Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Parker Heinlein
Outdoors columnist 

Trying my luck


August 7, 2019

I guess I’ve just been lucky.

For nearly half a century I’ve wandered the backcountry of Yellowstone Park without ever being mauled by a bear or gored by a bison.

I seldom followed the stay-75-feet-away-from-wild-animals rule, often wandering too close to critters that could hurt me. Especially bison. My close encounters were usually the result of laziness: I simply didn’t want to leave the trail and walk farther than planned.

In my misspent youth I actually sought out confrontations with bison. A friend and I would shoot them with a U.S. Divers fish spear after unscrewing the barbed end. Sneaking up close on bison grazing in the timber, we’d let fly with the blunt fiberglass shaft, which would bounce harmlessly off them as we hid behind a tree.

Counting coup on bison was just one of many stupid things I did when I was young to scare myself.

However, bison, I discovered, weren’t that scary. Unlike bears and moose, which were typically more aggressive, bison seldom sought confrontation. They usually moved out of the way at their own, slow pace.

I always figured I was fast enough to get out of their way, even though the big critters are capable of surprisingly quick bursts of speed.

Moose and bears have both chased me and run me up trees. Bison hardly pay any attention to me at all.

But while I don’t fear them, neither do I ignore them. It’s hard to when they weigh upwards of a ton and stand six feet tall at the shoulder.

And again, I’ve been lucky.

I’ve spent more time around bison than most folks have. I’ve walked too close when there was no cover. I’ve chucked rocks to get them out of my way.

It could be the attention they crave. The big bull that tossed a little girl in the park last week looked harmless when he was being ignored. Then he charged -- slow enough that the child’s parents could escape, but just fast enough to nail their kid.

We‘ve all heard the line that you don’t have to be faster than the bear/bison/moose. You just have to be faster that the other folks you’re with. However, I don’t think it’s supposed to apply to parents and their children.

I’m certainly not as fast as I once was. In fact I’m at an age where younger friends have begun to invite me along on hikes in the park.

My luck may be about to run out.

Parker Heinlein is at [email protected]


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