You will never forget the first time you see a bison in the wild. They seem to conjure-up some deep rooted emotions from our past. It may be just one lonely bull walking through the fog early one morning. It also could be a few hundred cows and calves stretching out as far as the eye can see. However your first encounter plays out, it will remain a part of you. Bison have always had that magic.
Taking time to slow down and watch these magnificent creatures could be the highlight of your next trip to Yellowstone. Remember they are fast. They can run thirty miles per hour. Watch from a safe distance.
Bison are well adapted for Yellowstone’s harsh winters. Their large heads are used as a shovel. They sweep away the snow to reach dried grasses below. In deep snow, bison break trail for each other and follow in a straight line to save energy.
Adult bull bison spend most of the year alone or in small groups. Cow bison live in herds that include calves and young bulls. The mature bulls join those herds in late summer for the mating season. During this rut, bulls engage in ritual battle for the right to mate with a female. Calves are born nine months later, usually in April or May.
Bison are social creatures. The reddish colored calves often gather in small play groups where they learn the social ins and outs of bison life. When crossing a river, adults cross downstream from the calves to ensure that the current doesn’t wash the young ones away.
I once watched a pack of wolves attempting to take down a lone bull bison. Out of nowhere, four or five other bulls came running up in a line, and ran the wolves away. Wildlife researcher, Mary Meagher noticed that, “bison are always on the move.” Stay alert and if they move toward you back away. It is illegal to be closer than 25 yards to a bison, elk or any other ungulate.