This is an old webpage carried forward to our new site. Please note that some of the information might be out of date and we probably have newer footage.
Bison, also known as buffalo (the Lakota name is “tatanka”), are not only one of the most important species on the Great Plains, they are also one of the better known symbols of the United States. In fact, the bison is the symbol of the Department of the Interior, the agency that includes the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The slaughter and near extinction of the bison is well documented. Prior to European settlement they may have number in the tens of millions (most estimates range from 10-60 million), but by the 1870s they were almost gone. Only about 500 remained scattered between Yellowstone National Park and a few private herds. Fortunately, they have recovered and their numbers are now estimated to be about 400,000 when private herds are included (unfortunately, the bison in many private herds are compromised with cattle genes). Yellowstone National Park is special in that its bison herd (which is free of cattle genes) is exposed to natural mortality factors such as starvation and wolf and bear predation.
Bison are large grazers. In fact their grazing creates diversity in grasslands. Recent grazing by bison creates shorter vegetation which is good for some species and areas not recently grazed have taller vegetation which is good for other species. As a result, bison are often referred to as a “keystone species” or a species that has a disproportionate affect on an ecosystem.
Filming Bison Stock Footage
Bison are not especially difficult to film. Go to a national or state park, or fish and wildlife refuge, with bison and you will have plenty of opportunities. Unfortunately, some parks and refuges mark their bison with ear tags or brands which can detract from the film. Yellowstone National Park is a good place to see wild bison, although the habitat is not “classic” bison country. Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks in South Dakota also have plenty of bison and more classic Great Plains bison habitat (but unfortunately, not bison predators such as wolves or bears).
There are three good periods to film bison. First is the calving season, usually around May 1. The playful and charming calves make great photo subjects out on the green prairies. The second interesting period is during the summer rut when the bulls are constantly bellowing, stirring up clouds of dust, and fighting with each other. The last period is in winter when the animals perservere against blizzards, deep snow, and sub zero temperatures.
One note of caution, filming bison can be dangerous, especially during the summer mating season! Give them at least 50 yards. Experienced people will keep an eye on the tail – a tail held straight up means one of two things. Either you are too close and the bison is agitated by your presence, or the bison is sexually aroused; in either case you should back off!