Monday, July 2, 2012

Close Encounter with a Herd of Bison in Yellowstone

Last week I posted a story about a man who suffered several injuries after being tossed nearly 10 feet into the air by a bull bison in Yellowstone National Park, after refusing to yield to the animal as it approached him. Later in the week I happened to read a story posted in Trip Advisor about an extremely close encounter a man and his wife had with a small herd of bison a few years ago. I asked permission from TetonBill if I could post his story in this blog. Here's his story:

My wife and I were in YNP during winter a few of years ago (we go up there a couple of times each winter). We stopped to hike on Blacktail Plateau Drive. We wore our hiking boots (and not snowshoes) because the road was hard packed. After hiking about a mile, we turned around to hike back. As the road started a straight, gentle climb, we saw a bunch of bison walking down the road in our direction. We counted ten of them, with three across in the front rank. The road was only about ten feet across. I stepped off the road to check the snow depth, and it was up to my waist without all my weight on that leg. And the snow further away from the road would certainly have been deeper, perhaps up to my chest. Given my wife's shorter height, it seemed that moving off the road to let the bison pass wasn't much of an option.

So my wife and I stepped to the far side of the road, hoping that these ten bison would simply walk past us. We mostly turned our backs to them as they approached us (thinking we'd appear less threatening) and spoke to each other in soft voices, while I watched them out of the corner of my eye. The bison herd approached us, slowed down, slowed down some more, and then came to a dead stop a few feet away. I could have reached out and touched the closest one.

They began shifting about, scuffing the ground and making snuffling noises. Because we were so close to the front rank (those are really big animals when you're close enough to smell their breath), it was hard to see if any tails were going up, which is a sign of aggression. The bison closest to us turned directly in our direction and increased his snuffling volume. My wife, being ever so helpful, took this moment to softly read aloud from a park brochure that cautions visitors to stay well away from bison because several visitors have been gored. Bison, she helpfully informed me, can weigh 2000 pounds and run 35 miles an hour. These particular (now agitated) bison were just a few feet away.

After several more minutes, one of bison at the front of the herd suddenly charged past us at top speed and ran down the road. It was when we looked back at the remaining nine bison that we saw the yearling. My wife, continuing to share helpful tidbits from the park brochure, explained quietly that bison are particularly dangerous when protecting a young one. I began imagining being trampled by these bison in a stampede, not unlike being run over by nine angry compact cars.

The bison must have reached some kind of decision, because at about this time eight of the nine, including the yearling, thundered by us. They were so close, I could easily have reached out and touched several of them as they ran by. Without exaggeration, the ground shook. For some reason, the last bison did not follow the herd. Instead, he turned away from us and charged full bore into the snowfield.

My wife and I shared a long hug on weak knees, and then finished our hike back to the car. Along the way, we passed some skiers who had witnessed our encounter with the bison. They all seemed impressed that we had survived unmolested, and that neither of us had had a stroke.

Hiking in

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