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Wild Means Wild

                                                                                    By, Colton Jones

In about a week we’ll start gathering the buffalo off their winter pasture on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and bring them back across the Cheyenne River to their summer pasture. It will also be the first time I’ll be among them since my accident.

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, I had an unfortunate encounter with one of our bison. Bison, as we know, are and always will be wild animals. I of all people should know this, but that didn’t stop me from vesting an unfortunate amount of faith into the animals I have become familiar with over the last 7 years.  I want to share my experience in hopes to shed light on the authenticity of Wild Idea Buffalo Company's product, and also our herd management. After all, the idea is to keep the wild, wild.

Buffalo Herd

As spring is now officially upon us, we have been preparing for the upcoming calving season over the last month or so. Our herd resides on some 20,000 acres throughout the fall and winter months prior to calving. If you’re thinking to yourself, “20,000 acres seems like a lot of land” you are right. Our fall and winter pasture is not only expansive, it is rough country with lots of draws, sloughs, wooded ravines and Badlands-type terrain. If a bison cow should have her calf prior to crossing the river onto spring and summer pastures, there is a good chance she will become reclusive within the landscape until her calf is mature enough to cross the river. This could potentially create a situation where bison are on two different sides of a fence, which of course is an unnatural setting for the bison and can cause stress to the herd. So, the goal is to keep the herd somewhat close to their spring and summer pasture in the last few remaining days leading up to calving season so that when the time comes, we can bring the whole herd in as one.

Badlands Landscape

One type of management we use to encourage the animals to stay near is to occasionally feed a bale or two of grass hay to the herd when they are in sight. Over the years, Dan has delegated such responsibilities to me as he knows I've gained adequate knowledge on what to do and more importantly, what not to do. He would stress things like “Be sure everyone gets a bite,” that way the whole herd has had a positive interaction with me, the tractor, the area they are feeding in. He also said and still says “I don’t care how long you have been around them, don’t ever trust them.  They are wild animals that have been shaped to live on this land over thousands of years of evolution." I know when Dan shares advice, especially in regard to bison, to not take any of it lightly. These words of wisdom were not absent the day of my accident, but I did give them a pass after some unexpected circumstances came about. This is where I screwed up.

Buffalo eat hay

I called Dan one frozen morning to see if he had caught sight of any bison near the river. He in fact had, which was the cue to fire up the tractor and grab some hay. I made my way down the trail from the hay yard to the river bottom, a bumpy 3-mile trek. The temperature was subzero and the snow had covered the ground for over a month filling in ravines and washouts so that the land looked like one smooth layer of powder.

Once on the river bottom, I maneuvered around familiar rough spots hidden under the snow. I made my way to the herd in a zig zag sort of way. They, on the other hand, took the crow’s route to me, crashing through snow drifts or sometimes jumping over them all together. I had cut the net wrap of the bale prior to entering the pasture that the bison were in so I wouldn't have to get out and do it while they were around. I began unrolling the bale with the tine on the front-end loader of the tractor. I got the 1,200-pound bale about halfway unrolled when I felt the tractor’s front wheels fall through the snow into a washout. The bale tine jabbed into the ground and broke. During this time, the bison had begun to line up along the hay I had rolled out. I slowly exited the tractor and picked up the broken tine in hope of repairing it later. Once I was back in the tractor, I tried different ways to get the bale unrolled without the tine. It wasn’t working. This is where I began to make bad decisions.

Colton Jones Instead of leaving the half bale and returning with the proper equipment to finish the job safely, I
 decided to get out on foot and unroll it by hand. It  
 was something I had done before, but typically, with
 much less hay left to roll out, and thus staying much
 closer to the tractor.

 I proceeded with caution, trying to keep an eye on
 the herd and looking for signs of agitation among
 the bison. Because so much of the bale remained, it was too heavy to maneuver and roll away from the herd, instead, it was rolling out parallel to them. I continued this process until I neared the end of the bale. It was at this moment, I noticed an 800-pound, 3-year-old heifer staring at me. She wasn’t showing any signs of aggression. Sometimes bison will raise their tails, make woofing noises, and paw the ground or even false charge when they feel threatened. She did none of that. But, there was something about the way she was looking at me. She made me feel as if I was an intruder, which I was of course, and that quite possibly she had never seen anything so foreign amongst her family members, or at least not for the last 5 months.

Bison Running

Within a couple of seconds, she started towards me. I looked for nearby safety and saw only the tractor which was at this point 50 or 60 yards away. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of beating her back to the tractor. I knew that if she wanted to protect her kin bad enough, she wasn’t going to let a two-legged upright-walking European get away unpunished to prevent future run-ins. I took off at a sprint toward the tractor anyway. Initially, she blew past as she came at me from the side, nearly hooking me in the hip. She disappeared out of sight behind me for a moment as she made an arch so that we were traveling in single file together. She closed on me fast this way and delivered a glancing blow to the back of my knee. I kept my footing for a short while and reached my hand back to put on her head as if for some dumb reason I was going to stiff arm my way back to the tractor. I felt her horns and then her wooly head with my hand. She must have felt my touch because she shook it off and went in for the final lesson, which was a right horn placed on the inside of my left thigh. As she finished her hook she hoisted all 220 pounds of me up into the air. I came back down on top of her head and somehow happened to slide off her and land on my feet. I kept running, except now she was done. She had carried on with her line right past me until she was halfway between the tractor and me. She stopped for a moment and looked at me. I still needed to get to the tractor and she was in the path. I raised my hands and hollered at her. She snorted and took a couple of defiant bounds back into the rest of herd that was busy snacking.

I crawled into the tractor and began to examine myself. It looked as if she had only ripped my pants. It wasn’t until I began driving that I felt the warm wet feeling pooling up in my jeans. At this point, I just figured I pissed myself, but after further examination, I noticed a puncture wound on the inside of my thigh. Knowing the femoral artery was in the neighborhood, I applied as much pressure as I could while I called Dan to let him know we were going to be taking a trip to the hospital. I still had a lot of pasture to cover before I got to Dan and Jill’s. Then, I saw Dan closing the gap. He was covering ground relatively fast in his Four Runner. He loaded me into the car and we made our way out of the pasture, leaving the tractor behind. We stopped at Dan and Jill’s to let Jill know what was going on. She looks very worried, but remained steady as she was watching my son, Lincoln. She gave me a “go get fixed quickly, I’ll take care of Lincoln” kind of look.

We covered the 45 miles to the hospital in record time while passing a couple state troopers. The ER doctor noted that the puncture was indeed near the femoral artery but luckily had missed it.

JILIAN & COLTON JONES

It wasn’t until my wife, Jilian came into the ER room, that I quickly realized how careless I had been. Her tears reminded me that I wasn’t just lucky to come out of the situation with 35 stitches and a bottle of painkillers, I was lucky that I didn’t shatter the one thing I go to work for every day, which is her and my son of course. It was at this moment that I came to the reckoning that over the years I had been slowly losing my fear of bison, and that fear may be a necessity no matter how long you have been around them. Nothing like this had ever occurred on the ranch before, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t again. 

I want to make it very clear that none of this was in any way the bison’s fault. Looking back at it, there were a number of factors that played a role, my negligence being the lead. Our bison had not seen a human in 5 months. I (being a human) impinged upon their safety zone. Bison’s eyes are on the side of their head and have evolved to graze in massive mobs, thus having eyes all around their surroundings. Standing in a straight line side by side hinders the herd’s ability to see all of their surroundings. I have no doubt that encroaching on the heifer’s area in a way that didn’t allow her to see me until I was too close, triggered her instinct to protect. For this, among other things, I am at fault.

BISON CLOSE-UP

This story is a reminder that as we do our best to let bison be bison, as long as WE are involved, there’s a chance for error. The only way to avoid error is to fully RESPECT all things WILD.

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76 comments

  • Glad to hear you survived your near death experience. We all sooner or later take Mother Nature for granted somehow, just as we do so with God Almighty. For any city slickers who might not realize it, they should think of American bison as Africanized Honey Beeves which favor us with meat so vitally sweet to eat that they spread a sublime respect for the very health of the human herd.

    Vernon Cross
  • What a great story. Felt like I was in the Wild Wild West. I so love Buffalo and I so respect all you do to give them a home and care. We all have lessons to learn and that was pretty hard way to do it. Glad you are better and still with your family. I appreciate your sharing your experience.

    Linda K
  • So glad it wasn’t any worse than it was!! It frightens me when I see tourists walking up to wildlife to take pictures!! They have no clue what can happen!! Thanks for sharing!

    Connie Hanke
  • I have been going to Yellowstone all my life. I have seen people virtually walk up to bison to take a picture. They have no idea of what these animals can do to them. I wish the NPS would print this with their flyer they give out about the dangers of getting to close to bison. More people are injured by bison than any other animal in Yellowstone.

    Dave Church
  • Glad things ended much better than they could have. It happens so quickly. After almost 20 years of raising buffalo without an issue you tend to get comfortable. We learnt first hand last summer, with my dad losing sight in his eye while tagging bulls to be shipped. Three of us saw our error right before the accident and all 3 of us thought “its only one tag” leaving slack in the nose rope. In the snap of our fingers the bull decided to toss his head, getting my dad square in the face. After a major surgery the doctors were able to save his eye but 6 months later he still has no sight. The years of comfort lead to a second of mistake and now a lifetime of change.

    Natasha
  • Good to see you around to tell us about your moment.

    Chris Leete
  • Colton, I completely understand! I’m so glad your wife and Lincoln still have you and let wild be wild like you said. I worked all kinds of ranches over the years that I’m so fortunate to be able to walk away without an injury. Take care of yourself and your family. Godspeed!

    Shelly
  • Same thing happened past May2017 with my son being gourded by one of his buffalo cows.It hooked him and severed the attery in leg.Only by the grace of God did he live through it.My 12 year old grandson applied a torqunet to leg until he could get medical attention.He lost 8 pints of blood and only had 30 seconds to spare before EMTwas able to apply pressure bandage.

    RANDY Lane
  • So glad you made it out of there safe.

    Mary Kay Christensen
  • This was such a well-written account. Thank you for sharing your story and the lesson learned.

    Marie Johns
  • I really enjoyed your story. In 1987 I was involved in a bison management project using our Australian Shepherds with the Department of Interior.

    http://lasrocosa.com/lasrocosahistory5.html

    All the best,
    Jeanne joy

    Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor
  • It seems that anyone who has ever worked with these critters has similar stories to tell, Even me…. LOL, May I be so bold as to make a suggestion for your next close encounter. When working in the fields with my Bison I always took a hat or loose piece of clothing with me. When I was not paying attention enough and had to seek “higher ground” as you did, I would throw the hat or coat into the air and it always stopped them as it fell to the ground giving me the time I needed to make my hasty retreat…. I learned to do this after I got run over by a couple of heifers that I did not respect enough…. Glad you are safe and I am jealous of you Job!!!

    Mark Smith
  • Thanks for writing this and I am happy that you survived the encounter. We must always remember that these are wild and powerful beasts.When I visited Yellowstone I actually witnessed people getting very close to them to snap a photo, despite all the warnings.

    Linda Parkes
  • dang

    Patrick Warren
  • I guide trips into Yellowstone to see the buffalo. People do things alot pore dangerous than you did and get away with it. I was chased last year in Grand Teton National Park by a cow bison that was 40 yards away from me. It’s like playing Russian roulette if you don’t have an escape route. Thanks for sharing Colton.

    Seth Ames

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