Oregon tribes pursue first bison hunt in century

By Shannon Dininny

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

From this vantage point, the buffalo were too far away through deep snow.

Jim Currey, tribal game officer, pointed to a closed road. A legal shot could be made from beyond the gate, where two bulls stood between the herd and the hunters.

They waited some more. Finally, at 11:30 a.m., Marsh turned to his son.

"It's yours," he said, smiling at Francis. "You take the shot."

Francis grabbed his gun and walked toward the herd with a Nez Perce hunter also in the area. Rounding the corner, they found the bulls had made it easy. They were right there.

"It's almost like those buffalo gave themselves up so we wouldn't go after their children and their wives — like people, basically," Francis said later. "As soon as he dropped, my heart dropped."

He fired another shot, and the Nez Perce at his side fired on the other bull. Nowland let out a yell. After firing a third time to ensure the animal was finished, Francis and Nowland men stood at its side for a prayer and song.

"This was a good, clean kill today. Thank you for all of us being out here today for this historic moment for our people," intoned Nowland.

All six men and wildlife program manager Carl Scheeler, who helped get the hunts approved, pitched in for the grueling task of butchering and skinning the animal. They carved with knives, sharpening and resharpening them. Three boys with the hunting party played in the snow, stopping every so often to watch the men at work.

Four hours later, the meat was loaded on the truck. Francis planned to give away much of it to family members and elders who no longer hunt, as well as to provide for ceremonial observances in the longhouse.

"As a native, that shows respect to the animal, to give a lot of it away. Especially with a first kill," he said. "Karma comes around."

After a celebratory dinner, the hunters headed out the next morning to the Forest Service compound, where the big bull that had grazed in safety now wandered in an open field across the road.

Jim Marsh immediately jumped out of his truck, pushed several feet through deep snow and took aim. The bison took several shots to go down, and Francis hiked to the animal to deliver one final shot.

Nowland let out another yell. The others gathered to tie up ropes to tow it closer to the road and then began field dressing this second bison of the hunt. Nearby, the three boys built a "snow buffalo."

Marsh quietly stepped away to put on his overalls and gather his knives. He thought of his wife, who died several years ago, and younger son Ryan, 18, who will hunt next year.

"I am 47 years old. For me to come up here now and exercise my treaty right is an honor," he said. "It's nothing like the past. They traveled on horseback and on foot, lived in teepees in the cold. We've got rigs and high-tech equipment. But for me and my son to come up here as Cayuse, like our ancestors, it's a great honor."

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