Bison Harvest

CAUTION: If images of animals being slaughtered is disturbing to you do not read this post.

Three friends and I decided last winter that we would all enter the drawing to get a tag to hunt Bison in Wyoming this Fall. About 6000 people apply for the annual bison hunt in Northwest Wyoming. About 100 hunters actually get licenses. We figured that if all 4 of us applied we would have a better chance. It was agreed that regardless of who actually got the licences and shot the animal, we would work together to harvest, butcher and share equally in the meat. As you will see hunting, field dressing, hanging and butchering a 2000 pound animal is an epic that takes four people to accomplish.

A note on hunting the mighty buffalo.

There are those that might think that hunting the largest land animal in North America is not sporting or environmentally ethical. Personally, I believe there is nothing further from the truth. It took 12 days of driving rutted out forest service roads and bush whacking through mountainous terrain to find a buffalo. A glorious endeavor to be sure. Though Bull buffalo have no natural predators, so they are not likely to run when encountered. They are never the less difficult to find in legal hunt areas.

The American Bison, aka the Buffalo, no longer roams the American west in the millions as it once did but the population has recovered in the areas where it has enough habitat to sustain it. In Jackson Hole, where we don't have the Bison's natural predators recovered in sufficient numbers to control the population, the Wyoming Fish and Game department uses hunting as a method to maintain a healthy population that is sustainable without doing damage to the environment and its food source. The recent reintroduction of the wolf has had a beneficial impact on culling the herd of young and sick animals but it is not significant enough to sustainably control the population on its own.

I consider myself a meat hunter. I have no interest in running around in the woods trying to track down the alpha male of a species to hang it on my wall. Rather the ability to harvest an animal that has grazed on the pure and clean grasses of Grand Teton National Park a half our from my house is the ultimate in sustainable eating practices. In truth, I believe it to be a locavores wet dream. This adventure of hunting, field dressing, butchering, making sausage and burger and preparing a bison feast worthy of "Iron Chef" was one of the most rewarding food experiences of my life.

My buddy Jed, local contractor and avid home gardener won the lottery and drew the bison tag. He had the honor of shooting our bull on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning at 9 am. It took us a full day to dress the animal and transport it out of the woods. We were out of the woods while it was still daylight which is no mean feat in the annals of buffalo hunting.

To get a 2000 pound animal in some form where it can be loaded onto a truck is an epic unto itself. It must be skinned, headed, four legs removed( quartered), gutted and ribs removed. Just rolling the animal from one side to the other took several guys and ropes.

As the resident cutlery expert, I was in charge of making sure that we had a full quiver of knives to do the job. I brought A LOT of knives. I definitely over packed. The knives we used most were the mini chopper (I have known for years it is an excellent skinner.), the fusion wood paring which had a lot of what's called a bird and trout shape in it's design, and the sturdy chopper.

By three o'clock we had the animal dressed and ready for loading. We were very fortunate to find something resembling a road that allowed us to drive right to the kill site. The drive in was definitely "western' but we "got er done". It actually took two trucks to carry the mighty tatunka.

The head took 4 guys and a lot of grunting to get into the truck. As you are only allowed to shot one bison in the state of Wyoming in your lifetime, Jed elected to pay to have it mounted. He says it will be cute to have a Santa hat on it at Christmas.

More to come about butchering the bison in the next post.