Reality Check:  The Yellowstone Bison “Hunt” is a Slaughter

Yellowstone bison. Photo: Stephany Seay.

Our National Mammal — the beloved, sacred American bison — is under attack.  Of course, they have been since the dawn of colonization, yet despite the false narrative of “America’s greatest conservation success story”, the war against wild buffalo rages on along the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park, where the country’s last continuously wild herds still exist.  Once numbering seventy million strong, spanning most of North America, wild, migratory bison today number fewer than 5,000 and occupy less than 1% of their native homelands.  The Yellowstone herds represent the last of their kind and are in such dire straits that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering Endangered Species Act protection.  With federal, state, and tribal governments taking actions that are destroying these special herds, ESA listing may be their only chance for survival.

This war has been going on for decades, with no end in sight.  Though there have been changes, and some small, positive gains in habitat outside of Yellowstone, other elements of bison mismanagement are growing out of control.  In addition to Yellowstone’s senseless capture-for-slaughter operations, state and especially tribal hunts are creating a killing frenzy whenever wild bison attempt to migrate into Montana, particularly in the Gardiner Basin.

At the bottle neck migration corridor of Beattie Gulch, gut piles spread thickly over the land; a grotesque sea of stomachs, intestines, cut off legs, unborn calves in the womb. Beattie Gulch is where buffalo go to die.

Nearly every single morning, just before first light, big pickup trucks line up along the edge of Old Yellowstone Trail, the humans staying warm in their idling vehicles, waiting for buffalo to cross the park boundary into the kill zone.  Family groups, led by the matriarchs, nose their way towards Beattie Gulch, just trying to keep their families alive during the harsh winter months.  As they edge closer to the kill zone, doors of the pick-ups open, and humans spill out with rifles in hand.  Scores of gunshots are fired, buffalo start running as the bullets fly. No ‘hunter’ seems to care who they are aiming at, or even where. Within a span of seconds, entire family groups are wiped out.  Many buffalo are shot and wounded, and flee back to the park where they are later euthanized by park rangers.  Other buffalo are shot and left to suffer as the ‘hunters’ take other opportunities to kill.  The human residents of Beattie Gulch have become afraid to leave their homes, to take their dogs for walks, to invite friends over for dinner.

If you’ve been through Helena recently, you may have seen our billboard which states: “There is no hunt.  It’s slaughter.”  The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Roam Free Nation are here to tell you that is the truth.  The ‘hunt’ is an extension of slaughter, pleasing to the Montana Department of Livestock who drives this madness.  How ironic to have tribes doing their bidding.  How sad that the tribes can not see that their treaties are being manipulated to facilitate the destruction of the last wild buffalo.  Since November, nearly 920 buffalo have been killed by ‘hunters’, and that death toll rises rapidly every single day.  To date, more than 1,675 buffalo have been eliminated from the last wild population, the worst since 2008, which was the worst since the 19th century. With abusive mismanagement like this, there will never be wild bison restoration.  They will never be able to recover.  Their matriarchs are being annihilated with calves in their wombs.  Ancient migratory memories will be forsaken.  Where is the respect the Sacred Buffalo?

Stephany Seay is the co-founder of Roam Free Nation, a Native-led, Montana-based wildlife and wild lands advocacy group, with a focus on the wild buffalo of Yellowstone. Learn more at