The Spring Buffalo Hunt

For the Indians of the central plains extending to the Rocky Mountains spring was an important time. Two big buffalo hunts happened each year one in September when the bison were fat and the tribes were beginning their preparation for winter. The other was about now, when the weather warmed around the first of April.

Unlike the movies where Buffalo were always over the next hill, tribes often traveled for great distances for these hunts. Traveling 300 miles for a hunt was not unusual and sometimes many more miles were traveled.

The hunt was so important that scouts were sent far ahead and when the herd was spotted camps were set up 10 to 20 miles away so as not to frighten the herd. Great care was taken to make sure that no hunter got in a hurry and went out before the main hunt. Hunters who did were punished and sent packing.

Hunts were often on horseback but Indians also used nature sometimes driving herds into box canyons or over cliffs, anything that worked to provide for the tribe. The hunter who made the kill was given the tongue and hide the rest was shared with the tribe after the butchers took their share.
How much of the animal was taken or used depended on the hunt. When a large supply of buffalo were taken only the best cuts were used: tongue, hump, ribs and hide and often organ meat. If times were tough nearly everything was taken and used, including hoofs and some entrails.

Meat was eaten in great feasts when the hunters arrived back home in their tribal camps. Camp activities, for the next few weeks, centered on preserving meat for a time when it might be needed for travel or in poor hunting times.  Native peoples made the first jerky and pemmican.

Pemmican was tried as a traveling food for American troops in WWI but it never caught on, at least here. German solders used pemmican in both WWI and WWII, and reportedly found it quite good.
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