RFN Report: Let the Buffalo Roam – 2/19/23

I arrived at Beattie Gulch this morning to see hunt rigs and hunters lined up on the road, but a big group of buffalo coming from the north ran straight through, sticking to the clean zone, staying safe. Unfortunately, there must have been others towards the back of the field, away from the road, as I heard shots and saw two downed buffalo in the distance.

Two is two too many, but the sight of the larger group running to safety, and the fact that the rest of the area seemed quiet, made me think we might be in for a more peaceful day.

I was wrong.

Later in the morning I came to the bridge over the Yellowstone to see two more dead being butchered. Then I saw what all the hunt trucks were waiting for – a group, maybe fifty strong, coming into the area from the north. At first they stayed on the river side, keeping safe, but eventually made their way across the road. The area is a skinny slice of national forest land between the road and cliff, eventually leading to a hill and a little path that goes over to private land and safety. It is the second choke point where hunters gather, firing line style, to pick off the buffalo who pass through.

Hunters and trucks line a road as a group of buffalo passes

It was a horror show. I ran the camera the entire time, just so I could count the shots after. Forty-four. Forty-four shots from people with guns taking aim, shooting gallery style, as the last wild buffalo run past them in a line. From where I stood, I could only see nine go down, but there were many more out of sight, and still more who were injured badly – two were later put down inside the park due to their injuries. The rest made it over the hill to safety, but the herd suffered a huge loss.

I left the shooters to their work. To their skinning and truck winches, and to their discarded feet and fetuses. I passed a woman posing for photos with the severed head of a buffalo. I had to move on.

A group of hunters stand around a skinned buffalo

At Beattie Gulch it seemed they’d made a few more kills. But those deaths, and the new regulations closing the area to shooting during retrieval and processing, bought others time to pass through safely.

A young bull buffalo looks at the camera through the snow

As the afternoon went on, snow started to fall and visibility was poor. On the highway, a group of snowy faced buffalo stood in the road. People on both sides waited patiently, hazards on. But a big hunt rig, two buffalo heads in the back, sped up, swerved around me, and went speeding towards the buffalo. He stopped short of hitting them, but when he gunned his engine to move through the herd, he let out a cloud of black exhaust in their faces. It just goes to show how much respect this farce of a “hunt” shows the buffalo.

A truck billowing smoke passes through a group of buffalo on a snow covered road

Evening came, and it was peaceful again. Maybe it was the snow, maybe it was the temporary closure of Beattie Gulch, maybe everyone’s trucks were just too full. I passed through Beattie Gulch at dusk and was greeted by the beautiful sight of the area full of buffalo being left alone. When you see it, it is so right, they are so much a part of this place – and you know that not just Beattie Gulch, but all the lands they once roamed should be filled with their presence once more.

 A group of buffalo grazes at Beattie Gulch at dusk