This image was captured through the car window after the following encounter:
It all began before dawn as I left my car and hiked out into the fields of Arrowleaf Balsam Root, Larkspur and Lupine blanketing Antelope Flats outside of Jackson Hole. I intended to photograph the soaring peaks at first sunlight with the wildflowers stretching out in an endless sea to fill the foreground. I carried my full photo backpack, my tripod and my big and unwieldy panoramic tripod head.
After moving through the flowers until I found an interesting arrangement to compliment the foreground, I opened my backpack and spread my equipment out for easier access. I mounted the camera on the tripod, and using my 10-22mm I began to photograph a number of images. There were no wildlife to be seen anywhere from where I stood.
As the sun began to make an appearance and brought life and color to the sky, I immersed myself in capturing the best image possible, becoming totally engrossed in the task at hand, using my manfrotto sph303 panoramic head and live view to ensure ample image overlap and no camera shake.
Lost in this very nearsighted focus, I shot for about 15 minutes when I became suddenly very aware of a quickly approaching group of buffalo. While I would not describe their actions as a stampede, they were trotting quickly as a collective group directly towards me. When I reviewed my images later I could actually see the progression as they appeared on the horizon from below a depression I couldn’t see about 500 yards away, but due to my focus on the camera, rather than looking through the viewfinder, I had been oblivious to their approach.
I quickly realized I was in trouble. I was over 200 yards from my car. My tripod was the tallest thing other than buffalo for over ½ mile, I did not have bear spray with me as there were no animals in sight when I left me car, my stuff was still strewn around on the ground, and the buffalo were now within 100 yards with their rapt attention fully trained upon me. I knew that to break into a run would be foolish, only goading the unsettled herd into a stampede instinct. I knew they could cover the ground much faster than I ever could. Then, to make maters worse, the herd of 20-30 animals split into two groups. One group continued towards me while the other group totally surrounded my car, a 1997 Honda Civic. At this point, I was totally at a loss. I had a group of 15 or so bison bearing down upon me quickly and my only retreat was now surrounded by more bison.
Somewhere in there, I managed to scoop my stuff into my backpack and zipped it partially shut. I held my tripod out in front of me in a ridiculous attempt to perhaps fend off any of the approaching bison, willing to sacrifice my camera if it meant my own health was spared, and I began slowly backpedaling towards my car, of which I could only see the very top through the mass of buffalo. In my mind, I purposed to get as close to the car as possible and then make a maddened charge through the mass of beasts and jump onto the top. I had no other options and my pulse was beating a crazy tempo.
As I backpedaled, the approaching buffalo closed the distance to 30 or so yards and then they lined up shoulder to shoulder in a wall. I’ve seen them do the same thing facing down a grizzly bear. As they formed the line, they made a bluff charge towards me. As I continued backpedaling towards the car, I shouted loudly as they closed to 15 or so yards. They veered off and circled around, once again forming up the line and coming directly at me. We played this game 3 more times as I continued to get closer to my car. By this point I was praying fervently that God would part the Bison so to speak that surrounded my car and I truly feared the worst, as with each bluff charge and yell, the buffalo before me drew closer and closer before veering off.
I was within 50 yards of the car and still backpedaling fast when He did just that. The Bison moved around my car to the side opposite of me, so I had a clear shot to the vehicle. All in the same motion, as the animals before me veered off and I was within 40 yards of the car, I turned my back to them and took off. I managed to get to the car as I threw my backpack on the ground and slammed my tripod next to it and dove through the passenger door. The group pursuing me stopped approximately 10 yards away and milled about as I contemplated what had just happened, fully cognizant of the Lord’s blessing and my close call.
After 2 or 3 minutes of pulse-racing regrouping, I opened the door and reached out to grab my camera. I shot several images through the open window.
From the safety of my car, I watched the same group of buffalo charge a guy on a motorcycle as he stopped to look. I don’t know what riled them up, but I’m grateful to be alive and well.