How to Pet a Bison

With another round of questionable behavior in the books for summer 2019, the National Park Service finally caved and provided instructions for petting a bison.

It happens every summer. Someone gets too close to a wild animal in Yellowstone, and it gets caught on camera. Sometimes, that animal is a bison. And on extra-special occasions, that person pets the bison. What happens next is 100 percent up to the bison.


Given the National Park Service cannot predict the reaction of a 2,000-pound, instinct-driven mound of muscle, bone, fur and horns, it recently issued a clear instructional diagram of how to pet a bison properly.

Give it a gander! Bison apparently don’t like it when humans caress them on the muzzle. Nor, oddly enough, do they like a pet on the haunches. It seems big ol’ buffalo don’t even like to have their bellies scratched.


So if you’re headed into buffalo country, do yourself and the bison a favor. Don’t pet them. Better yet, stay at least 25 yards away from large mammals like bison and 100 yards from bears.

“Remember to keep your distance, and enjoy your experience watching wildlife,” the National Park Service said on its infographic. “No touching, no feeding, no harassing.”

Sean McCoy

Editorial Director Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.