Never mess with a bison.
Scientifically speaking, North America’s largest mammal may be just another bovine and therefore related to cows, however bison are not docile farm beasts that give us milk and butter.
No, bison are hefty, undauntable creatures that are strong enough roll your car, should they ever have such an interest. Fortunately, most bison favor other hobbies, like eating grass, roaming the rolling Western landscapes, rolling in the dust, fighting with each other, mating, and caring for their adorable russet-coated calves.
Visiting Yellowstone, I got to observe all of these behaviors firsthand, which made me feel like a very lucky tourist. Once upon a time, America’s wild bison were just about everywhere, but then turned quickly scarce due to careless over-hunting. Set aside in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first formal effort to protect what is, in my opinion, the most American animal of all.
Now, some might think the most American creature is a bald eagle (of which I saw several in Yellowstone), or wild turkey (the one we eat at Thanksgiving), but nothing makes me feel more patriotic than watching a bunch of bison kicking up dust on the sagebrush hills of Wyoming.
Today, the Yellowstone herd numbers a healthy and sustainable 3,000 animals. Most important, it is one of very few genetically pure bison breeds left on earth.
Adult male bison can weigh more than a ton (2,000 lbs.) and grow horns up to two feet long. This time of year, the animals are mating, which means the males are often fighting, clashing horns and butting heads with one another. To sit behind the wheel of my car and watch two bison fighting over a female, only a few yards away from me, was a highlight of my trip to America’s first national park.
When not fighting, the buffalo enjoyed crossing the road, strolling back and forth and back again. In fairness, the roads tend to interrupt their endless grazing habitat, so I was in their way, rather than the other way around. If someone stood in front of my refrigerator every time I wanted to go eat, I would probably flare my nostrils and grunt and snort a little too.
Buffalo traffic jams are part of what makes Yellowstone so amazing, so the best thing to do is sit back and watch the show.
For most of us, this is the closest we will ever (safely) get to wild bison.