The true story of a wildlife encounter gone awry
Since you’ve already gone to the trouble of clicking this link, let me just cut to the chase.
After a night of camping in Payne’s Prairie, FL, my wife and two friends of ours (along with their dog, Abit) decided to go hiking on an 8 mile trail through the prairie. We knew from previous hiking experience that, despite the trail map’s promises, it was unlikely that we’d see any cool wildlife. Which may have been part of the reason our friends, Dustin and Cindy, decided it’d probably be okay to bring along their dog and ignore the sign that clearly said NO PETS.
Only about a mile into the hike, we actually ran into a bison. It was about 30 yards away, just hanging out in a marsh beside the trail. It turned to check us out, and although we are no experts in bison body language, we could all tell that it maybe wasn’t our biggest fan.
We admired it for a moment and moved along. Surprisingly, he was the first of several unexpected wildlife sightings.
We were really enjoying the hike. So much so that we had to pick up the pace quite a bit to make it back to the car before dark. With only about a mile or so to go, and about half an hour before the sun set, we came upon a group of about 10 people gathered on the trail. What we soon realized was that they were not really gathered, but more like blocked. For about 15 feet in front of them was the bison. She was just standing there and not caring about the dwindling daylight or anyone else’s agenda.
Now, along with the NO PETS sign were clear instructions to not pass the wildlife if they are in the trail.
Again, NO PETS and DO NOT PASS THE WILDLIFE.
My wife and I, and Cindy for that matter did not condone what happened next. I figured we’d just have to wait until the bison moved on before we could be on our way. Dustin had other ideas.
The bison let them pass by.
Then she began to follow them.
They picked up the pace.
She picked up the pace.
She ran faster.
In no time she was upon them. Dustin was forced to let go of the leash. Poor Abit was trampled underfoot of a 700,000 lb bison (that number may be inaccurate). Dustin turned back toward us. Abit was able to make it to his feet (his paws?). They rejoined the dumbfounded group.
Cindy was, understandably, very upset. Abit appeared to have no injuries. We thought it was over, but the bison had other ideas. She had turned back toward us and was clearly not happy.
It wasn’t long before she charged again.
The group ran backward at everyone’s top speed. There was nowhere to go but in a straight line. On one side of the trail was barbed wire fence, and on the other side was a marsh.
Strangely, it was at the same time both terrifying and hilarious. I mean, a freaking bison was chasing us.
Cindy and Abit wound up diving under the barbed wire fence. The bison took immediate interest in them. They were essentially pinned down, with waist deep marsh behind them and a 850,000 lb bison only several feet away behind several strands of barbed wire. As it turned out, Cindy had actually attempted to ford the marsh, soaking her pants and part of her sweater in the process. Mind you, it was probably 45 degrees out and dropping very quickly.
Dustin attempted to distract the bison away from them.
The bison charged again. Dustin retreated toward the group, who has resumed running as well. I turned my head just in time to see Dustin fall to the ground at the edge of the marsh, just after the bison HEADBUTTED HIM.
Wish I had that on film.
He was fine though, and he got up and joined his wife and dog behind the barbed wire.
Then the waiting game commenced. My wife and I stood in the group of roughly 10, listening to people call the ranger’s office and watching the sunlight dwindle away while the bison would not let our friends move. Here is a pic from Dustin’s phone.
When the twilight was barely hanging by a thread, we finally saw headlights. The ranger stopped short of the bison, got out and yelled, “GET WAYYYY BACK!”
Most of us, assuming the bison would wind up charging back in our direction, slipped behind the fence. One guy who stayed in the path gave us play-by-play until we heard, “OKAY COME ON BACK THIS WAY!”
The bison had moved off into the marsh. It was so dark that we couldn’t see it, although the ranger told us to be careful because she was still over there. Abby and I darted past and began to jog back. Dustin, Cindy and Abit, along with a girl of about 10 (who had been nearly overcome with fear) and her father got into the ranger’s truck.
The truck passed up by when we still had about a half mile left to go. We were shivering, both nearly out of battery, and pretty scared of this dark trail which obviously contained animals that were not afraid of people. At one point, some deer leaped across the trail in front of us.
The last quarter mile or so before the parking lot was the worst, as it was not well marked and at that point pretty heavily wooded. It was Blair Witchesque.
We were updated by Dusting and Cindy via the ranger that the bison had charged people on the previous day as well, and that this trail was likely going to be closed.
Abby and I feel bad for the poor thing. Even though she could have seriously harmed my friends and their dog, or even us, she was just being a bison. We were in her territory. She was caught between a fence and a marsh as well, just like we were. We’ve definitely left the whole experience with a strengthened respect for wildlife and the legitimacy of trail signage.