1870s Buffalo hunting observations

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1870s Buffalo hunting observations

Post by coolhand » Sat Dec 28, 2019 10:05 pm

Being a long time hunter, I have become fascinated in learning about the buffalo hunting in its peak during the 1870s. I had this vision of these expert marksmen shooting these precision Sharps rifles to take Buffalo at extreme ranges. The more I read, it seems that was not the case at all most of the time. Most of these guys were not accomplished marksmen or even hunters. They came from all over the country to the draw of big money. It reminds me of the current Oil boom here in Texas. There was such a demand for pipe welders, that thousands of guys went out and bought new trucks and welding rigs and got minimum training. They were making big money immediately with no previous experience. Seems like it was kinda like that back then. Those guys got outfitted with wagons and teams, and all supplies including rifles. I bet most had never even heard of a Sharps rifle before they arrived. We all spend much time developing precise loads that shoot tight groups, those guys just shot whatever they had. I remember reading where sometimes they would shoot one buffalo with maybe 2 different loads and bullet weights. I do think it is interesting how they figured out how the Buffalo reacted to people, and how to shoot the leader first to keep the herd in one "stand". That kinda reminded me of my days shooting Prairie dogs. We would start hunting at daylight, and always look for the big mature "sentry" dog that would be standing on the mound keeping a lookout. If we got him first, we would have good shooting for hours. Even the reference to the Buffalo hunters barrels getting so hot they had to stop is like the PD shooting. The fact that they tried to get within 200-300 yards makes a lot of sense, and I can understand now how guys who were mostly not experienced marksmen could be successful taking Buffalo. I can only imagine how it felt to slip up on a ridge and see Buffalo as far as the eye can see. And then sit there and shoot until you run out of ammo, or stop so your skinners can keep up. Amazing times for sure.

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Re: 1870s Buffalo hunting observations

Post by bobw » Mon Dec 30, 2019 8:54 am

The more buffalo hunt books you read, the more you understand they all did not shoot like OP Hanna, Jim White, Brick Bond and some of the other hunters with documented long string stands with low round count to buffalo ratio. The concept of one shot humane kills is a fairly recent one in history. Back then they cared about getting bullets into as many buffalo as possible if they didn't drop quick they didn't care as we do now. It was a business to them. Your vision was distorted, glad you have adjusted it . bobw

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Re: 1870s Buffalo hunting observations

Post by pete » Tue Dec 31, 2019 10:24 am

Bob brought up good thoughts on this and you're right a lot of these guys just thought it was a good get rich idea and had no idea what they were getting into. Most of them just went out for a short period and called it quits not being prepared for the hard, dangerous, dirty life it required. Starting with the Long Hunters back east and carrying over into the fur trappers, aka Mountain Men I look at the buffalo hide hunters and meat market hunters as the end of the open country hunting for a lively hood scenario.
Getting into 200 - 300 yds. does make sense especially with black powder guns and mostly iron sights, after all we are talking hunting here and not target shooting. There were no doubt good shots back then but like most hunting stories, especially with rifle shooters we mostly hear about the "good" killing shots and not the misses. So I think some stories have to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Good topic.

Chief Beck
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Re: 1870s Buffalo hunting observations

Post by Chief Beck » Thu Jan 02, 2020 12:19 pm

It has been awhile since I have looked at this subject, but yes there were quite a few bad shots back then. I think it became more rampant in the waning years once the waring native Indian tribes were subdued and regulated to reservations making the hunting areas safer for those unaccomplished marksmen types and giving the less challenged the needed boost once the fear of arrows, lances and scalping had been removed. This was probably most evident with the hunting the northern herd.
Most did not go out and buy Sharps sporting rifles when there were cheaper to be had, surplus was popular. Large case capacity ammo was expensive and it wouldn't take long for a poor shot to realize he wasn't getting rich with 12-15 rounds expended and only two buffalo on the ground. And it is my opinion that most of the "get rich quick" poor shooters did not reload because if they did not take the time to shoot properly they would not take time/effort to load decent ammo. So, yes there were a lot of one time hunts (couple weeks, months or maybe a whole season) just so they could say they did it.
The old saw "It takes money to make money" mostly held true then as it does today, yes they had credit back then but the poor shooters lost or broke even. A poorly thought out get rich scheme on their part.
"40 knots, no smoke"

"No man who refuses to bear arms in defense of his nation can give a sound reason why he should be allowed to live in a free country."
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