Animal drives, in their various shapes and forms, have been and continue to be part of human animal harvesting technique. Today they are still seen in aboriginal harvesting, typically under agreed upon terms, in animal tagging efforts which are not focused on harvesting but in tabulating, recording and tagging, and in animal population control efforts.
The image at left illustrates the results of an effort to control jackrabbit induced losses of crops.
Historical accounts of jackrabbit drives provide some incredible numbers. A report in the Chicago Tribune dated October 1, 1893 claimed 20,000 dead jackrabbits in a drive outside of Fresno, California.
A 640 acre ranch in Bakersfield, California was driven and the take was 1,126 jackrabbits. Two more drives of the same field, the same day netted another 796 rabbits.
There were aboriginal tribes that depended heavily on the jackrabbit and were essentially “rabbit cultures,” making use of the meat and skin for food and clothing. Drives by natives were witnessed and reported on by John Townsend, in 1839 and by John Fremont in 1844. In both cases the tribes had fabricated nets which were then managed by individual tribe members stationed 5-6 feet apart. Each person had a club. The net was used to enclose a large area. A group of natives entered the enclosed area, walking close together. Then they separated and started walking outwards toward the net, beating the bushes. The rabbits rushed away from the disturbance and got caught in the net where they were quickly clubbed to death. As many as two hundred or more natives took part.
A rabbit drive was organized in Lamar Colorado in 1893 and quickly became an annual event. A holiday was declared for the town.
“Wire netting some three feet high is divided into portable sections, and set up in the form of a wide-spreading V. These wings often extend two or three miles in each direction. They converge in a circular corral about one hundred feet in diameter.” (January, 1899 issue of “Outing” magazine)
Animal drives were used by local tribes in the American Midwest to catch antelope while they have been used by northern tribes to catch deer, and buffalo. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, outside Fort McLeod in Alberta, Canada shows evidence of having been in use as early as 6,000 years ago.
The cliff ends in a 30+ foot drop. Members of the Blackfoot tribe created funnels, using lines of rock cairns, that converged on the thousand foot wide cliff . Buffalo were driven into the funnel and over the cliff by specially trained “buffalo runners.” The drop was enough to stun or break the legs of the buffalo that were forced to take the leap. Warriors stationed at the bottom of the cliff finished the stunned or immobilized animals off.
On a smaller scale, a drive could be managed by just a few people if they had access to fencing (snow fencing or rolls of wire mesh) and/or netting. By setting sections of fence into place, with short gaps and then leaving it alone for the animals to acclimatize themselves to it, you avoid the “new – danger” signal. When it is time for the drive, the gaps could be closed and the animals either driven down the funnel into nets or to kill zones.
In future posts I will take a look at large game animal drives in more detail. There are numerous prehistoric remnants of drive lanes, and plenty of early reports of drives being used by cooperating indigenous groups.