By Cheri Sicard
A sighting of bison, the largest wild animal roaming North America, tops many an RVer’s bucket list experience. But to keep the experience positive for humans and bison, some basic bison safety and etiquette rules are necessary. Especially for RV travelers who might actually encounter bison in the wild.
As awe-inspiring as bison may be, never forget they are also massive muscular walls of brute strength that also come equipped with sharp horns. Even though their size might make them appear slow, bison are surprisingly agile and fast!
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Education channel produced this video so that visitors know proper bison etiquette in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to their state park. However, you need not be in Texas to benefit from this video. American bison in any state can be expected to react in the same ways.
Major Bison Safety Tips
#1 Personal space
Bison are LARGE and they need a lot of personal space in order to feel comfortable. Don’t be the idiot tourist who gets too close trying to get a selfie and becomes a viral video sensation for all the wrong reasons. The video recommends giving bison at least 50 yards of space—that’s half a football field.
Be sure to watch the video to learn the “rule of thumb” technique. This will let you determine, in the wild, whether or not you are too close to a bison for safety.
#2 Do not disturb
While keeping your distance, be mindful of what the bison are doing and stay as quiet as possible. If your presence is causing the bison to change their behavior, it’s a good idea to retreat and possibly try to come back later.
#3 Be extra careful around mothers and calves
Just as with most other species including humans, bison mothers can be expected to be protective of their offspring. Always, always, always maintain a safe distance and do not approach.
#4 Watch for bison signs and signals
When bison feel threatened or agitated they will raise their tails in the air in a form that resembles a question mark. Take heed of this signal and immediately leave the area. If you have left enough personal space, you should have time. If you haven’t left enough space and a bison’s tail goes up while it’s staring at you, you have two choices:
- Run as if your life depends on it… because it does!
- Brace for impact.
Other signs of bison agitation and disapproval are pawing the ground, snorting, and lowering of the head.
Never, ever challenge a bison by ignoring these warning signals.
#5 View bison from your vehicle
For maximum bison safety, whenever possible view bison from your vehicle and stay inside. Bison feel less threatened by vehicles than they do by a person on foot, which is not to say you should approach a bison in your vehicle either, but it does allow for closer viewing.
If you want to get the best bison photos, take them from your vehicle using a telephoto lens.
#6 Roadway courtesy
Bison sometimes use roadways, especially in state parks like the one in the video. This can result in a bison traffic jam. Always obey speed limits and if you do happen to find your vehicle in a bison traffic jam, stay calm. Never tailgate, push, or honk at bison. You are the visitor and bison always have the right of way.
More interesting facts about bison
- Bison are the official mammal of the U.S.
- They can run at speeds more than 30 miles per hour.
- A large hump on the neck characterizes bison. This supports their oversize head and allows them to literally plow through snow when foraging for food.
- A lot of people confuse bison and buffalo, but they are not the same animal.