But not everyone
gets the shakes. An engineer, buffalo permit in his pocket, shows up early one
shooting day and has to wait for hours for his turn. He is a conspicuous man,
tall, looking taller because of a black Australian bush hat he has decorated
with a rattlesnake skin and button. The rest of his costume is the conventional
badman-modern getup favored by many contemporary Westerners when they go
outdoors. He says that while it is obviously no sport shooting a buffalo in a
pasture, he has to do it because when he does he will have accounted for seven
of his Big Ten. The Big Ten is a gimmick devised by commercial hunting
interests. If a gunner bags all 10 of Arizona's big-game animals, of which the
semidomestic buffalo is one, his name is listed on the Big Ten roll and he
receives a trophy and other mementos. Most professional game managers think the
Big Ten is a silly, undesirable thing, but they are stuck with it because so
many hunters think it is great. "It gives you something to shoot for, like
a bowling trophy," explains one Raymond Ranch shooter.
buffalo, which is automatic now my name has been drawn, all I need is a bear,
lion and sheep," says Black Hat. "I'll get the bear this year. I've had
one baited for a month."
In the way of
buffalo, what Black Hat shoots is two animals, an extraordinary feat never
before accomplished at Raymond Ranch. When he finally gets into the killing
field he kneels down and fires a .375 magnum that could stop a woolly mammoth.
The bullet tears an apple-sized hole in the neck of the animal closest to Black
Hat, passes through it and kills the buffalo standing directly behind. The
wardens and spectators are-awed and a little disgusted by the overkill. Black
Hat goes in with the two buffalo to the skinning shed, then hitches a ride back
on the next shooting truck. "What does he want, a bonus?" mutters a
Black Hat wants is to watch a couple more buffalo being harvested. The first
animal in the next three-some, a bull, goes down promptly. The two remaining
cows move up to the warm corpse, sniff it, nuzzle it curiously, then simply
stand by it. For some it might be a heartrending scene—two terrified animals
facing the guns to mourn their fallen companion, but this would be a wildly
anthropomorphic reaction. The two cows cannot mourn, or even consider their
position as the next victims. Yet in a way what they do is a more remarkable
response. After nearly a hundred years of captivity, the herd blood still runs
in these two cows. "Stand, stay together" is the first law of the
buffalo. The command was burned into their nerves and tissue thousands of years
ago, because if the herd stood together there was no wolf, grizzly or lion that
could stand against it.
The herds could
not disobey this command even after it became a bad, disastrous law. They
continued to stand as riflemen piled up their carcasses by the millions; they
stood because they could be nothing else but buffalo—just as the two young
semidomestic cows in the Raymond Ranch pasture are still buffalo. The cows,
shoulder to shoulder behind the fallen bull, make an essence-of-buffalo scene,
but it is lost on the watchers. "Look at them," says Black Hat.
"Not a brain in their damned heads. They're too stupid even to
killed two buffalo with a single shot, Black Hat knows less about the animals
than does your average secretary of the Spinsters' Anti-Cruelty League, a
figure whom a good many of the gunners and even some of the wardens at Raymond
Ranch are concerned about. There is considerable worry that a band of
gooey-minded, vegetable-eating little old ladies of both sexes and all ages
might try to disrupt the hunt. Radical protectionists (as the gunnery group now
call this type) have been knocking the buffalo harvest for some time but only
in the last year has the heat become serious. "I hear that some of them,
the Sierra Club or that bunch, are going to show up and make trouble," says
a frail, indignant real-estate salesman as he watches his buffalo being gutted.
"I'd just like to see them try to make any trouble up here."
Nearly all the
hunters think that somebody is going to accuse them of behaving in a cruel and
inhumane fashion toward the buffalo. They defend themselves against such
charges and intimate that harvesting the buffalo is a public duty like picking
up beer cans along the highway. "These animals don't suffer any more than
they would in a slaughterhouse," one said. "People ought to see where
meat comes from."
It is all quite
true. There are excess buffalo. It may be less efficient and a bit messier
killing them in a field with guns than on an abattoir floor with a hammer or
knife, but it is only marginally less humane. Also, the men and women doing the
shooting are not monsters. True, there are a few odd ones around Raymond Ranch.
A stern contractor suggests it might be a good idea to run some of the
long-haired, filthy-mouthed protesters he saw at an Agnew dinner in front of
the guns. A genial M.D. is hoping his wife, who drew a buffalo permit, will get
a cow because he wants to make a purse out of the vagina. Generally speaking,
however, there are no more unusual personalities at Raymond Ranch than at an
Audubon lecture or a campus riot. They are mostly just us, citizens who own a
gun, have the notion they would like to use it on a buffalo and have become a
little nervous and guilty about what they have let themselves in for.
Nevertheless, despite all the explanations and excuses made and accepted, there
is still something kinky about this harvest scene.
There is a young
woman, whose previous shooting experience had been killing two doves, who has
drawn a permit for a Raymond Ranch buffalo. Her husband is at her side. The
couple have a recreation room in which they believe a mounted buffalo head
would be an attractive decoration. The girl hits a buffalo in the shoulder with
her first shot.
"I hit him,
didn't I?" she shrieks, very near hysteria. The wardens nod politely and
her husband shouts, "You sure did, baby." But the buffalo gets back to
its feet and stands weaving its head 15 yards away. The girl shoots again, and
again and again and again, never touching the animal, the shells kicking up
dust across the field. A couple of game men sitting nearby on horseback begin
to whistle and make clucking sounds, trying to get the buffalo to turn
absolutely broadside. The girls shoots again and as she does, as unobtrusively
as possible, so does a warden, putting the animal down for good. "Thank God
that's over," says the shaking, white-faced girl.