Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Last Hunt

Custer State Park's buffalo herd and scenery starred in 1956's "The Last Hunt" with Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger. As part of the park's herd thinning program at them time, state buffalo hunters actually shot buffalo in the film. In an age when animal rights had not yet come to the forefront, movie action was created a bit differently than today.

Former hunter/Game Warden Harvey Lancaster said he and another hunter did the shooting for the film. In one scene, a buffalo bull outflanks Taylor and Granger while they are hunting. To have a live buffalo charge at the actors from behind, Lancaster said the movie company dug a trench about 20 feet long, six feet wide and six feet deep. A bull was herded into the pit and then dynamite caps placed along the length of the pit were fired in sequence to get him to run through the trench.

"We was supposed to kill him as soon as he came out of the pit," Lancaster said. Unfortunately the hunters were placed too close to the action for the weapons they were using. "We had rifles with scopes on them and all we could see was a patch of fur," he remembered. "I shot and hit him in the horn, but didn't knock him down." Fortunately the next shot took down the bull before he reached the actors. "Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger wanted live bullets, not blanks after that," Lancaster laughed.

"One place they stampeded a herd right over the top of us," Lancaster said. "Me and a cameraman were in this pit covered with logs. They put me in there with a rifle just in case."

According to Lancaster, the movie editors didn't quite remove all of the evidence of their buffalo wrangling. "It's really quick, but on one big bull you can see a lariat on him."

After being part of several movie productions, Lancaster hopes they help the state's tourism industry. "I think they are a darn good thing for South Dakota. We've got good country for movies far as I'm concerned," he said.

"The Last Hunt" is part of Turner Classic Movies' library and is aired periodically on the TCM network. It is not currently available on DVD. You can see several clips of the movie at this channel on YouTube. You can also vote for "The Last Hunt" to be released on DVD here.

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