Butcher’s Crossing: Were the Buffalos Real or CGI? Were Any Bisons Harmed?

Gabe Polsky’s ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ charts a tale about obsessive destruction as it follows a Buffalo hunting party led by Hunter Miller, whose mountainous hubris leads to treacherous outcomes. William Andrews, a Harvard dropout, helms the narrative as the protagonist who travels to Kansas in search of a transformative adventure. Consequently, he throws in his lot with Miller and his ambitious hunting dreams of bringing in the biggest Buffalo hide haul ever seen.

The film attributes crucial significance to Buffalos, otherwise known as American Bisons, and maintains the animals at the narrative center. Therefore, the gross violence against these beasts ends up taking center stage within the tale. For the same reasons, one must be compelled to wonder about the behind-the-scenes reality of these animals, including whether or not their physical presence in the film is real and —if so— what it means for their physical well-being.

The Buffalos of Butcher’s Crossing

Since ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ follows the story of a hunting party who travels into a remote pass to prey on a massive Buffalo herd, the animals naturally end up taking frequent residence within the narrative. The buffalos featured in the film are all actual buffalos captured on screen without much CGI or other special effects. As a result, the film employs Bison wranglers Steve Tatsey, Chazz Racine, and Adrien Slew Costel, who cared for and paid attention to the several real-life animals on set.

Furthermore, given the project’s filming on Montana’s Blackfeet Nation-owned land, filmmakers and producers were able to work with the Blackfeet Tribe Buffalo Program in matters pertaining to the animals’ handling. Blackfeet Tribe Buffalo Program is a vital conservational program in the revitalization of buffalo culture, with around 600 animals under their care and maintenance. As such, the Blackfeet Nation inevitably plays a significant role in the film’s on-set treatment of the animals as well as the on-screen thematic portrayal of their cruel past hunting practices.

Producer Molly Conners discussed their work with the animals and told Variety, “It was very challenging. We had 600 buffalo every day,” Moreover, the producer highlighted the Blackfeet Nation’s role in the film’s development and added, “[Also,] We had to move so many animals around. We would not have been able to do that without the participation and partnership with the Blackfeet Nation. This is their herd and something outside the scope of our experience.”

The filmmakers saw an introduction with the Blackfeet Tribe Buffalo Program through their stunt co-ordinator Danny Edmo, a Blackfeet individual, who was able to secure a conversation with Buffalo project manager Ervin Carlson. Thus, after concluding the film’s depiction of the animals’ history highlighted the difficult reality of the current efforts toward their species’ replenishment, the program agreed to collaborate on the project.

Therefore, considering the buffalos on the ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ set were looked after by the community largely responsible for their monumental conservation, it remains evident that no animals were harmed in the film’s making. Despite the butchering violence in the storytelling, as suggested by the title, the film’s depiction of animal cruelty remains confined to its fictional narrative. “Oh, it was, it was [difficult to film],” said Nicolas Cage, a known animal lover who portrays the central Buffalo hunter in the film. “It was disgusting. But I’m glad I could put it on camera because I’m not afraid to be ugly— and to show the darker side of our nature.”

Ultimately, the violence against buffalos— through graphic images of hunting, skinning, and trading rituals— that the film presents remains intrinsic to its themes. Yet, the film remained true to its values of showcasing the brutal reality of the buffalos’ past to shed significance to their future. As such, it ensured the safety of the real-life animals on set.

Read More: Buther’s Crossing: Is There Any Truth Behind Nicolas Cage’s Movie?