It can be argued this gigantic, powerful, shaggy-headed animal is the most impressive beast ever to roam the North American continent. But, people ask, what is it? Buffalo or bison? Properly speaking it's a bison, but you'll hear it called a buffalo just as often. To confuse things on another level, there are the towns of Buffalo and Bison in western South Dakota, and another Buffalo nearby in Wyoming. But that's another story.
Actually the question most often asked about this animal is, "How close can you get and still be safe in the wild?" The answer: normally not close at all. Hundreds of yards away is best. No human can outrun a bison when it becomes annoyed. It's a morbid fact that most people who die from bison attacks are gored through the back. They approach a docile-looking giant and turn around to escape when the bison suddenly makes a quick move toward them. By then it's too late. There is, however, one safe way to see bison up close. That would be from inside your car, and Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park have the best roadways in the country for bison watching. Sometimes they'll block the road and press their noses against your windshield -- remarkable interaction possible only in the automotive age.
Photo by Maggie Schneider