gsmithman: To answer your questions:
What is the definition of a Harvest in this case?
What I am implying is that it is not a "hunt." There is no stalking, no scouting. I am trying to differentiate between everything that goes into a hunt, and everything that goes into the harvest.
Are they trying to control the size of the herd?
She has about 112 Buffalo. There is one "herd" bull, "Junior", (I took several pictures of him - see the link below) who keeps everyone in line, and the herd matriarch, "Buffy" (who you can see the Ranch Manager hand feeding). The land right now can support up to 120 head - however, they will be having about 30 baby buffalo next spring, so, we are trying to keep the herd down. She is a land conservationist (all the buffalo eat are the natural grasses, and, the hay gathered from the land itself, and an occasional 'buffalo treat.' When I've fed them, they have a tongue similar to a cat, except a little more 'slimy' but not excessively so). She cares as much for the land as she does the buffalo. And while she is on the Crow Res, she is part Lakota.
How do they pick the animals for harvest?
That's an intersesting question. No, actually, I don't shoot them between the eyes (StayPuff), that would ruin the skull. I shoot them just behind the ear and down 3 inches. That way, it severs the spine/jugular, and they go down in one shot. I am the only one she allows to come up and be the "shooter" because I'm a good shot, and she requires that all animals go down with one squeeze of the trigger. The ranch manager is my backup shooter, but has never had to take a second shot. He also, occasionally, will be the shooter when the ranch owner 'approves' it. But to get to the point, the animal 'chooses' to be the one to be harvested. Now, this may sound a little strange / far out / wacky to some, but others will get it.
The night before the first harvest of the season, we (the ranch owner, the ranch manager, myself, and whomever I have brought along to assist us) perform Native American Pipe Ceremony. The ranch manager 'calls in' the ancients, the elders, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the spirits of the land, and the energy/spirit of the buffalo, as we sit in the circle and pass the pipe. We smoke the pipe (natural tobacco) and put our prayers/intentions into the ceremony, into the smoke, and we blow the smoke in all directions (calling in the spirits of the East, South, West, and North, and the animal totems associated with the cardinal directions). And, you better believe that I set the intention/prayer that the animals go down in one shot. Upon the closing of the pipe ceremony, we put the tobacco ashes outside in a sacred space to honor the land on which the buffalo roam.
The next morning we lay out all of the equipment (rifles, ammo, knives, etc.) and she performs a cleansing ceremony with a smudge stick (a bundle of sage, burning at one end). The smoke from the sage is wafted onto us (front, back, all around) and then onto the equipment, with an eagle feather. After the ceremony is complete, we load up the equipment and get into the vehicles (3 - my truck and trailer, the ranch truck and trailer, and the flatbed with the bailer arm) and drive up the hill.
We choose the spot for the harvest, and, if the buffalo are not there, the ranch manager 'calls' in the buffalo. It looks like he's doing Tai Chi, but, the buffalo come running. I attempted to capture that in the photos, (click the link at the bottom) but as I was inside the truck, the camera thought I wanted to take a picture of the inside of the windshield - so the buffalo are a blur. You can see that not all of her land is flat, and not all accessable by vehicle, so where we have to choose the location carefully.
When the buffalo come, they surround the vehicle. You have to be very careful in getting out of the truck, because the buffalo could be 10 feet or less from where you are standing. I then get on the back of one of the trucks and 'send the energy out' of asking one of the 2 1/2 year old bulls to volunteer their life, to go on to greener pastures, to fulfill their mission for being here. I know, it's hard to explain that to a very technical, computer/engineering oriented audience, but, it is what it is, and it would take me a few pages to really state what goes on internally when I get into that mind set.
Anyhow, the reaction in the herd is immediate, and I usually see one or two of the bulls separate themselves out from the herd (they use their horns to drive the other buffalo away). If they are in a clear shot range (no other buffalo moving in front of them, none moving behind them) I ask them to turn broadside. When they do that, they turn just their head and look at me. I put the crosshairs of the scope in the correct place, and 'say' again, if you are the one, turn your head straight so I can get a clear shot. It's happened more than once that they immediately run back into the herd, and the process starts all over again.
If the buffalo turns its head, and gives me a shot, I squeeze off a round. Immediately the buffalo goes down and the other buffalo surround it, lock horns with it, etc. There are a number of theories as to what they are doing at that point in time (they are trying to get their brother up on his feet again, they are making sure they if he's down, he stays down because it can be a detriment to the herd to have a sick buffalo - it attracts predators, etc.) They rancher states that they are coming to say their goodbye's.
We then surround the buffalo in a triangle organization with the vehicles so that when we are 'working' on the buffalo, the other buffalo don't come in too close. They are really curious animals and would walk right up to us when we're working.
After slicing the throat, we then put tobacco on the head/eyes of the downed buffalo and say prayers, thanking the buffalo for its life, for the sustenance the meat will provide, the warmth the robe will bring, the honor and decoration that the skull will provide, etc. Some of the skulls are used in the Sundance ceremony for the 'piercings.' - Too long of an explanation now for that.
We then begin the evisceration process and, when we come to the organs of interest (liver, heart, kidney) we all eat a piece of them, raw, to honor the buffalo and integrate the 'buffalo energy' into us as we work. We then set them aside for packaging (we also keep the tongue - but don't eat any of it in the field). We then load the buffalo into the trailer after it's cleaned out.
After the 1st buffalo is done, we continue the same process for each buffalo after that. And, if there is no buffalo that sets itself aside, we don't harvest. I don't 'force' the shot.
We then bring the buffalo back to the garage and skin them, then take them into Billings for processing at the butcher. Now, when I get deer/elk/antelope, I do all of the butchering myself (I have a good set of knives, a grinder to make burger/sausage, and a dehydrator to make jerky). But, these animals are much too big for that, especially if we have two or three to process!
Here is another set of pics (from the 3rd time we went up this last spring)
Thanks Roverdude - I plan on visiting the Boundary Waters someday - my dad did a canoe trip through there during college, and it sounded exciting! I'll make sure not to shoot any stragglers...
Staypuff, you are absolutely correct - the bison burgers are more healthy for you than beef - I try to eat mostly deer/elk/antelope/bison for my meals, and I'm slowly convincing my wife that it's a good thing. Although her dad hunted, she was never really into wild game cooking, so it's been a bit of a challenge...