Texas: Bison at Caprock Canyons State Park

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While we visited Caprock Canyons State Park earlier this year, it was really too hot to get any good photos of the bison.

About the bison

The state park is home to the Texas State Bison Herd. When the bison were initially donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, it was discovered that their DNA was different. The bison feature genetics that are not shared by any other bison in North America. The Official Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.

Legendary rancher Charles Goodnight started the remnants of the herd on his JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1878, in attempts to save the animals that had meant so much to him. His wife influenced the cattle and business tycoon to preserve them so that future generations might be able to see and appreciate these special creatures.

Rules for being around bison

Bison are the largest land animal in North America. That means they need a lot more personal space than you do to feel comfortable.

  • As a rule, bison require at least 50 yards (half a football field) between them and people. Use the “Rule of Thumb” to make sure you are far enough away: Stretch your arm out away from your face and give bison a thumbs up! Now close one eye. Can you cover the bison with your thumb? If not, you’re too close!
  • Bison use park roads to get from one place to another in the park, too. Since this is their home, remember that bison have the right of way!
  • Observe speed limits and watch for bison traffic. Sometimes traffic is heavy, and you might be in a bison traffic jam!
  • Never honk at, push, or tailgate bison.
  • Agitated or anxious bison will raise their tails up in a question mark. Other signs of agitation or disapproval are pawing the ground and lowering its head.
  • A head-on gaze can communicate a threat or just simply rude behavior, especially to dominant males.

If you see any of these behaviors, leave the area.

Photos of the bison herd

We only saw the bison on our way back out of the state park, when we got stuck in a bison traffic jam.

No, that’s not our vehicle, but someone else who was determined to get through the bison herd to the other side. Unlike us, he weaved and bobbed his vehicle through the bison, violating one of the rules above. Bison have the right of way, no matter how long it takes. We were there for at least 15-20 minutes.

When we realized we’d be waiting there a while, we set up our cameras and got a few shots. I was using my Sigma 150-600mm lens, so I was much farther away than these photos indicated. This photo was actually taken *inside* our Jeep, braced on the driver’s side door. Once we got the photos we wanted, we got back inside our vehicle to make sure we didn’t irritate or agitate the bison any further.

The bison known as #187 on the road.

This bison kept his watch on me the entire time we were outside AND inside the car, until the herd moved on.

The bison known as #187, with a few of the herd in the background.

It was truly a beautiful day at Caprock Canyons State Park, and we even enjoyed the traffic jam.

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