Thursday 31, Jul 2014

Bison and bikes can get along, but be safe

In this close encounter from 2012, the biker got impatient and tried to slip past a mother and her calf. Mom gave the bikers a quick lunge just to keep them from getting closer. It worked. A better idea is to wait for the road to clear. In this close encounter from 2012, the biker got impatient and tried to slip past a mother and her calf. Mom gave the bikers a quick lunge just to keep them from getting closer. It worked. A better idea is to wait for the road to clear.

There's an old joke about two tourists in Custer State Park who encounter an agitated bull buffalo. One of the tourists reaches into his backpack, pulls out a pair of running shoes and puts them on.

"You really think you can run faster than that bison?" his friend asks.

"I don't have to run faster than the bison," the hiker replies as he bolts off across the pasture, leaving his friend behind.

If you want to understand bison behavior, there's one very important thing to remember. If the animal is flicking its tail, it's planning to either charge, or discharge. Better hope it's the latter, because there's not much you can do about the former.

However, there's no need to be overly concerned. Bikes and bison have coexisted quite nicely in Custer State Park since the first Sturgis Rally in 1938. But it's the biker's responsibility, not the bison's, to make the relationship work. While not exactly friendly, most bison are willing to ignore people in cars and on motorcycles.

Custer State Park's Wildlife Loop is a popular route during the rally. You can see everything from prairie dogs to antelope and an occasional mountain goat-- not to mention the friendly begging burros. (They will eat just about anything you have, but they're especially fond of marshmallows.)

But it's the bison that draw the crowds. Whether you see a sprawling herd or a scattered loner, it's always a breathtaking sight. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Baby bison are cute, but their moms are not amused by overly friendly tourists.
  • Keep a respectful distance, and you should be fine.
  • Regardless of traffic, bison have the right of way. If one is blocking the road, you have to be patient and let them wander off. 
  • Don't be fooled by their bulk. Bison are surprisingly agile. They can run faster than a horse, and they can turn on a dime.