I recently had the amazing opportunity of spending three weeks at the Antelope Island State Park, Utah, home of one of the largest free-roaming buffalo populations in North America.
Before 1492, estimates place the buffalo population at anywhere from 40 million to 60 million. But by the end of 1890, due in large part to commercial hunting and slaughter, their numbers had dwindled to no more than 750. Today, according to IUCN Red List, there are only around 15,000 true wild bison.
This legendary animal was sacred to the Native Americans. For them, the Bison was a symbol of life and abundance. In many myths, the bison gave themselves up willingly as a food source for humans. In others their spirits brought sacred knowledge about medicine or peace pipes to humankind. In many cautionary tales, buffalo hunts were unsuccessful due to the hunters' lack of respect for the animal.
My goal while visiting Antelope Island was to capture the “Buffalo Spirit.” And it was no easy task.
Buffalos have incredible sight so it’s quite difficult to approach them without being seen. They will wander off if they see someone approaching, but if they happen to come upon you while you are waiting, chances are they might pass you real close.
My strategy was pretty much the same every day: Find a group of bulls and determine their direction, spot some bushes far ahead in their path, sneak into position and wait.
Although this bison spotted me fairly early, he continued approaching slowly. Moving in a zig-zag pattern, he moved forward, foraged, then stared at me for a good 10 minutes. He then moved again, foraged some more and stared. He carried on like this for an hour until he walked just about 20 feet from where I was sitting. I sat there mesmerized by his presence and the depth of his look, trying to understand what was the threat that so many saw in this creature. After taking my photos, I thanked him for his time and cooperation and slowly departed, full of awe and respect.