OK Ranch Update, Week 5

Jul 18, 2023Chris O'Blenness

The 10 bison we shipped to the ranch experienced some stress and dehydration on the way. They were on a trailer for 24 hours, and bison don't handle trailers well. It's not in their nature to be loaded onto one. They're not as acclimated to it as cattle or horses are. 

After they came off the trailer, they'd lost a significant amount of weight, but within two weeks, they began to regain it. Now, they've shed most of their winter coats and gained a lot of weight. 

They've essentially gone feral, behaving like wild bison.

They've formed a migratory pattern on the property. You can see the trails they've worn into the land. I can follow their path and discern their habitual movements. It feels like I'm Wiley Coyote, always trying to outsmart them. I need to get them back into the holding pen, and then from there onto a trailer. 

My initial plan was to place water in the holding pen, expecting they'd return daily. Then I could simply shut the gate behind them. But they can smell me from a hundred yards away and see me from 150 yards away. If anything concerns them, they bolt.

This challenge resembles a chess match. I can't catch or rope them; coercing them isn't an option. My biggest concern is having to round them up on horseback, forcing them into the holding pen. That could be chaotic: they might jump or break the fence or simply keep their distance forever. The grass has grown uncontrollably, reaching waist height in places.

After a wet spring, it's drying out significantly, and it's been a month since the last rainfall. The shorter days signal the changing season.

For the most part, they've acclimated well to the property. Seeing them against the backdrop of the Tetons, it feels as though they've always belonged there. They aren't confined to small enclosures; they have space to roam. 

Last Saturday, I watched them from outside the fence. They usually tolerate my presence for about 15 minutes before they move away. After about 8 minutes, a group of female cyclists appeared. The bison bolted at the sight, and they remained agitated for the next two hours.

We joke that I've swapped my Netflix subscription for "bison-watching." Even when I think I should return to Jackson, I'll stay and observe them for hours, trying to understand their patterns to outsmart them.

I'm also setting up an outdoor kitchen at the ranch and have bought a camera for our studio. The test shots look promising, and I'm excited to capture the essence of the ranch in photographs. The bison's reaction to the smell of cooking meat probably adds to their mistrust.

The other day, I observed them for two hours as they moved toward the water and salt lick. Hoping to catch them off guard, I hid in the bushes near the holding pen. The first three bison entered without any issues. However, when the wind shifted, the fourth one smelled me and stopped. We had a 45-minute standoff before they decided to retreat.

Their presence takes me back to ancient hunting methods when hunters would set up ambushes, driving herds off cliffs to secure meat. The connection feels profound when I'm with them. The indigenous peoples' prowess in hunting them, especially after the introduction of horses, is mindblowing. 

They’d be riding 30 miles an hour on horseback. They had to get low in the saddle to get the arrow through the lungs or heart because otherwise, a shot bison could run for another 5 miles. 

It makes me think of my own challenges ahead.

Soon, I have to take the bison to the slaughterhouse. I have to get it done before the winter because we’re not yet ready for winter ranching.

Of course, the challenge lies in getting them back on the trailer. That will be the critical moment.

Sometimes I think these bison are smarter than me. I keep asking myself, “How am I going to outsmart them?” It's going to be interesting.

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