Best of the Tetons

Morning Caress

The Bison Rut in Grand Teton National Park:

Photos of August’s Annual Rut.

Most of the GTNP herd of American Bison spend their summer in the South end of the park. Another herd hangs around Elk Flats farther north and some move into the river bottoms around Triangle X Ranch. Starting in late July and continuing into August, the largest bulls locate a cow and hang with her until it is time to breed. The actual mating happens at night or very early in the morning. I’ve never seen it, and I don’t recall ever seeing a photo of the act.

Bison Heads

Yellowstone’s bison are famous for their fighting amongst the bulls, however it is much less common here. A few years ago, the National Elk Refuge began a program of hunting Bison.  The idea was to thin the herd back to some “objectives” number. At least from an outsider’s viewpoint, it appears there are less large bulls now, and each of them have plenty of cows around them. Fighting to obtain a prime cow is not necessary. Young bulls spar and stir up dust, but heavy duty fights between prime bulls is not common—at least while I have been out observing them.

Bison In Gold

The photos on this page were all taken on August 3rd, 2014 along Mormon Row. Smoke from an unknown fire filled the Northeast and East. As the sun began to rise, the smoke created a beautiful gold “filter” that affected almost all of my shots that morning.

Bison Bull In Gold

I pointed my camera towards the rising sun as this bull crossed some of the dry pastures.

Young Bull Bison

Young bulls bide their time for quite a few years before being ready to enter the breeding pool.

Bull Bison Profile

The larger breeding sized bulls roam from cow to cow looking for a mate.

Morning Caress

Morning Caress: There can be a fair amount of “courtship”, but once a big bull finds a potential mate, it will not let her get far away.

Bison Portrait

Bison Portrait: I stayed in my truck and shot out the window almost all morning using a 200-400mm lens. When not on a tripod, I like Vibration Reduction (VR) turned on. When I do get out, I never like to be very far from my truck around bison. They are very fast, powerful and unpredictable—made potentially worse during the rut.


Behavior: It is fairly easy to fill a card with profile shots of bison. I like the challenge of capturing some sort of “behavior”.

Rolling in the Dust

Rolling in the Dust: The biggest bulls seem to like to roll in the dirt and kick up a lot of dust. I hardly ever see a cow roll like this, so it must have something to do with impressing the girls.

Bison Rolling

Bison Rolling:

Shaking the Dust

Shaking the Dust: Once a big bull rolls, it will always stand and shake off the dust.

Just the Face

Just the Face: This is a heavily cropped image. You can get a better feel of how wild and savage one of these big boys could be.

Bison Against the Grand

Bison Against the Grand: There are quite a few places in the country where you can photograph Bison. There is only one place on earth where you get this backdrop! I like to include it when I can, but it takes a wider lens than the telephoto lens I used on most of the earlier images.

Roaming Herd

Bison Notes: I think the best area to look for Bison in GTNP is along the Gros Ventre Road, along the East Boundary Road, along Mormon Row and Antelope Flats Road. I mentioned the herd at Elk Flats earlier, but they are usually farther out there. A couple of “two track” dirt roads cross the sage flats between the East Boundary Road and Mormon Row. Cars can usually make it across those roads except in the winter and after a big rain. Part of Mormon Row can be muddy and have deep ruts. I get through in my old truck, but I wouldn’t try it in the family vehicle after a rain. Bison move to the National Elk Refuge during the Winter months, but otherwise they are one of the most reliable large animal in the Park. With that said, you should also know Bison are grazers, so they will seldom be in the same place two days in a row.

Buffalo NickelBison Tidbits: You might have grown up calling these animals “buffalo”. Technically, they are “American Bison”. It’s difficult to completely abandon the old name when you might own a Buffalo nickel or see an old poster for Buffalo Bill. East of Cody, you can pass through the town of Buffalo. Pronghorns share a similar naming issue. Most people call them “antelope”. Some call them “pronghorn antelope”. Again, until the park service changes the name from Antelope Flats Road to Pronghorn Flats Road, it will be a hard name to change for some.

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Comments (7)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, wonderful images of the Bison. We experience the same problem with the smoke from the fires and obscured our view of the Teton mountains in the morning. Could have gotten some nice images if it were not for the smoke. We also were at Mormon Row but not as early as you were so missed the Bison herd. Really like the closeups of the Bison and the rolling around of one of them in the dirt. Even with the haze from the smoke , you were able to get an interesting image of one of the Bison silhouetted with the morning light.

  2. Roger Garber

    Mike, Love your photos, manly the last one ( Bison Against the Grand )
    We have planed a road trip from ,Ohio to the Tetons in Sept. Getting close, Excited, Will be our first time there hoping to capture some GREAT Images as you do. I do enjoy your Blog.
    Thank you, from OHIO

  3. Love The Bison Against the Grand! As usual, your photos are tack sharp. Are you using your 800 for some of your wildlife images? I’m starting to lust over the 810 but sure like sure like the burst mode of my d4. Not sure what to do right now.

  4. Bill, I have around 475,000 actuations on my D4. I haven’t checked lately, but I suspect the D800 has over 100,000 actuations. I use the D800 for almost all landscapes and for slow moving animals like mountain goats and sometimes moose. I use the D4 for the quicker animals, birds and for night shots. I think the D4 focuses quicker, too. I’d love to get a new D4s and the new D810, but neither are in the budget right now.

  5. Hi Roger, If nothing else, you can use this blog to give you a jump start on areas where you might want to concentrate. Just keep an eye on the Daily Updates pages. With gas as expensive as it is, I don’t spend a lot of time going too far north too often. It’s not that I don’t want to go there, but all those trips add up. If I were needing or wanting grizzly shots, I’d have to do it. I prefer moose and most of them are in the southern end of the park.

  6. Roger Garber

    Thanks Mike.

  7. Beautiful pictures of the bison and The Grand Tetons. I was just here in June during the spring and it was lovely.

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