Park officials: Don’t get too close to bison on Antelope Island

Jun 27, 2023, 5:56 PM | Updated: 7:20 pm

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah — No matter how many times Arne Van Wagoner has seen them, he can’t get enough of them.

“I think I live in the wrong era,” he said with a laugh. “I love wild animals.”

His camera is full of wildlife photos, but there’s something about seeing all the bison at Antelope Island State Park that really makes him smile. It’s why he and his wife made the trip to the island Tuesday afternoon from their Tooele home.

“We brought out grandkids to see this,” Van Wagoner said.

However, for as much as he loves seeing the herd of bison, he doesn’t dare get close to them.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go up to them. They’re bigger than I am. They are faster than me,” he said with another laugh.

Even though bison look lazy and slow, the internet is full of videos of people who made the mistake of thinking the same thing.

“They just don’t care,” Van Wagoner said. “They tell you up at Yellowstone not to mess with anything, but they do.”

It’s also the message Antelope Island State Park managers are getting out there, especially with the busy holiday weekend coming up.

Managers know a lot of people will be visiting because of the bison and the baby bison after the recent calving season.

“The warning is to not approach bison. So, we ask folks, I know Yellowstone says 25 yards, we just try to extend that and say maybe a football field and don’t approach closer than that,” said Wendy Wilson, assistant park manager at Antelope Island. “If they turn their head and look at you, they’re aware of you and you’re probably too close. If they cock their tail, you are definitely too close.”

People have been seriously hurt because they were too close to bison.

There are several warning signs on the island, but managers see people approaching them almost every day.

“All the time. Yes. All the time,” Van Hadley said.

Hadley and his wife live near Antelope Island and use their Utah State Park pass to visit several times a month. Because of their frequent visits, they have seen a lot of things.

“Some of them were very scary,” Hadley said. “One time, a guy was standing out in a field taking a picture and the bison is charging him and he’s running like crazy. We didn’t know what to do, if we should call 911 or what. He finally dove into his car and got out, just barely.”

It was an example of how fast the animals can move and why park managers are asking everyone to be careful.

“They look like big fluffy cows, right? They’re not. They’re wild animals. They have tempers and they have their spatial bubbles,” Wilson said. “We’re threats to them, and so if they feel threatened by us, and if they don’t feel like there’s a good escape for them, then they’ll come after us to protect themselves.”

(Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV) (Stuart Johnson/KSL TV)

Here are a few tips from Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources on how to avoid making a bison aggressive if you encounter one:

  • If you see a bison and it stops what it is doing and starts paying attention to you, you are too close and should slowly back away.
  • If a bison is in the middle of the road, wait for it to pass. Do not get out of your vehicle.
  • If a bison is on the side of the road, feel free to slowly drive past it. But again, stay inside your vehicle.
  • If you see a bison in the distance, do not walk across the rangeland to get closer to it. Take your photos from a safe distance.
  • If you are hiking and a bison is close to you or on the trail, you should either back away and return the way you came or leave the trail and give the animal a very wide berth when passing it. It is OK to go off the trail if your safety is at risk.

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Park officials: Don’t get too close to bison on Antelope Island