SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
November 23, 1970
Some call it sport and some call it butchery, but nobody is truly happy as Arizona's 'surplus' bison are shot in a fenced pasture
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November 23, 1970

The Great Buffalo Hunt? Shoot? Slaughter?

Some call it sport and some call it butchery, but nobody is truly happy as Arizona's 'surplus' bison are shot in a fenced pasture

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Among professionals Arizona is often cited as having game policies and wildlife men that rank with the best of any state. Many of these men are at Raymond Ranch, working the harvest, helping the nervous girl and the other shooters. It is pointless to seek their true opinion of the proceedings. Also, it is unfair to try, since they draw their pay from the state, which has elected to cull the herd as it does. Once in a while, though, something slips out from behind the official pose and prose.

The game department's education officer is working at the skinning shed, his yellow rubber pants crimson to the knees. In a break between carcasses he observes mildly, nodding toward the hanging buffalo sides and the crowd watching the butchering operation, "It's a shame these people can't get to see what a wonderful animal a buffalo really is. They can survive on poor range, in terrible weather. They go through fences like they were paper. They run all day and they take an awful lot of killing. When you get to know them you have a lot of respect for them."

There is something about hunting that is ignored in the attacks of anti-hunters and, to be fair, overlooked in the defenses of a lot of contemporary hunters. In the course of a good hunt, which can be conducted with a lasso, a net or a sharp pair of eyes as well as a gun, a powerful intimacy develops between prey and predator. It is partly intellectual, for each party is forced to learn, to speculate upon the faculties of the other. Also it is emotional. There comes a closeness which may still be best described by an old-fashioned term—reverence. At Raymond Ranch this intimacy and reverence is missing. There is only a girl banging away at a mound of flesh she does not understand and barely sees, for the sake of a wall hanging. There are better marksmen at the harvest than the girl, but no better hunters.

All of which is why those who are concerned with the image of the sport of hunting are very edgy about what the buffalo shoot is called. They keep insisting that it must not be dignified as a hunt, that it is not a sporting affair, that it is a harvest, a game-management exercise. It is not a sport, just straight slaughterhouse work, right? Right. But there are hundreds of citizen gunners who are eager to pay 45 bucks to work for a few minutes as butchers' apprentices, right? Right. So, if they enjoy it, why not let them? Right?

A 14-year-old boy is one of the lucky 80 buffalo permit-holders. His parents, both of whom have previously shot a buffalo, are with him all the way, like the classic parents of a Little League pitcher. After he was selected in the lottery Dad made him a full-size buffalo-shaped target on which to practice. As B Minute draws near, Dad fires off volley after volley of advice and encouragement: "Take it easy. Remember the ear. Don't be a horn hunter. Wait for your shot. Squeeze." Mom is the boy's flack, explaining what a good, obedient straight shooter he is.

"It is such a fine sport for youngsters," Mom says. "It teaches them sportsmanship, gun safety, self-reliance. When they have this kind of interest you don't have to worry about drugs and all the rest."

Considering the kind of gallery he has, the boy doesn't shoot badly, first hitting the buffalo in the right leg, then the left and then finishing him off with a head shot. Someone asks the boy what he liked best about the whole experience. "Killing it," he answers promptly.

Not being old enough to commit any platitudes to memory, the boy has gotten down to the heart of the Raymond Ranch matter. People do not pay $45 to protect the buffalo from the consequences of their own fertility. They do not show up with their guns to give the game commission men a hand. They pay and they come to satisfy their own primeval urges. It is nothing new.


An excursion train will leave Leavenworth at 8 AM and Lawrence at 10 AM for Sheridan, on Tuesday, October 27, 1868, and return on Friday. This train will stop at the principal stations both going and coming. Ample time will be had for a grand Buffalo Hunt on the Plains. Buffaloes are so numerous along the road that they are shot from the cars nearly every day. On our last excursion our party killed twenty buffaloes in a hunt of six hours. All passengers can have refreshments on the cars at reasonable prices. Tickets for a round trip from Leavenworth, $10.00.
—Billboard Advertisement
Kansas Pacific Railroad

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