HomeOutdoorsNewsNez Pierce Bison Hunter Shot in ‘Freak Accident’ North of Yellowstone National Park

Nez Pierce Bison Hunter Shot in ‘Freak Accident’ North of Yellowstone National Park

by Jon D. B.
yellowstone bison hunt
Memebers of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe from Ft. Hall, Idaho prepare to harvest bison that have just crossed the border of Yellowstone National Park into the Gallatin National Forest in the Gardiner Basin, Montana. The bison can be shot and harvested by four different native American tribes as part of their treaty rights to hunt bison that leave Yellowstone National Park. Under new bsion managments rules the Yellowstone bison will be allowed to wander into the Gardiner Basin during the winter b (Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images)

An Indigenous American bison hunter has been “accidentally shot” north of Yellowstone National Park during a tribal hunt, highlighting the U.S. government’s dangerous overlap in harvesting programs.

Per U.S. and tribal laws, bison that leave Yellowstone National Park are harvestable by four different native American tribes as part of their treaty rights to hunt the species. But private, non-tribal hunters can also access the hunt through permit systems simultaneously. As a result of this overlap/oversight, a Nez Pierce hunter was hit by a stray bullet on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

One minute, he was dressing his bison. The next, he had been shot.

“I am upset that state and federal politics put my son in the line of fire,” Mary Jane Oatman, mother of the Nez Pierce hunter, says as part of Buffalo Field Campaign’s statement on the incident. “No other person besides our Treaty tribes, with our historical and cultural ties to the area, should even be there exercising that right.”

Thankfully, the hunter’s wound is non-life-threatening. But the bullet that hit him came from one of 40 non-Native hunters. And each of those hunters is legally able to pursue Yellowstone bison once they leave the park via tags.

U.S. Officials are Aware of How Dangerous Yellowstone Bison Hunt Overlap Is

This overlap in hunting access is part of a larger bison management strategy that “seeks to limit their dispersal into private and state land,” Buffalo Field Campaign cites. Critics of this overlap are blunt in citing how dangerous it is, however. Allowing non-Native hunters (both literally and figuratively) to be actively shooting on the same land at the same time could have cost Oatman her son.

“Wildlife officials were on record as early as 2017 warning that ‘the fear for injury or death to hunters is real’ due to restrictions placed on hunting and migration by Montana’s Department of Livestock,” Buffalo Field Campaign Executive Director James Holt offers in their same release.

“It is now incumbent on all the federal agencies in the region to review and update their management plans to protect and restore buffalo,” he adds, “without regard to the wishes of Montana’s livestock industry.”

Yellowstone National Park has yet to offer comment, as the incident took place outside their borders. But the park is in the process of examining three separate (and differing) strategies for bison management. Each would allow for varying levels of tribal and non-tribal hunts. Drafts for these plans should go public this summer.

In turn, Buffalo Field Campaign spokesperson Tom Woodbury reiterates that Tribal members should be able to exercise their treaty rights. This would mean harvesting bison outside of today’s heavily-restricted “canned hunt.”

Park County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation into the hunter’s injury. Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and tribal law enforcement are also assisting.