Ranger Rick: Tales From a Former YNP Ranger

Rick Gale

Running of the Bulls

bisonThe most famous running of the bulls takes place every July in Pamplona, Spain. The runners are dressed in the traditional white shirt and trousers with a red waistband and neckerchief. They carry a rolled-up newspaper to swat the bulls if necessary. A not so well known running of the bulls takes place every summer in Hayden Valley. The runners are dressed in the traditional t-shirt, shorts, and white socks. They carry a camera and try their best to draw the bull’s attention.

After a surge of bison gorings in the 1980s, rangers began distributing warning flyers to visitors at park entrance gates. Despite efforts made by park service staff to warn visitors about these dangerous and unpredictable bison, there were weekly incidents of visitors who ignored the warnings and got too close.

The first bison goring I responded to was just south of Mud Volcano. The communication center had received numerous 911 calls from visitors about an elderly woman being gored. I knew it would be bad.
Ranger Gary Youngblood and I were the first rangers on the scene. As I got out of my patrol car, I saw several visitors standing around a woman who was lying on the ground.
When I tried to do a patient assessment for Lake Hospital, the woman refused. She didn’t want anyone looking at her injuries, especially two male rangers. I insisted and she finally agreed to let us help her.
Her injuries included a deep puncture wound to her right buttocks, chipped teeth, and several broken ribs from being thrown in the air. She needed to be transported immediately by ambulance to Lake Hospital.

When Lake Hospital Ambulance arrived, paramedics scooped her up and transported her 9 miles south to Lake Hospital for advanced life support and a life flight to Idaho Falls if her injuries became life threatening. Youngblood and I stayed on the scene. We had a job to do. Time to paint the bull.
After numerous incidents like this one, resource management decided it was time to get the yellow paint out and mark bison who made a habit of charging visitors. I’m sure personal injury litigation had something to do with this decision.

I won the coin toss. Youngblood would be the paint thrower. And I would cover Youngblood as he got close enough to pitch a plastic bag filled with yellow paint at the bison.

The first pitch missed. On his second throw, Youngblood slowed his wind up and delivery and hit the bull on its rear rump. The bull was up and running and going after the pitcher.

Youngblood left his pitching mound and made an escape into a stand of lodge pole pine trees. I made a run for the Grand Loop Road where I could hide in a buffalo jam backing traffic up for miles in both directions.

Meanwhile, a tour bus filled with visitors from Japan had stopped on the road to get a better look at two rangers running through the woods with a bison on their heels.

Lights, camera, action: take one. The Yellowstone Adventure. What more could you ask for. Every passenger on that bus had a camera and was trying to get off for a closer shot of the action.

“Get back on the bus! Get back on the bus!,” I kept yelling as I ran for safety behind a very small Datsun 210.

Inside the Datsun, were two newlyweds. For some reason, they were oblivious to events unfolding right outside their car. When they did take notice, what they saw was a ranger standing next to the driver door holding a shotgun and a large brown creature coming up on the passenger side of the car.
I could hear both of them screaming at the top of their lungs as they looked back and forth at the charging bison and then me. After a few minutes, the bison became disinterested in playing chase with the ranger and walked away. He headed for the Yellowstone River and washed away any evidence of yellow paint marking him as a bad boy.

Somewhere in Japan, there are photos and videos of two park rangers being chased through the woods at Buffalo Ford by one of the biggest bison ever to roam the hills of Hayden Valley.

Please look for more entertaining tales from Ranger Rick Gale in the upcoming issues of Bozeman magazine.

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