Yellowstone National Park Bison Filmed Sparring on Snowy Road

by Jon D. B.
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Catch a stunning glimpse into the lives of Yellowstone National Park bison as these two massive bulls spar it out in the middle of a snow-covered road.

As Yellowstone National Park’s lead ranger, Tara Ross, told me for our National Parks Journal, “Being up and close with bison in the middle of their rut is unbelievable. The traffic jams in some areas become crazy, because you can’t move them! And why would we?” she laughed.

As impossible as it is to move a bison bull, imagine trying to do so in several feet of snow. Regardless, bison aren’t in Yellowstone to abide by anything other than living their lives as they have for millennia.

“It’s just on display. You get to watch their lives unfold! The males will beat down each other for mates. Then, a bull will chase a cow until she can’t run anymore. Chase and chase, until the female has no steam left,” Ranger Tara continued. This is usually a summer rut occurrence. But the fight for bull dominance over one another – and for mates – is a year-long affair. Which is where this March 2022 footage courtesy of a Yellowstone National Park tour guide comes in.

Guide John Clarke has seen much of Yellowstone over the last five years working the landscape. “I see some incredible things in the park,” he tells Newsweek. But of all the seasons, “I like winter best,” he says. And his astounding capture shows exactly why:

While on his way to the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful, Clarke spotted the bison bulls mid-fight. And their duel lasted for a nearly ten minutes, he says. The dense, foggy snowstorm only serves to amplify their fury, too.

What a sight.

Yellowstone National Park: Ruled By Bison

“They will do this [spar in winter] occasionally to show dominance but mostly in Summer during the mating season,” Clark tells Newsweek. Eventually, the losing bull would be pushed violently from the road.

“Bison are usually grazing 9-11 hours a day [in winter],” Clark continues. “Winter is a rough time for them foraging for food. This would rate up there as one of my best experiences because I was by myself.”

Many bison, in fact, do not make it out of winter alive. Yellowstone National Park staff believe a particularly bad winter could even decimate their 5,500 bison. Hopefully, this won’t be the case, as Yellowstone holds the last extant purely wild and ancient bison herd in all of America.

Roaming the north of the park is the northern herd, which holds around 4,000 bison. The park’s central herd holds about 1,300 head. And in the winter, Yellowstone National Park freezes and snows over. During this time, the bison head to the hydrothermal areas, Madison River, and other areas that hold out hope of winter vegetation.

Bison not only use their massive skulls and horns for sparring, but for shoveling through dense snow in search of said winter food. Bulls throw their 1-ton (2,000-pound) weight behind the fights for dominance and food.

Doing so takes a ton of energy, however, and quite literally. Bison will not spend precious energy in winter unless they feel it absolutely necessary, either – which makes Clarke’s footage all the more remarkable.

Outsider.com