April ended with another bull being killed for the “crime” of stepping foot onto hobby rancher Pat Povah’s land. Last Friday, patrols spotted a group of eight buffalo on his ranch, and upon closer inspection, we noticed that it was a very strange group: six mature bulls with two yearlings (Image). We have never seen this herd dynamic before. Yearlings usually live with the matriarch-led family groups, not mature bulls. We can only speculate that these two yearlings lost their moms and entire families during the long winter hunt, and happened to seek shelter with these bulls, who were providing the companionship they needed. We knew that unless this group left the property, hunters would be called out to shoot at least one of the bulls in part of Montana’s new buffalo “game damage hunt.” We set up a bull watch patrol, and the following morning our fears came true. One of the biggest bulls in the group was shot and killed. The surviving seven eventually left and headed for cover, and we have not been able to find them since.
On our way out to the field the morning the bull was shot, we noticed a semi truck parked alongside Highway 191. There was glass and debris strewn around and skid marks on the road. There was also a new group of buffalo in the area. We feared that one had been hit and killed, but we could not find the evidence of that much blood and fur. What we did find, however, was heartbreaking. The semi had hit a pregnant female, and while she wasn’t killed or terribly harmed, she was hit in the head so hard that her horn was torn off (warning! graphic image). Patrols found her with her family with her horn still dangling and blood streaming down her face. Buffalo are the toughest creatures we have ever encountered, and while this is a tragic happening, she is doing fine and will heal. We continue to see her every day, and she’s grazing and moving just fine. In fact, after a few days of following this event, patrols were with her group when they had the blessing of witnessing one of them give birth, and this mama with the broken horn was the first to go and greet the new baby.
A few days after these incidents, patrols found two huge bulls moving into the Denny Creek area. We feared that they would soon be killed if they ventured onto Povah’s land. We have been keeping a very close eye on them, spending incredibly wonderful hours in their company. We’ve even tried to help convince them that the direction they are headed is a bad one, and asked them gently if they would please go the other way. But we have a saying around here: “I’m a buffalo. I do what I want.” And, no matter how we pleaded or tried to coax them, the bulls reminded us of these words. So far, though, they have not ventured onto Povah’s land, and if we have a chance to ensure they don’t, we will take it. The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) is aware of them, and in years past they would have hazed them as soon as possible. But now, it seems, they are just leaving them alone, hoping they will move onto Povau’s land to be shot.
During one of our bull watch patrols, a family group of about fifty buffalo with ten new calves arrived to the same Denny Creek area. There are young bulls within this group, so we weren’t sure if the following day would bring the DOL out to haze, or if hunters would be called in. Ready for either scenario, neither took place. DOL agents came out and saw them twice, but never did a thing besides waste gas and federal tax dollars by driving around the entire Hebgen Basin twice. What’s interesting is that this is a family group, it’s the height of calving season, and the buffalo are giving birth on lands where cattle will come later in the summer. This is precisely the thing that — in the past — the DOL always claimed to be so fearful of and why they so brutally and repeatedly hazed buffalo out of this area. But now it seems that’s not a concern? We’re not sure, but perhaps they are just holding off, waiting for them to migrate onto Povah’s land so that bulls can be shot. It certainly underscores the fact that this war against wild buffalo is *not* at all about brucellosis. We don’t know what will happen today, but we are prepared for anything.
On the bright side, more calves are arriving every day, and buffalo who roam Horse Butte and other lands north of the Madison River are being wild and free, having their babies in peace. The main threat in this part of Hebgen Basin is the highway. BFC is out morning through night monitoring the roads and warning traffic when buffalo are on or near the highways. Except for the mama who lost her horn, there have been no incidents. There is one ranch that runs cattle in the summer, though, that buffalo are not welcome on. Should buffalo arrive there, since this ranch is in year-round habitat, they will not likely be shot, but they could be hazed just across the property boundary, so we are keeping a very close eye on any buffalo who venture into this area. There are a lot of buffalo families making their way along land that Highway 287 runs through, which is also the road that leads to our headquarters, so we are looking forward to having buffalo come over for a visit, hopefully in the near future.