In 2000, my longtime hunting friend and partner, Gale Palmer and I did a buffalo hunt on the Bellknap Indian Reservation in North-central Montana. On that hunt, we both harvested nice bulls and did our best to transpose ourselves back a hundred years in time. The meat was fantastic but like all good things, it too came to an end. Since Gale likes to live on wild meat, he decided to return to Montana for a "meat" hunt. Please understand that the word "hunt" becomes a bit suspect here, but he did his best to create a hunting atmosphere on this outing.
In October of 2004, I drove over the Cascade Mountains from where I live in Western Washington, to the semi-arid desert where Gale lives. We loaded his 3/4 ton Ford pickup with our gear and headed east. My job was to help drive, entertain Gale and take lots of pictures.
The trip through the Idaho panhandle and into Montana took 7 or 8 hours but time seems to evaporate when you're enjoying time with a hunting buddy. We ate snacks, traded off driving chores and chatted endlessly about past hunts and the weekend ahead of us. Gale had gone online to find this "meat" hunt. It is not considered a trophy hunt because its sole purpose is to thin the herd and provide some fine culinary cuisine. The cost of the animal was between $600 and $700 and the food and accommodations were additional.
They provide a warm and inviting lodge with spacious rooms and lots of trophies on the wall. Meals were provided by the lodge and cooked by a young woman they hired for the purpose. I ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the kitchen helping this gal as it was her first time cooking for them.
Gale and I settled in and enjoyed the rustic atmosphere and the plethora of trophies, which included deer, antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, turkey, caribou, a huge white swan, a full-sized grizzly bear and of course, bison. Sipping a cup of strong coffee, we sat in this great room in awe of the wonderful animals around us and talked of the morning hunt.
Gale dressed in a full set of buckskins and carried his Sharps 74 the next morning as we set out to find the herd. We were given the option of making it a "hunt" or riding in the back of a pickup to kill an animal. We, of course, opted for the "hunt." To them, a hunt meant that we would do it on foot and find the animals ourselves. A "guide" would be with us to make sure we picked an animal of the age, size and sex we were after.
This ranch consisted of several hundred acres of some pretty steep terrain with areas of trees and some windswept, rolling hills. We hiked to the top of a large hill in hopes of finding one of the several herds of wandering animals. If huffing and puffing up a hill qualified this as a hunt, then we were hunting. And as any real hunt should be, we found NOTHING at the top of that hill. We headed off in another direction. These huge animals can actually get lost in some of the gullies and draws of the area. I'd like to say it took us a full day of riding bareback on buckskin ponies to find the roaming herd, but that just wouldn't be true. We found them on our next hike down and across the hillside.
Our guide gave Gale his choice of several young cows and we started the process of stalking into a shooting position Gale felt comfortable with shooting his Sharps. The Sharps was the rifle used by the old buffalo hunters who decimated the vast herds of buffalo so long ago. It's a long, heavy barreled, single shot rifle that is extremely accurate. It's the rifle used by Tom Selleck in the movie, "Quigley, Down Under". Gale actually has two of these beautiful rifles and shoots them quite well. They are made by the Shiloh - Sharps Arms Company in Big Timber, Montana. The one he chose to use on this trip was a 45-70. It shot a 400 grain, steel jacketed Speer, 45 caliber projectile with 70 grains of powder behind it.
We prolonged the kill as long as we could, just to get the feel of what it must have been like to be one of those old buffalo hunters. Gale picked a nice looking cow with medium sized horns and put her down with a single shot from the old Sharps. After congratulatory handshakes and big bear hugs, we joined in the process of field dressing the animal.
We took the meat back to a locker in Sprague, near Gale's ranch, where it was rendered into steaks, roasts, burger and some summer sausage. Buffalo is a fantastic meat which is higher in protein and lower in fat than beef. That meat provided a year's supply of wonderful eating for Gale, a bachelor who lives alone on his section of scab-land in Eastern Washington. The hunt provided one more venue for Gale and me to strengthen our bond of friendship that has grown over the past 35 years.