bear spray

Maybe they should call it Bison Spray?

I’ve made several trips to fly fish Yellowstone’s backcountry and always carried UDAP spray as a precaution in case of surprise encounters with bears. In the last week of September 2009 I found that my UDAP spray could also work on the animal that injures more park visitors than any other – bison!

On that late September day a cold front moved in covering much of the park in a light snow, and I spent the day fishing about 4-5 miles up Slough Creek.  Shortly after I started hiking back out I turned and saw a single bull bison emerge from the trees and start following me down the trail.  He was a good 250 yards or so back and it was just a coincidence that we were going the same way, so I did not think much of it.  About a mile on down the trail with the bull still trailing I came over a small hill and saw another bull bison standing just yards off the trail about 150 yards ahead of me.  At about 100 yards away I could see he was agitated, so I yielded the path to circle around behind him making sure I was keeping a good 70-80 yards away.  As I got behind him I lost sight of the first bull but figured Bison-track-and-spraythere would be a good bison fight when he came over the hill and saw the second.  Feeling safe at some 80 yards away, I got behind the one tree in the area and got my camera out to capture the impending fight.  I took a few shots of the second bull, but could not yet see the first.  Then the second bull suddenly turned and started walking away from the direction of the first, which meant he was coming more or less in my direction.  There really was no where for me to go and the branches of the tree were too high to reach, so I dropped my backpack and camera, got my can of spray out and ready, and stayed as much behind he tree as I could.  At 30 yards, just when the bison seemed like he was going to walk right on past, he looked over at me and then turned 90 degrees to his right and charged full speed at me.  With my 7.9 oz can ready, I started spraying when he was about 15-20 yards out.  He disappeared into the orange fog, then he turned 90 degrees to his left and ran some 80 yards wheezing, coughing, and shaking his head, then stopped facing my direction.

bear spray for bisonI then looked to my right and saw that the first bull had come around the hill and was now just to my right some 50-60 yards away.  He looked at me, then looked at the bull I had just sprayed.  The sprayed bull turned away and started running, and the first bull took off after him.  I guess there would be a fight after all, but I was not going to see it.  With some 3 miles or so to go and getting toward dark, I grabbed my gear and set a quick pace on the trail out. 

I’ve always heeded the park warnings to keep at least 25 yards away from the bison, and actually always thought 50-75 seemed smarter. In this case, even 80 yards (I measured it the next day) was not enough.  I reported the incident to Park Rangers who said sometimes those bulls just go nuts.  The bull that charged me would not have been able to knock down the tree I was behind, but I certainly am glad I did not have to have an agility contest with that bull.  Thanks UDAP!
Joel Allen – Minneapolis, MN

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