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Buffalo Hunters and the Pisskan

How We Lived with the Buffalo

Buffalo Hunters and the Pisskan

(Buffalo Jump)

Buffalo Calling Ceremony

Before the hunt, people gathered in a tipi and began a ceremony to ask the buffalo for a successful hunt. These people sang special songs that honoured the buffalo. They prayed for a successful hunt that would provide plenty of meat for the coming winter. They thanked the buffalo for giving themselves to us.

If the ceremony was done correctly, the buffalo would know that the people respected them. The buffalo would allow themselves to be led to the pisskan (buffalo jump).

Gathering the Buffalo

Young men were sent out to lure the buffalo toward the cliff. The men went through special preparations so they would be successful and not get hurt by the buffalo.

The young men had to be good runners. They also had to be able to go for long periods of time without food or water. This is because if the men were near some buffalo they could not take a break for lunch as that might alert the buffalo to their presence.
Buffalo Herds

Wolf Robes

Some buffalo runners disguised themselves with wolf robes. Wolves were predators and made the buffalo nervous. When they spotted a wolf, they moved away.
Wolf Robes

Buffalo Calf Robe

Some men wore a buffalo calf robe and bleated like a lost calf. The buffalo came closer to this sound to rescue the calf.
Buffalo Calf Robe

Buffalo Runners Cause Stampede

As the buffalo drew closer together, the buffalo runners began to show themselves to panic the herd. If they showed themselves too early, the herd might change direction and run away from the cliff.
Buffalo Hunter


When buffalo panic they run at full speed. As the buffalo entered the drive lanes, our young men who were hiding behind the rock piles panicked the animals by standing up and waving hides. The quick motion of the hides scared the animals even more. We also put sticks with soft hides into these cairns , creating a flag that blew in the wind.
Buffalo Hunter

Gerald Tailfeathers, The Kill, 1960, Collection of Glenbow Museum

Gerald Tailfeathers,
The Kill, 1960,
Collection of Glenbow Museum

Drive Lanes Pisskan

Closer to the edge of the pisskan (buffalo jump) we arranged lines of low piles of rocks. Some of these lines were hundreds of years old and showed us where our ancestors had hunted buffalo.

The lines spread out in a V-shape from the edge toward the prairie behind the jump. The rocks in the drive lanes help keep the buffalo inside the lane as they run toward the edge.
Drive Lanes Pisskan

The Fall

The panicked animals were unable to stop and tumbled over the cliff. Many died as they hit the ground. We shot the others with our arrows and spears.

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