suffering. Over the course of twenty minutes, he fired nine more shots – walking away from time to time, reloading his rifle, taking his time as the bull suffered. Eventually, the hunter just walked away and joined his party while the bull was left there to bleed to death. If you choose, you can watch a web cam video of this, courtesy of Yellowstone Voices. While the video description says the bull was shot seven times, we know from our observation it was at least ten.
After that heartbreaking scene, I ventured out on a recon to check on the buffalo who had come through Beattie Gulch last evening, miraculously unscathed. They were all safe on private land, yet their number had grown by about 150! Close to 300 buffalo were moving freely near Devil’s Slide. Still shocked that none of them were shot when they moved through the hunt zone the day before, I later came to learn that there are agreements to “use discretion” when trucks are on the Forest Service access road – or “buffalo retrieval road” – as to whether to shoot or not. Maybe that’s why the buffalo were free to move through Beattie Gulch, or maybe the hunters had had their fill for the day. Hunters have definitely had their fill generally speaking; over 400 buffalo have so far been killed in the Gardiner Basin.
From there, I headed to the McConnell river access road to get a good look at Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. The Park has been luring buffalo into the trap with hay over the past few weeks. Their destination is slaughter or domestication (quarantine). To view the trap, I had to use the spotting scope, because Yellowstone does not want the public to see what is going on there. They enforce a closure around the trap that is seven miles long. You have to find “perches” elsewhere in the Basin to get any kind of view.
I was able to count 145-150 buffalo inside the outer catch pen, which is the first part of the trap. The other pens deeper into the trap were empty, so they have not yet started the nightmarish “working” of the buffalo, where they tear families apart, run them through a terrifying squeeze chute, and separate them by age and sex until they are loaded onto stock trailers headed for slaughter at White’s Meats in Ronan, Montana; or they are put into the quarantine facility where they will lose their freedom and home forever. Yellowstone also has a quarantine facility at Stephens Creek and the holding pens have been significantly expanded, but thankfully, those pens are empty now.
This afternoon, I took advantage of the opportunity that no hunting was taking place, and hiked up into Beattie Gulch. I wanted to take a look at and document all the gut piles. I knew it would be bad, but it was even worse than I thought. There are gut piles everywhere, pieces of hide, wasted meat, and so sadly, in so many of the gut piles were baby buffalo who will never be given the chance to roam free.
They say if you want to keep a population down, or reduce it, to kill the females. Well, that is exactly what these hunters are doing. So many adult females are killed during the hunt, and most of them are pregnant. The adult females are the matriarchs, the keepers of the wisdom, the teachers, the ones who know and show the youth where and when to migrate, where the best grass is, where the safest watering holes are. They are the ones who give knowledge to the younger buffalo, who will then teach their children. With the loss of every adult female is not only the loss of a calf, but the loss of migratory memory and ancestral wisdom.
Not an hour after leaving Beattie Gulch, I checked on the buffalo who were still safe on CUT land and then ventured into the Park to check on others. As I was crossing the boundary to the south, buffalo were starting to cross the boundary to the north, heading straight for the killing fields of Beattie Gulch. I turned around and got my camera and scope set up, and as I did, no less than 200 buffalo began streaming across the park boundary heading straight for Beattie Gulch. In a normal, healthy world, witnessing that beautiful motion of the flow of buffalo moving across the landscape is a thing of celebration, beauty, and joy. And it still is, but knowing what their fate will be brings a heavy bittersweet taste to the event.
The buffalo just kept coming and coming out of the park, such a sight to behold. And the hunters were waiting for them. They held back until the buffalo moved just inside the hunt zone, and opened fire. At least 20 shots were fired, but it had started snowing so much that it was difficult to see how many actually went down. The vast majority of the buffalo, as they usually do, made an about-face and fled back to the park. This is exactly why buffalo restoration will never happen so long as this kind of “hunt” takes place.
Tomorrow, regretfully, I have to leave for a little while. But I, along with others from Roam Free Nation, will soon return. We need to be here to represent the buffalo’s perspective, to tell the truth about what is really taking place here. We urge you to lend your support to enable us to be a formidable and constant presence in the field. Please consider making a donation in support of our work. And if you can’t make a donation, you can still help wild buffalo by taking action on their behalf. Thank you so much for caring so deeply about these last wild herds!