Custer State Park bison rut brings spectacular views, extra safety precautions

CUSTER, S.D. — They’re America’s national mammal – and there are few places you can get as up close and personal to them as Custer State Park.

But as we’ve seen in the past, there are definitely precautions to take when admiring the bison herds of the Black Hills.

Wwf Bison 1

photo courtesy: WWF/Clay Bolt

Each year, beginning in mid-July, a spectacular sight to see at Custer State Park – the bison rut.

Mature bulls giving up their lone, bachelor lifestyles to seek out a cow – and battle ferociously for the chance to mate.

Male bison, which can weigh up to a ton, are particularly aggressive during rutting season.

“They do have a temper on them…you know, they can run 35 miles per hour…they can actually jump and they can turn on a dime. They’re actually a lot more agile and quicker than people think,” says Kobee Stalder, visitor services program manager at Custer State Park.

Visitors to the park are urged to take extreme caution around wildlife – especially if they’re on a motorcycle.

Warnings with real-life application after an Iowa woman was nearly gored while visiting in August 2020. The woman was a passenger on a motorcycle before getting off to take photos of a calf, where she was charged by another bison.

“It’s an exciting time of year that people can come out and experience it and see something they might not see in nature all the time, but at the same point, let’s give those animals their space and let them do their thing,” Stalder says.

He says motorcycles should avoid revving their engines and keep distance between themselves and herds crossing the highway. And for those not on a bike – “Just stay in your vehicle…you can roll down your window and you can view them just as good.”

Visitors are encouraged to keep at least a hundred yards between themselves and bison.

The success of the bison rut will be visible next spring, where 450-plus bison calves will join the park’s herd.

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