The bulls in American Prairie’s bison herd have been getting ready for their annual bout of strength and dominance. Their scraggly beards, shaggy pantaloons and unruly hairstyles have grown large and dense, making the animals seem even more formidable than other times of year, and as the temperature on the prairie heats up so does the competition.
This is the rut, an explosive gathering that pits bulls against each other as they jockey for position next to the opposite sex. Standing shoulder to shoulder against an aloof bison cow, an act known as tending, a bull becomes increasingly combative while waiting for the chance to mate. Fights break out among those also vying to stand by her side — a scene that’s replicated hundreds of times across the sagebrush flats where the herd has come together.
Dust soon fills the air as these burly contenders wallow and kick their feet, and the sounds of their deep bellows and head-on crashes linger over miles of prairie. It’s an unsettling time as a sense of raw nature permeates the landscape. Within weeks, a new generation of bison calves will begin and the now-lean bulls will return to a more solitary and stoic life on the northern plains.
Photo: Dennis Lingohr/American Prairie