Bison vs. Grizzly Bear: Who’s Winning?

by Jon D. B.

It’s a battle to the death, one that plays out in the vast, deadly wilds of of Yellowstone National Park. Which beast takes the crown: Bison or Grizzly Bear?

Bison and brown bears, which include grizzlies, have shared habitat for eons. Both are undisputable titans of their ecosystems. These powerhouses of nature do clash. And when they do – it’s a battle for the ages. But which ancient species ultimately reigns supreme?

The Combatants: Bison vs Grizzly

North American Bison North American Brown Bear
Max weight: 2,100 lbs
Max height: 6+ feet at shoulder
Attributes: Pointed horns, thick hide, musculature
Max weight: 1,700 lbs
Max height: 9-feet standing
Attributes: Sharp claws, teeth, thick hide, musculature

North American Bison are the largest land animals on the continent, with bulls weighing in excess of a full ton (2,000-pounds). In contrast, brown bears are the largest existing predators across the majority of North America. Only their northern polar bear cousins are larger, outweighing the 700 to 1,700-pound weight of a grizzly male.

In the wilds of Earth, predators nearly always have the upper hand. The massive, 5-inch claws, pointed teeth, and incredible musculature of grizzlies are designed to kill. Herbivorous bison, on the other hand, have only their horns and sheer size for offense and defense. Could a bison, then, take down America’s fiercest predator?

Right off the bat, the math doesn’t seem to add up. The majority of grizzlies are no match for an enormous, full ton bison bull. Their sheer size, power, speed, and horns make them a deadly opponent; one capable of killing a bear in defense. But the grizzly has the advantages of the predator on its side.

Fact: Grizzly Bears Prey on Bison

In shared ecosystems like Yellowstone National Park, bison are often prey for grizzlies. Bears will go after young bison (calves, especially) on a regular basis. And in this case, the bear either wins, or gives up trying. It’s exceptionally rare for a bison to kill a grizzly bear. And this is exactly why these take the overall victory.

With a diet high in protein and a body designed to kill, grizzlies have energy at their disposal. Even if a bear is foolish enough to take on a full grown bull, the bison’s horns won’t be enough to stop a grizzly. Brown bears can survive unimaginable wounds. Many bear hunting humans have lost their lives after shooting grizzlies multiple times with high-caliber weapons, only to have the bear charge through and dismember them.

So while a bison may be able to gravely injure a grizzly, there’s little to no chance of these herbivores delivering a final blow through the thick musculature and bone structure of a grizzly. It may take hours, but a large, determined bear will either kill the bison, or walk away to fight another day.

Real-World Example: Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Takes On Bison

On Sunday, May 31 2020, Michael Daus managed to capture this very fight while visiting Yellowstone National Park. While watching the bison graze, the Daus family noticed a young grizzly bear approach. Michael began filming, and the bear ultimately took the victory. But this is not a typical situation for several reasons.

The bison, appearing to be an adolescent female, is roughly the same size as the young brown bear. This is precisely why:

  1. The bison is relatively the same size as the bear
  2. The bear felt comfortable attacking and pursuing over a long period of time

Female bison cows can weigh half what their bull counterparts weigh; placing them around the same size as a grizzly bear. And in this particular case – as the footage shows – the bison never stood a chance.

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