Buffalo Skull

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Notchy Bob

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Since childhood, I've been fascinated by bison. Relatives of today's bison helped sustain our European ancestors and also lumbered across the Bering land bridge along with the people who populated the New World. Looking at a buffalo skull takes me back to the old west, the earliest frontiers, and back to the most ancient of times.

I have a buffalo skull. No, I did not kill the animal. I bought the skull from a meat-producing buffalo ranch, maybe 15-18 years ago. This old fellow may have lived out his days on a ranch instead of open range, but he was still a buffalo, and his skull still has that aura of mystery. I took a few snapshots and thought I would share them with you.

Old Bull 1.1.JPG


Old Bull 1.2.JPG


Most of the skulls and horns you see are from two to three year old bulls, and may be considered by-products of the buffalo beef producing industry. However, this old fellow was a fully mature, older bull. I think he must have been kept as a breeder, and he must have been magnificent. This is a massive skull. The mortar joints between the bricks in the picture are 12" apart horizontally and 3" vertically, to give some perspective. The maximum spread of the horns, outside of curve to outside of curve, is 25-3/4", with 23-1/2" horn tip to horn tip. These horns are mirror images of each other and remarkably symmetric, with nearly identical measurements. Both measure 16" around the outside curve, with a base circumference of 12-3/4". This was a big animal. Just in case there is any doubt, I balanced a yardstick on the skull and took one more snapshot:

Old Bull 1.3.JPG


I just call him "Old Bull." Not a very creative name, but it seems appropriate and respectful.

I hope you enjoyed taking a look!

Notchy Bob
 

Notchy Bob

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Nice skull, I like them too. Have you ever seen this famous old photograph of a massive pile of bison skulls? They were used for fertilizer apparently.
View attachment 47712
Yes, I have seen that photo, thanks.

I think all of us are familiar with the "buffalo harvest" of the 1870's and 1880's. Bone piles like that were one of the results. However, bison were pretty heavily hunted much earlier in the 19th century, and the waste was appalling. Most hunters, whether white, native, or Hispanic, preferred cows for meat, and this affected the regeneration of the herds. For a discussion of this, I would recommend doing a Google search for Historic Distribution and Abundance of Bison in the Rocky Mountains of the United States by James Bailey (it will come up as a PDF... I can't link it for you).

I read a lot of western travel literature from the first half of the 19th century. When bison were encountered during that period, there seemed to be plenty of them, but you see frequent comments about the animals being scarce in areas where they had previously been even more numerous. Sometimes this was due to over-killing, but the animals also preferred to simply avoid areas where they were pressured by people. Oddly enough, the mountain men, who are so frequently described as rapacious and cruel, seem to have tried to avoid killing buffalo unnecessarily. I think it was Jim Bridger who guided some wealthy European sportsman on a hunting trip, which turned into a general slaughter of game. Jim came away shaking his head, saying "I never seed such killin'." In Journal of a Trapper, Osborne Russell described a companion observing a herd of about 300 cows. The man, named Allen, said, "I have been watching those cows for some time and I can see but one that is poor enough to kill, for... it is a shame to kill one of those large, fat cows for two men's supper" (p. 71). In The Oregon, Trail, Francis Parkman described the character of his guide, Henry Chatillon, who was an experienced hunter and plainsman: "Nothing excited his [Henry's] indignation so much as any wanton destruction committed among the cows, and in his view shooting a calf was a cardinal sin" (p. 425).

Anyway, we are fortunate that our American bison have recovered to a relatively stable population. I find them fascinating, and love to see them when I travel. When I'm home, I have Old Bull to keep me company.

Notchy Bob

Buffalo Skull.jpg
 
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Last year on the way back from Wyoming we went through the bad lands in South Dakota at one spot there were probably 100 to 125 buffalo grazing along the road some had the road blocked we watched them for maybe a hour before they cleared the road amazing animals. You do not imagine how big they really are until you see them in person.
 

oldwood

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Visited a farm near Kingsport , Tenn. couple years ago and got to hand feed some buffalo. Glad they were on the other side of the fence. They were large and their countenance was impressive. It's amazing to me there were thousands of the creatures in the Ohio river valley states long before our country was founded. ...............oldwood
 

toot

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Since childhood, I've been fascinated by bison. Relatives of today's bison helped sustain our European ancestors and also lumbered across the Bering land bridge along with the people who populated the New World. Looking at a buffalo skull takes me back to the old west, the earliest frontiers, and back to the most ancient of times.

I have a buffalo skull. No, I did not kill the animal. I bought the skull from a meat-producing buffalo ranch, maybe 15-18 years ago. This old fellow may have lived out his days on a ranch instead of open range, but he was still a buffalo, and his skull still has that aura of mystery. I took a few snapshots and thought I would share them with you.

View attachment 47679

View attachment 47680

Most of the skulls and horns you see are from two to three year old bulls, and may be considered by-products of the buffalo beef producing industry. However, this old fellow was a fully mature, older bull. I think he must have been kept as a breeder, and he must have been magnificent. This is a massive skull. The mortar joints between the bricks in the picture are 12" apart horizontally and 3" vertically, to give some perspective. The maximum spread of the horns, outside of curve to outside of curve, is 25-3/4", with 23-1/2" horn tip to horn tip. These horns are mirror images of each other and remarkably symmetric, with nearly identical measurements. Both measure 16" around the outside curve, with a base circumference of 12-3/4". This was a big animal. Just in case there is any doubt, I balanced a yardstick on the skull and took one more snapshot:

View attachment 47688

I just call him "Old Bull." Not a very creative name, but it seems appropriate and respectful.

I hope you enjoyed taking a look!

Notchy Bob
seems that all of the cow sculls always have one, a bullet hole between the eyes. this is grand!!
 

Juice Jaws

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If there was a time machine and I had only one choice of what to go back and see, it would be the buff roaming across the plains in the 1820's. Hard to believe they were kill off so fast.
 

toot

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killed! ,now that was a slaughter. sorta like the LAST KERLU, they were shot to extinction, never more. and the PASSENGER PIEGEON? nothing is forever!!!
 

mushka

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Only reason I'd kill a bison would be for food. And at my age I'd only have to kill one to last me the rest of my life probably,
 

Old Hawkeye

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Buffalo can only be fenced in if they want to be. I've seen them walk through a fence like it wasn't even there!! A 2200 lb Bull pretty much does as it pleases. Amazingly, they won't crash through things if they can't see what's on the other side. Had a friend that raised some on a very small scale. The fence that funneled them into trailers for shipment they could see through but not over. It had posts made of RR ties with horizontal steel bars that they would destroy on occasion. When he lined it with butcher paper they wouldn't try to bust through. Paper can stop a buffalo! Had to see it to believe it!
 

oldwood

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Toot........Angus and Hereford sculls coming from commercial butcher shop used to be shot in the brain w/ ctg. rifle. One hole in the head like seen on the buff's you mentioned . Was that buff. commercially killed???..........oldwood
 
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I believe now the butcher shops use pneumatic driver devices that drives a piston type affair to the skull, many years ago as a kid I would occasionally help on the floor of a slaughter house, used a sledge type hammer with a rounded spike about 6in. long, looked kind of like a spike hammer for rail road spikes. Would run the beef into a narrow pen tie a rope harness around the beefs head run it through a ring fastened to the floor, tag end of the rope was hooked to a winch would draw up the slack until it put the beef on his knees and his head kind of flat to the floor stand to the side and smack him you better hit them good or there would be hell to pay. The hogs were shot with a .22 cal rifle. That was a long time ago reckon things have changed.
 

Notchy Bob

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The occipital bone (base of skull) is shattered on the left side, on that skull in my first post. This is not evident in the pictures, and the damage is in fact not even visible from the front or side.

I met a buffalo rancher a few years ago and had an interesting conversation with him. He did his own slaughtering, and would run the animals into a chute of some sort, one at a time. He said he would stand on a rail, lean over the top, and shoot the animal in the base of the skull with a .44 Magnum revolver. The buffalo would drop in his tracks. Based on the damage to Old Bull's skull, I suspect he was killed in pretty much the same way. I also bought a second bison skull in 2006, from a shop in Custer, South Dakota, when I was up there on a trip. This was from a younger and somewhat smaller bull, but it was a really nice specimen. I ended up giving it to my son, who is just as crazy about this sort of thing as I am. This second skull has a very neat dime-sized hole in the occipital bone. It isn't visible from the front or side.

I spent my career working in rehab, much of the time with stroke and trauma patients. From this, I gained a little understanding of neuroanatomy. It would seem to me that a large-caliber bullet to the base of the skull would blow out the brainstem and likely the cerebellum. This would probably paralyze the animal instantaneously. If the bullet continues on through the midbrain and into the cerebrum, the animal would also very likely be rendered immediately unconscious. A shot or blow to the forehead might very well make the animal unconscious but not necessarily, and would probably not paralyze it, either. It would seem to me that the base-of-skull shot would be quicker and more humane. However, this is all speculation on my part.

I have seen bison skulls offered for sale and described as having "a dime-sized hole at the base of the skull." However, it does seem now that most of the skulls you see for sale have an obvious hole in the forehead, either from a bullet or the pneumatic piston device mentioned by Appalachian hunter. Sometimes these holes are patched. A hole in the forehead would ruin it for me.

I think there are a very few buffalo ranchers, mainly native-run operations, I believe, that kill the animals in the field with a rifle. I've heard that shot placement behind the ear can make for a quick kill, but I suspect heart/lung shots may also be used. I can't say for sure.

If you are shopping for a skull, you'll want to decide for yourself what is acceptable in terms of damage. You may pay more for one without a hole in the forehead. If there is a bullet hole in the skull that has been patched, the seller should disclose this. If you're not sure, it would be worthwhile to ask.

Bison and humans have a lot of shared history, and for me, bison skulls have a mystic aura that may be hard to describe. Some of you may feel the same way... Maybe not, which is okay, too. These are animals whose ancestors wandered out of the Pleistocene with our own, and I'm glad they are still with us.

Best regards,
Notchy Bob
 

Rifleman1776

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killed! ,now that was a slaughter. sorta like the LAST KERLU, they were shot to extinction, never more. and the PASSENGER PIEGEON? nothing is forever!!!
While the excess slaughter of bison is well documented that was not the sole cause of their demise. It is documented, but seldom reported, that brucellosis (bangs disease) was the primary cause for them going nearly extinct. And, it is said, that there are no purebred bison left in north america. Meaning many crossed with bovine cattle over the years and still do.
 

Bill Austin

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Notchy Bob

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One of three I found buried in the bank of stream in Montana. These are very old skulls that were natural deaths.
buffalo skull by Oliver Sudden, on Flickr
And this one I shot in Kansas with black powder ( but the wrong kind).
all 004 by Oliver Sudden, on Flickr
Good post, Phil!

That must have been an impressive bull... Lots of meat and good leather. The skull is a beauty.

I don't have any of those "found" or "dug" skulls. Even though most I have seen were incomplete, they have a mystique all of their own.

Thanks for sharing!

Notchy Bob
 

toot

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Toot........Angus and Hereford sculls coming from commercial butcher shop used to be shot in the brain w/ ctg. rifle. One hole in the head like seen on the buff's you mentioned . Was that buff. commercially killed???..........oldwood
yes, now don't they drive a steel air of blank powered steel bolt into the animals head to dispatch them? ruins the skull with a 2 inch diameter hole between the eyes.
 

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