• Photo: Matt Hamon

    When Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, hunting was strictly banned within it—even for the the Native Americans who had lived and hunted there for generations. It wasn’t until 2006 that the Nez Perce, Confederated Salish, and Kootenai tribes successfully petitioned the government to be able to hunt bison when they left the park and within the annually regulated cull—a federal initiative started to manage and combat bison from spreading diseases to other livestock outside the park. Every winter, groups of Native American hunters wait near Gardiner, Montana, near the park’s northwest corner, for the herd to leave the park in search of food, so the hunt can begin. Accompanying them are a group of scavengers who collectively call themselves Buffalo Bridge that live off the remains of bison from the hunt. Working with the Native American hunters, Buffalo Bridge members offer their skills and help in field dressing the animal after the kill. They are often given parts of the animal for their work. Photographer Matt Hamon spent a few days with them this winter.

    Photo: Buffalo Bridge see their efforts as a way of honoring the bison through education and by utilizing as much of the animal as possible. Here, Josh assists a Native American hunter as he carries a buffalo back strap from the hunting ground.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    The hunt is monitored closely by tribal and state officials. In many cases, Buffalo Bridge members simply offer to help the hunters field dress the animals—a massive and laborious task—and ask for nothing in return.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Ania pulls buffalo fat from a gut pile as Epona waits with backpack. Buffalo Bridge will occasionally be gifted a hide, bones, and even organs like the heart and liver.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Alex and Katie assist a Native American hunter with the processing of a buffalo in the field. Buffalo Bridge members are meticulous in the way they field dress an animal. While the majority of the bison, like the one pictured here, goes home with the Native American hunters, many parts can still be boiled down or picked apart to find edible meat.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Often the animal is field dressed far from the road and members of Buffalo Bridge will help by carrying large pieces back to the Native American’s cars.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Josh loads buffalo quarters into a Native American hunter's truck.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Alex scavenges a hide from a buffalo carcass. Buffalo Bridge members pride themselves on sharing knowledge associated with the process of tanning hides. Several tribal members have shared their knowledge of tanning with Buffalo Bridge as well.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Alex approaches a gut pile as his dog, Shadow, follows. Fat, organs, and other animal parts commonly left behind by most hunters today remain valuable to Buffalo Bridge as food, clothes, and for crafting utilitarian objects. Horns can be used to make spoons and bones can be made into a variety of items including needles and knives.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Alex carries his son as he works at fleshing a hide for tanning.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Alex, Epona, and their son relax in a wall tent after a day of scavenging buffalo parts. Buffalo Bridge sets up a tent camp on a landowner’s property near Gardiner, Montana for the duration of the annual hunt.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Hides are typically brain tanned, a laborious process that Jerry is just beginning. Tanning can take several months to complete. Tanned hides serve a variety of purposes from clothing, to bedding, and even as the covering for traditional shelters.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Buffalo bridge scavenges organs, like the hearts and livers seen here, commonly left behind by most big game hunters today. Fat is rendered and canned. Meat is canned in a pressure cooker or consumed and shared with visitors during the many weeks of camp.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    All members, including Ania, pitch in with the numerous daily tasks associated with living off grid in a wall tent in the dead of winter.
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    The basic but comfortable accommodations of the tent camp.  
  • Photo: Matt Hamon

    Epona nurses her son in the meat processing shed.
  • Start over
Not Now

Special Holiday Offer: Save 79% and Get a Free Gift!

Subscribe
Holiday Bow