We also get asked quite often what was the best way to hunt buffalo. A lot of the Hollywood movies that show the warriors riding gallantly along side the herds and taking down numerous buffalo in one hunt…while that would be a nice thing to have happen, it unfortunately wasn't always true.
Hunting buffalo was an incredibly dangerous task to undertake, sometimes even more so than going to war (at least in a war, you have a pretty good idea of what your enemy is going to do - you've fought them before and are familiar with their customs).
A buffalo is a completely different story. They're each about 2000 pounds of cantankerous animal. They can run as fast as a horse, they can turn sharper than a horse, and their favorite thing to do (when they are threatened and on the run) is put their great big head down and hook one of their horns under whatever's chasing them and flip them off their feet…and then swing around and run the pursuer over. They're not a very friendly creature when pursued, so hunting them was very dangerous.
Buffalo hunters had the best horses and the best skill level….and this skill of the buffalo hunter had probably been developed and honed since they were young boys.
In the height of buffalo hunting, there were herds that consisted of over a million animals - imagine climbing to a hill top and seeing nothing but a sea of black in front of you as far as you can see…this would've all been buffalo. So, if you're hunting them, you don't want to stampede over a million animals…they will destroy everything in their path.
Hunters worked out several ingenious ways to actually mingling into the herd and slowly - over a period of days sometimes - weed out a small portion of the herd (maybe 50 - 60 animals). Then the hunt would begin…
They would ride into the animals and parallel the herd as they started moving. They would use bows and arrows and also hunting lances.
Imagine 40 miles an hour over uneven terrain. You can't steer your horse with anything but your legs because you have to have your hands free to hunt this animal and you're praying that the buffalo's not going to put his head down and gore your horse, or you, or flat out change direction and run you and your horse over.
They also developed other techniques for hunting buffalo if the ground wasn't ideal for hunting (it was too uneven or rocky for instance or there wasn't enough room for a buffalo hunt in a wooded area or if there were too many steep cliffs). In these cases, they would look for a place they called a Buffalo Jump, which was a very steep cliff with a flat plateau across the top that they could run the herd toward the edge. The leading animals wouldn't see the edge of the cliff in time and they would go over…and since the animals behind them would just be following the leader, they would also fall over the cliff.
This was probably the safest way to hunt buffalo. Archeologists have dug in those sites today and have found buffalo bones that they think date as far back as 60,000 years…imagine how long this knowledge of buffalo hunting has been going on!
So, the next time you see an image of a buffalo hunt or see the glorified Hollywood movie version of a hunt, just keep in mind how dangerous it truly was.