Blackfoot Indian Hunting Methods

by Scott Thompson
The Blackfoot Native Americans were buffalo hunters.

The Blackfoot Native Americans were buffalo hunters.

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The Blackfoot Indian people of Alberta and Montana are a group of distinct but related tribes including the Siksika, Blackfeet, Pikanii and Akainawa. All four of the Blackfoot tribes were historically known as expert buffalo hunters, who lived a nomadic lifestyle to follow the buffalo herds. After settlers nearly eliminated the buffalo in the late 19th century, the Blackfoot were forced to abandon their traditional way of life.

Communal Hunting

The Blackfoot were traditionally organized into small bands of up to a few hundred people, coming together as a tribe only once a year for the Sun Dance ceremony. The Blackfoot followed the buffalo herds in their annual migrations, and they organized massive communal hunts to make it easier to catch them. The stone-tipped arrowheads of the Blackfoot hunters were not particularly effective for killing such large game as the buffalo, so the Blackfoot developed a method to make the process more effective and to allow them to kill an entire herd of buffalo at once. Although the Blackfoot were primarily known as buffalo hunters, they also hunted sheep, antelope, elk, deer and birds.

The Cliff Hunt

On the day of the hunt, the Blackfoot medicine man would put on a buffalo costume and approach the herd. He would try to get the herd to follow him. If they started to do so he would run faster and faster, leading the buffalo into a V-shaped ambush formed by the Blackfoot hunters. The hunters would stand up from behind the rocks and bushes, making as much as noise as they could panic the buffalo. Meanwhile, the medicine man would lead the herd to the edge of a cliff. When the panicking buffalo reached the edge of the cliff, the herd had too much momentum to stop, and most of them would fall to their deaths. The survivors were finished off with arrows.

Hunting on Level Ground

The Siksika Blackfoot had a special method for hunting buffalo herds on level ground where there was no cliff available. This was to build a structure out of logs stacked 8 feet high. Instead of driving the buffalo herd over a cliff, the Siksika would drive them into this corral and then close the opening. Once the buffalo were trapped inside they would start running around in a panic, and the Siksika hunters could shoot them from the walls.

Uses of the Hunt

The Blackfoot used almost every part of the buffalo. Lodges, blankets and clothing of all kinds were made of buffalo skin. Shields were made from the buffalo's neck, spoons were made from the horns, and glue was made from the hoofs. Bowstrings were made from the sinews, and rope was made from braided strips of buffalo hide. Buffalo meat was an important food source. A single successful hunt could bring a time of prosperity for an entire band.

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