RFN Report: Two Big Old Bulls – 2/18/23

Sunrise over snowy mountains

Out before sunrise again, I see the headlights of fifteen or more trucks lining the road at Beattie Gulch. By the time I drive around, it seems it is all over already. I can see the bodies of five dead buffalo, but I expect more lie out of sight behind the hill.

Trucks of the unsuccessful shooters are already racing north, and I follow, expecting the worst at Cutler Meadows – the meadow to the north, near the border of bison tolerance. By the time I, and the racing trucks from Beattie Gulch, arrive, it is all over there as well – three more lie dead on the ground.

The day continued like that. There are so many “hunters” in town – from at least five different tribes. Maybe because it’s a weekend; maybe because snow is forecast for the next several days. They are chasing reports of buffalo in hunt zones, and I’m chasing them, and the buffalo are running for their lives. The town of Gardiner is filled with trucks full of dead buffalo parts. I returned to the place I’m staying to find a rig with blood pooling on the ground under the truck bed.

Three times today I see groups of buffalo, a hundred or more, run across the Yellowstone boundary – sometimes sticking to the road or private land, and one group running right through Beattie Gulch while the area was closed to shooting for retrieval and processing of the last dead. They sense the danger, and sometimes it keeps them safe, but not often enough.

In the afternoon rigs line up at Beattie Gulch again, waiting for one of these big groups approaching from the south, but they stay safe on private land. A smaller group from the north is not so lucky. The shooting is chaos – people running across the field with their loaded guns, chasing panicked buffalo through the sagebrush. One shooter clearly fires from the “clean zone” – the area close to the road that is supposed to be closed to hunting to keep residents and passerby on the road safe. He is spoken to by Forest Service and by his own game wardens, but will anything really change?

It quiets down again, but I see they are not opening the retrieval road. Two big, beautiful bulls cross the road heading to the hunt zone. I talk to them, plead with them, to go the other way. They are so stunning. The shooters go nuts, seeing their prize. They line up on either side of the bulls, waiting for them to enter the huntable area. If they started shooting, they’d be shooting right at each other. But these bulls are just teasing these “hunters” – they stayed there, grazing, maybe twenty-five feet from the hunt zone, for over an hour and a half. The big group gets bored and heads back to their warm trucks, leaving one guy, in his orange vest, sitting the sagebrush for another hour – if nothing else, you have to admire his patience.

About twenty minutes before the cutoff of hunt time, two others show up, not inclined to be patient. They’re hooting and hollering at these bulls, trying to get them to move. One starts throwing rocks at them, and these big old bulls just look back, unfazed, not moving. It gets dark and the men with the guns leave. The buffalo outsmarted the hunters this time, and hopefully they will again and again. The herd needs these smart old bulls, with their wisdom to survive another day.