Utah Runners' 'Freak Accident' with Charging Bison Explained

Male bison can weigh up to about 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms).
Male bison can weigh up to about 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms). (Image credit: Shutterstock)

A trail runner who was gored by a bison at Antelope Island State Park in Utah in June decided to test his luck. After fully recovering, on Friday (Sept. 27), Kyler Bourgeous brought a date back to the park to watch the sunset — instead, in an odd twist of fate, his date also found herself facing the horns of a bison, according to recent news reports. 

"I thought my situation was just a freak accident," Bourgeous told The Washington Post.

Was it just that, a freak accident? And why do these large but seemingly harmless bearded beasts, gore people?

"It's actually really uncommon," said Wendy Wilson, an assistant park manager at the Antelope Island State Park, which is home to around 700 bison. In the past decade, about 4 million people have visited the park, with just five bison incidents. So it's "unusual" that there were two serious attacks just this year that sent people to the hospital, she added.

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If they feel threatened, rather than actually attacking, bison are more likely to fake charge, Wilson told Live Science. "That being said, however, they can be aggressive," she said. Bison aren't predators — they're prey — and they will defend what they feel is a safe space, she added. "If we enter into that safe place, they're going to take measures to make themselves feel safe again." 

Bison become more aggressive during mating season between July and September, according to a CDC report from 2015. Since 1980, bison have injured more people in Yellowstone National Park than any other animal has. Most of those injuries happened because people got too close to the beasts, for instance to take photographs or selfies, according to the report.

But "these two cases really are kind of two situations where the folks were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Wilson said. In June, Bourgeous, a 30-year-old cyclist and trail runner, had climbed to the highest point in the park when he happened upon two adult bison; he scrambled to get out of their eyesight, according to The Washington Post

But he didn't escape the attention of one of the bison that charged at him — slamming into him with its horns with such force that it flung him into the air. Once he hit the ground, the bison trampled him and then waited to see if he'd move, Bourgeous told the Post. He was airlifted to the hospital, but was fine save for a cracked rib and collapsed lung.

Bourgeous and his date, 22-year-old Kayleigh Davis, went on a run last Friday at the same state park. While Bourgeous put on bug spray, Davis ran ahead of him, according to the Post. A little ways ahead, she saw a bison and quickly turned off the trail to give the animal room — but then some people rode by on bikes. 

There was "too much activity that made the bison uncomfortable," Wilson said. The animal ended up charging her, flinging her into the air. She was also airlifted to the hospital for injuries including a broken ankle and a wound on her thigh.

"In a situation like that, they both did what they could," she said. If you encounter a bison that close, you should try to back away as quickly as you can — if you can, turn around and go back the way you came, Wilson said. If you can't, or if you need to get past the bison to get to your car for example, try to go really far around it — maybe twice as far as what you think is safe, she said.

And you shouldn't try to outrun a bison, which can reach speeds of about 35 mph (56 km/h). And though they're the biggest mammals in North America, bison are agile, able to make quick turns and jump high fences, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Davis is now recovering, perhaps having starred in the beginning of a wild love story.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.