Today in the United States and Canada there are well over 500,000 buffalo in private and public herds. While this number canít rival the herds originally present on the plains before the great buffalo hunt it is a true success story rivaling that of the re-population of the White-tailed Deer. By the time the commercial buffalo hunting came to an end, the buffalo were almost wiped out. It has been estimated that there were anywhere only 200-800 total buffalo at the turn of the century. The vast majority of buffalo today are on private ranches and are raised for hunting and meat production as it is a lean and healthy meat.
There are two different types of buffalo for hunting. Bison is the correct name but I prefer to use buffalo since that is the name we normally associate with the hunting so famous in US history. The American bison has evolved into the Plains Bison and the Wood Bison. The Plains type buffalo is the animal most people are familiar with in the United States and the Wood type buffalo is mainly a Canadian animal. The Wood is a taller, bigger buffalo with a more square shaped hump but it would be difficult for the average person to tell the difference. It should be noted that as you move further south in the US the buffalo will get smaller over time. Hunting of either type of buffalo occurs in their respective ranges and either one makes for fine trophy hunting. The Wood buffalo is considered threatened in Canada so hunting it is regulated more than the hunting of buffalo in the US.
History of Buffalo Hunting
Todayís buffalo arrived in the US 10,000 years ago and I would assume there was buffalo hunting as soon as it got here. The buffalo evolved into the key food source for the Natives that inhabited their range. Before the Native Americans had horses for hunting with they had to use what we would consider unorthodox methods for hunting the buffalo. They stampeded buffalo over cliffs and chased them into corrals made out of stones and trees. As a rancher that raises buffalo, I can tell you that these efforts for hunting buffalo were not only difficult but very dangerous as well. The use of all of the buffalo by the Native Americans is well documented and one hunting kill site could supply meat for many families for a long time. It is ironic that the processors today continue to try and find uses for the various parts of the buffalo and this is where a lot of the price increases to producers have come from.
The buffalo hunting of the later part of the 19th century are a very well chronicled part of the history of the buffalo. I have seen estimates of 60 million buffalo on the plains of North America at the beginning of the 1800ís before the extensive commercial buffalo hunting took its toll. The tales of buffalo herds stretching as far as the eye could see were probably somewhat true but you must consider the sensationalism of the west that was so prevalent at the time. There are theories that the buffalo herds swelled in numbers after the natives were hit very hard by European diseases during the 1600ís along with decades of significant rainfall. It is thought that these people were able to keep the buffalo numbers in check by combining fire and effective hunting techniques.
Commercial buffalo hunting started in earnest in the 1830ís and this hunting continued through the 1870ís with very few wild buffalo remaining by the 1880ís. The market for buffalo hides and tongues were driving the slaughter. Hundreds of commercial buffalo hunting operations could be found on the plains at any one time. The number of buffalo hunters increased dramatically with the depressed economy that followed the Civil War. With the arrival of the railroad was the fate of the buffalo was sealed.