Consequences of modern hunting. Example #002: American bison

The American bison was saved by hunters

American bison

American bison

It was solely due to the tireless efforts of dedicated recreational hunters that the American bison was saved from going extinct….

By Jens Ulrik Høgh

In just a few decades the endless herds of American bison was reduced to almost nothing by relentless commercial hunting. Between 1840 and 1870, the population went from an estimated 40 million animals to 5-6 million. At the turn of the century there were less than 300 left in total.

The only reason that there were any left at all was that small herds had been secured on private lands at the end of the 1880’s. In the spring of 1886 the well-known bison hunter Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones became worried about the future of the American bison disappearing at an alarming rate. He set out to catch enough animals alive to start a herd of his own.

It was a very close call. “Buffalo” Jones managed to catch 8 calves in a matter of days or maybe even hours before it was to late in that particular location. In a letter to the American Bison Society dated 1912 he recalls the dramatic events of the rescue mission:

I will tell the story of how the great American bison was saved. I roped 8 calves and saved them, although the wolves and coyotes were there by hundreds. As soon as I caught one, I tied my hat to it, as I knew the brutes never touched anything tainted with the fresh scent of man. The next, my coat, then my vest, then my boots, and last, my socks, thus protecting 7. The 8th I picked up in my arms and rode back to the 7th as it was surrounded by wolves and coyotes. When I arrived where it was bound down, I saw the vicious brutes snapping at the sixth one, so reached down and drew up the seventh one and galloped back to the sixth to protect it. I let the two calves down, one with legs tied and the lasso around the eight calf’s neck, the other end of the rope around my horses’ neck. The strain was so great, I fainted, but revived when my boys came up and gave me some whiskey we had for snake bites.

“Buffalo” Jones’ efforts inspired others and the species was saved for the time being. The total population did however continue to decline due to lack of public interest and in the beginning of the twentieth century the buffalo was almost history.

Salvation came in form of enthusiastic hunters and conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinell, “Buffalo” Jones and William T. Hornaday. In 1887 Roosevelt and a number of other “sportsmen” (recreational hunters) founded the Boone & Crockett Club strongly inspired by the fate of the American bison. The members of the club worked hard to put an end to over-exploitation and to save the natural resources for future generations to use in a sustainable manner – these men are widely acknowledged as the fathers of modern American nature conservation.

In relation to the bison George Bird Grinell wrote several articles in favor of saving the buffalo and President Roosevelt hired his friend “Buffalo” Jones as the first game warden of the new Yellowstone National Park where he started to rebuild a buffalo herd in 1902. With the strong support of the president, William T. Hornaday formed the American Bison Society in 1905 with the single purpose of saving the animal from extinction. The Society stocked the new national parks with small breeding herds of buffalo – the first reintroductions of wild animals in American history.

It worked! Today there is more than 500,000 buffalo roaming the North American continent. More than 90% of these animals exist on private land where recreational hunting makes the animals a valuable resource for the landowners. If it had not been for a few passionate hunters these magnificent animals would have been history more than a century ago. This is a fact.