Another female buffalo from the Central herd killed by a hunter. Currently, all the hunting pressure is on this imperiled population. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The mild winter we’re having continues to stem the migration in the Gardiner Basin, so all of the hunting pressure is being focussed here, on the buffalo who can least afford it. Six more buffalo from the imperiled Central herd —the majority adult females — have been killed by hunters here in the Hebgen Basin. Even with bison advocates as well as bison biologists calling for a cease-fire on Central herd members who migrate west into the Hebgen Basin, none of the hunt managers or hunters seem to care. Recommendations to take bulls only are also being ignored. So far this winter, thirty-six buffalo have been killed, and all but four of them were part of the Central herd. Their population now stands at fewer than 815 individuals. We urge everyone to continue to place pressure on decision-makers and demand the Central herd be protected.
When it’s people who think like this that hold tags to kill buffalo, is it any wonder that they don’t care? Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The six kills this week took place after a fair number of buffalo returned to the Hebgen Basin, following the Madison River corridor. Most of the buffalo made it to the safety of the Galanis property, on Horse Butte, moving stealthily during a snowstorm in the dark of night. So long as they are there, they remain safe. But, being a migratory species, buffalo don’t remain in one place for very long. Hunters prowl along the boundary of the Galanis’s land, and drive through the Yellowstone Village/Hebgen Lake Estates subdivision just waiting for buffalo to step over onto the public land of Gallatin National Forest. One small family group of fourteen lost two family members to hunters when they ventured less than twenty yards off of the safe zone. One of these hunters, a local meat processor from Bozeman, was quite the “colorful” character, to put it mildly. Our morning patrol who first encountered him tried to strike up a conversation, and he proceeded to yell and cuss at us and even claimed he had a lawsuit against us. Funny, we’ve never heard anything about it. His attitude and the stickers on his truck (shown above) told us all we needed to know about him. He was the embodiment of this culture that is growing more insane, rude, and blood-lusting every day. It makes it even more heartbreaking that a mother buffalo fell to the gun of such a hateful man.
A family group of buffalo stays near the sight where they lost a family member the day before. Notice the ravens off to the left. Notice, also, the mama buffalo to the far right. She did her best to take her family to safety. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Another family group of buffalo arrived along the south side of the Madison River, south of Horse Butte, where they are not safe from either hunting or hazing. We were hoping that they would cross the river and head to the Galanis’s, but that was not to be the case. We have reason to believe that a hunt party saw them where they were still safe, and fired off a shot where the discharge of firearms is not allowed. The shot scared the buffalo and they headed straight down the Madison Arm Road, where one was quickly taken by a hunter. After a period of mourning their fallen relative, we thought they might seek shelter and leave the site. But, the next day they were in the exact same place, and two hunt parties were out. One of our patrols was up on the bluffs, watching the buffalo across the river, where we encountered one of the hunt parties. We stayed to watch them because they were talking about killing one of the buffalo and also talking about snowmobiling down to the flats to do it, which would have meant they would commit two illegal activities: riding their snowmobile in the flats of the Madison River, and firing across open water. After some joking around, they soon left. We thought for sure we would see them go after those buffalo, and soon after they left, one lead mama in the group sensed the danger and quickly took her family away. We never saw that hunt party again. Not long after that, another hunt party — with three rifles — showed up on foot. They walked through the buffalo’s tracks towards the location of this family group. They got within about 200 yards, and they were posted up and ready to fire. Most of the buffalo were grazing and didn’t know they were there, but slowly they heard the sounds and smelled their scent and awareness set in. After some milling about, they went back to grazing. Except for the same lead mama. She knew something was amiss and she was alert and ready to leave. Finally, she started to head further away from the hunters, quickly, and the rest of the family joined her. We didn’t think the hunters would continue on, as most don’t work that hard. We skied along the bluffs, keeping the buffalo in sight. One of our patrol partners got up in a tree and said the hunters were pretty far behind, and the buffalo were continuing on, towards Houdini’s Meadow.
Hunters approach the buffalo as they were in the midst of mourning three family members. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
We lost sight of them behind some trees, but knew we would get to a better vista where we could see them again. Right about the time we saw them again, we thought the hunters were certainly trailing behind, and the buffalos’ chance of getting away was improving. But, the shock of three rifle shots let us know we were wrong. Two more shots were fired. The next thing we knew, three buffalo were down. The rest of the family gathered around them in mourning and confusion. It was so painful to see one little calf nudging who was most likely his dead mother. The buffalo stayed with their fallen comrades, even after the hunters started yelling at them, even screaming, “Get the f*** out of here!” They closed in an attempt to scare the buffalo away so they could start field dressing their kills, thinking only of themselves, and not what they had just done to this buffalo family. But, the buffalo didn’t go far until much later. The following day, they were nowhere to be found. From the snow-filled tracks we saw, we are pretty sure they went back into the relative safety of the park. Their timing couldn’t have been better, because word had gotten out about them, and large numbers of hunters arrived the following day, but, this time, luck was with the buffalo.