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Historical Event

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February 1, 1820

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The winter hunt of the buffalo in the Fur Land is described - a crucial slog through the snow to surprise and gun down the buffalo providing caches of fatty meat for the trappers and hunters of the lonely American Plains.





The Great Fur Land


Important Text:

Dividing into parties, the hunters pursue different directions, endeavoring, however, whenever practicable, to encircle a certain amount of territory, with the object of driving the quarry toward a common centre. Again, the small parties follow the same plan on a smaller scale, each one surrounding a miniature meadow, or grassy glade; so that, if the number of hunters is large, there are many small circles within the limits of the general circumference of the hunt.

The winter hunt for buffalo in the Fur Land is generally made by stalking the animals in the deep snow on snowshoes. To hunt the herds on horseback, as in summer, would be an impossibility; the snow hides the murderous badger-holes that cover the prairie surface, and to gallop weak horses on such ground would be certain disaster. By this method of hunting the stalker endeavors to approach within gunshot of his quarry by stealthily creeping upon them, taking advantage of every snow-drift, bush, or depression in the prairie, which will screen his person from view. And it is a more difficult feat to approach a band of buffalo than it would appear on first thought. When feeding the herd is more or less scattered, but at sight of the hunter it rounds and closes into a tolerably compact circular mass. If the stalker attempts an open advance on foot-concealment being impossible from the nature of the ground--the buffalo always keep sheering off as soon as he gets within two hundred yards of the nearest. If he follows, they merely repeat the movement, and always manage to preserve the same distance. Although there is not the slightest danger in approaching a herd, it requires, in a novice, an extraordinary amount of nerve. When he gets within three hundred yards, the bulls on that side, with head erect, tail cocked in the air, nostrils expanded, and eyes that seem to flash fire, walk uneasily to and fro, menacing the intruder by pawing the earth and tossing their huge heads. The hunter still approaching, some bull will face him, lower his head, and start on a most furious charge. But alas for brute courage! When he has gone thirty yards he thinks better of it, stops, stares an instant, and then trots back to the herd. Another and another will try the same strategy, with the same result, and if, in spite of these ferocious demonstrations, the hunter still continues to advance, the whole herd will incontinently take to its heels.

By far the best method of stalking a herd in the snow is to cover oneself with a white blanket, or sheet, in the same manner as the Indians use the wolf skin. In this way the animal cannot easily get the hunter's wind, and are prevented from distinguishing him amidst the surrounding snow. The buffalo being the most stupid and sluggish of Plain animals and endowed with the smallest possible amount of instinct, the little that he has seems adapted rather for getting him into difficulties than out of them. If not alarmed at sight or smell of the stalker, he will stand stupidly gazing at his companions in their death throes until the whole band is shot down.

When the hunter is skilled in the stalk, and the buffalo are plentiful, the wild character of the sport almost repays him for the hardships he endures. With comrades equally skillful he surrounds the little meadows into which he has stalked his quarry. Well posted, the hunter nearest the herd delivers his fire. In the sudden stupid halt and stare of the bewildered animals immediately following, he often gets in a second and third shot. Then comes the wild dash of the frightened herd toward the opening in the park, when the remaining hunters instantly appear, pouring in their fire at short range, and pretty certain of securing their game.

The cutting up follows; and the rapidity with which a skillful hunter completes the operation is little short of marvelous. When time permits, the full process is as follows : He begins by skinning the buffalo, then takes off the head, and removes the paunch and offal as far as the heart; next he cuts off the legs and shoulders and back. The chest, with the neck attached, now remains--a strange-looking object, that would scare a respectable larder into fits-and this he Proceeds to lay beside the other joints, placing there also such internal parts as are considered good. Over the whole he then draws the skin, and having planted a stick in the ground close by, with a handkerchief or some such thing fastened to it to keep off the wolves, the operation of cutting up is complete, and the animal is ready for conveyance to camp when the sledges arrive. The half-breed goes through this whole process with a large and very heavy knife, like a narrow and pointed cleaver, which is also used for cutting wood, and performing all the offices of a hatchet; but unwieldy as it is, a practiced hand can skin the smallest and most delicate creatures with it as easily as with a pocket-knife.

A few days' successful stalking generally supplies a party with sufficient meat, and, unless hunting for robes, they are not likely to linger long upon the bleak plains for the mere sake of sport. The winter stalk is emphatically a "pot-hunt," the term "sport" being scarcely pertinent to a chase involving so serious discomfort. A cache of the meat is accordingly made, from which supplies may be drawn as required. And this cache has to be made in a very substantial manner to resist the attacks of wolves, which invariably hang about the camp of the hunter. Generally speaking, it is made in the form of a pyramid, the ends of the logs being sunk slightly into the ground, against which a huge bank of snow is heaped. This, when well beaten down, and coated with ice by means of water poured over it, holds the timber firmly in position, and is perfectly impregnable to a whole army of wolves, though a wolverine will certainly break it open if he finds it.

At last comes the departure. The sledges are packed with melting rib, fat brisket, and luscious tongues; the cowering dogs are again rudely roused from their dream of lit far-off day, which never comes for them, when the whip shall be broken and hauling shall be no more. Amid fierce imprecation, the cracking of whips, deep-toned yells, and the grating of the sledges upon the frozen snow, the camp in the poplar thicket is left behind. The few embers of the deserted campfire glow cheerily for a while, then moulder slowly away. The wolves, growing bolder as the day wears on, steal warily in, and devour such refuse as the dogs have left. As night settles silently down, the snow begins to fall. It comes slowly, in a whirling mist of snowflakes that dazzles and confuses the eye. The ashes of the camp-fire, mingling with it, take on a lighter grey; the hard casing of the cache receives a fleecy covering. Feathery shafts of snow, shaken from the long tree-branches, fly like white-winged birds down over what has been the camp. But all traces of its use are hidden by the spotless mantle flung from above. The coming morning reveals only a pyramidal drift of snow among the aspens–around, a hopeless, uncharted, trackless sea of white.

Such is the winter stalk--a hunt that has often formed the theme of the traveler's story. And yet it may be doubted if there has ever been placed before the reader's vision anything like a true account of the overpowering sense of solitude, of dreary, endless space, of awful desolation, which at times fills the hunter's mind, as, peering from some swelling ridge or aspen thicket, he sees a lonely herd of buffalo, in long, scattered file, trailing across the snow-wrapt, interminable expanse into the shadows of the coming night.

Life to the white stranger temporarily resident in the winter camp becomes after a season pleasant enough. The study of Indian and half-breed character and customs, the visits of his barbarian neighbors, the exciting incidents of his everyday life, all conspire to relieve the monotony which would otherwise hang over him like a pall. It is true that of life other than human there is a meagre supply; a magpie or screaming jay sometimes flaunts its gaudy plumage on the meat-stage; in the early morning a sharp-tailed grouse croaks in the fir or spruce-trees; and at dusk, when every other sound is hushed, the owl hoots its lonely cry. Besides human companionship, however, the white resident of the winter camp has many pleasures of a more æsthetic character. It is pleasant at night, when returning from a long jaunt on snowshoes or dog-sledge, to reach the crest of the nearest ridge and see, lying below one, the straggling camp, the red glow of the firelight gleaming through the parchment windows of the huts, the bright sparks flying upward amid the sombre pine-tops, and to feel that, however rude it may be, yet there in all that vast wilderness is the one place he may call home. Nor is it less pleasant when, as the night wears on, the long letter is penned, the familiar book read, while the log fire burns brightly and the dogs sleep quietly stretched before it. Many a night thus spent is spread out in those pictures which memory weaves in after life, each pleasure distinct and real, each privation blended with softened colors.

Topics: (click image to open)

Trapping, Exploring, Hunting
The sales of furs, and the exploration of new routes to new lands, and finally the hunting of animals made a significant impact in the history of the modern world, and often the people living remote to civilization would have to take advantage of the ways of the native people and eat like them. In this way, they would be carnivores by need, as fishing, hunting, and eating trapped animals would be the best way to get a meal, and animals can be processed down into high fat pemmican to get the best bang for the buck when it comes to transporting fuel as weight.
Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet involves eating only animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, marrow, meat broths, organs. There are little to no plants in the diet.
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