Antelope Island Bison

Bison Bull on Antelope Island Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Bison Bull on Antelope Island
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Bison Pair Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Bison Pair
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The sun was just coming up when I drove onto Antelope Island State Park on Oct 30 Bison were grazing on both sides of the road, and I had to stop a few times and wait as they lumbered across the road. But by the time I reached the Garr Ranch on the southern end of the island, I felt I had driven onto the set of a Hollywood western. 250 volunteer cowboys were saddled up on their horses and were getting their final instructions. At 8 am they spread out in a long line and began their slow walk north. Ahead of them the bison began to move. This was the day of the annual bison round-up. By the end of the day, the more than 500 bison on the island were milling about in the sturdy corrals in the northern part of the island.

After giving the bison a day to catch their breath, the park managers started to move the bison through the corrals until, one by one, they stepped on the scales. The young calves born that spring weighed in at about 400 lbs and the old bulls topped the scales at over 2000. The next step was into the restraining chute. It was time to get vaccinated and have a quick medical checkup.

Over the clanging and banging of the solid metal pens, I could occasionally hear the vet cry, “Pregnant!” This seemed to be the magic password, as the front gates of the chute would fly open and the heifer would dash off into a pen that would return her back into the island. The others needed to wait.

This whole story began in 1873 when 12 privately owned bison were sold to the owners of Antelope Island. These twelve thrived in this harsh environment. They grew shaggy warm winter coats and plowed the deepest snow drifts, swinging their massive heads back and forth, down to the grass below. A bison will eat 40 pounds of grass a day. Antelope Island is only 15 miles long and 5 miles wide There is just enough grass to support a herd of 500. Since there are no wolves or natural predators on the island, the park managers will need to sell the excess numbers at an online auction.

In the 1500’s, an estimated 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains. The Native Americans revered them and harvested them mindfully. They found a use for every bison part – including the stomach, which proved a reliable water jug. But the western expansion of white settlers led to the deliberate slaughter of the bison. By the end of the 19th c, only 300 bison were left in the wild.

The chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian National Museum, William Hornaday, spend two summer in remote corners of Montana harvesting and old bull, a calf, and 4 young bison. He brought the hides back to Washington and built a display that he believed would be the only chance for future generations to see this vanishing species.

In Yellowstone National Park, 2 army men patrolling the park on cross country skis witnessed a poacher shoot a bison. The poacher had put down his rifle and was busy severing the trophy head. The two soldiers quietly skied up close enough to apprehend him with their revolver. Still the park’s bison herd dwindled to 23 -until 1902 when he army purchased 21 more from private owners.

The Yellowstone herd now numbers over 5,000.

Today, between parks, private herds, and tribal lands the bison now number half a million.

Bison have come roaring back from the very edge of extinction.

This is Mary Heers and I’m wild about Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Mary Heers,
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

US FWS Bison Images:

Clifton, Jameson, Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison, Wild About Utah, June 1, 2015,

Boling, Josh, The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, January 14, 2019,

2021 Bison Roundup, Antelope Island State Park, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oct 30, 2021,

Cabrero, Alex, Annual bison roundup held at Antelope Island State Park, KSL TV, October 30, 2021,

Cox, Erin, Hundreds of volunteers gather to participate in annual bison roundup at Antelope island, Fox 13, Scripps Local Media,

The Henry Mountain Bison

The Henry Mountain Bison: American Bison Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
American Bison
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer
The Henry Mountains of southeast Utah are famous for being the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to have been officially mapped. Indeed, before they were mapped, they were often referred to as the “Unknown Mountains.” Another relative unknown detail about this range is that it harbors one of only five genetically pure, free roaming bison herds on North American public lands.

In 1941, a seed herd of 18 American Plains Bison (B. b. bison) were transplanted from Yellowstone National Park to the arid desert of Utah’s Robbers Roost. A year later, five more bulls were introduced to the herd in hopes of sufficiently diversifying the gene pool and sustaining the herd. The bison must not have found Robbers Roost as appealing as Butch Cassidy had, though, because this new Wild Bunch set out for literal greener pastures that very same year.

The small herd forded the Dirty Devil River and travelled southwest toward the Burr Desert. The herd stopped here for a while, enjoying their newfound buffet atop the Aquarius Plateau. 21 years later, though, in 1963, the still small herd grew tired of the desert and abandoned it altogether for the higher, more verdant snow fed meadows of the nearby Henry Mountains. Here, the herd thrived and quickly swelled in numbers.

Today, the herd’s population is estimated to be between 300 and 400 animals, which ecologists and wildlife biologists regard as the maximum carrying capacity of their Henry Mountain range. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has responded accordingly. In an effort to perpetuate the health of the herd and their range, the DWR began issuing “Once-in-a-lifetime” permits to hunters hoping to fulfill not only a tag but also a burning sense of adventure. The Henry Mountains, after all, were mapped last for a reason. They remain one of the most rugged and remote places in a state known for its rugged and remote places.

Fittingly, quite unlike their more quintessential Plains Bison brethren, the Henry Mountains bison can be found almost anywhere in the Henrys between the desert lowlands and timberline. Apparently no one has told the herd that Plains Bison don’t typically like high elevations or steep mountain slopes. This unique proclivity of the Henry Mountains herd to cast off behavioral stereotypes works in their favor when hunting season rolls around and they abandon the high, open meadows for steep, wooded canyons and thick groves of aspen and evergreens.

This highly adaptive nature unique to the Henry Mountains herd made it an obvious candidate to serve as a seed population in early 2010 when 39 individuals were transplanted from the Henry Mountains to the Book Cliffs along the Utah-Colorado border. These 39 animals were to serve as a genetic supplement to a relatively new herd first reintroduced to the Book Cliffs by the Ute Indian Tribe in 1986. The now 600-strong Book Cliffs herd is well on its way to reestablishing the American Plains Bison’s historic range in the Book Cliffs.

The story of the Book Cliffs and Henry Mountains Bison give us reason to hope that one day soon, the American Bison might reclaim its territory, a historic range that once ran from Alaska through the Canadian territories and the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. And, if so, the role the Henry Mountains herd will play in that expansion may be a significant one.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

The Henry Mountain Bison-Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2019

The Henry Mountain Bison-Additional Reading

Utah’s Book Cliffs Herd, Bison Bellows Series, National Park Service, June 30, 2016,

How scientists brought bison back to Banff, National Public Radio, Feb 28, 2017,

Buffalo (Bison) on the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef Country, Wayne County Tourism,

Henry Mountains,,

Bison Unit Management Plan, Unit #15 Henry Mountains, Utah Division of Wildlife Management,

Gilman, Don, Rare, genetically-pure bison found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, St George News, Jan 12, 2016,

Henry Mountain Outfitters, HuntersTrailhead,

Brian, Jayden, Utah Henry Mountain Bison Hunts, Bull Mountain Outfitters, LLC,

Henry Mountains bison herd, Wikipedia,