Bison Works, which takes place annually at the Medano-Zapata Ranch, is a photographer’s dream. Running bison kicking up clouds of dust, early fall light, and the chance to get up close and personal with one of our continent’s most iconic animals species. Below, we’ve rounded up our all-time favorite photos from many years of photographers capturing this special time of year.
16. This drone photograph from Forest Woodward in 2017 brings to mind the type of footage we expect to see on landmark shows like Planet Earth — massive herds of wildlife from some of the most biodense places on Earth — and lets us imagine what most of the plains of North America must have looked like at one point.
15. Dramatic lighting silhouettes the form of a bison cow’s head in this 2020 photo by Claudia Landreville.
14. Brennan Cira managed to find a prime spot to watch a group of bison run down the alley into the pens, freezing in time an exhilarating moment that appears as a blur of dust, hooves, and horns to the naked eye. 2020.
13. We’ve tried several methods of gathering bison from the tens of thousands of acres they roam across year-round, but in the past two years have had great success using a helicopter coordinating with a group of dirt bike riders on the ground. Cira tagged along with Duke IV for an early morning flight and captured this shot of the sun just coming over the Sangre de Cristos from the air. 2020.
12. We seldom handle bison on horseback anymore, so this photo from Matt Delorme, which is so stupendous it looks surreal, is a special one. In 2016, we moved a group of our commercial bison from the Zapata over to the Medano to ship to a new ranch in South Dakota, and this photo captures the frigid setting of January in the San Luis Valley perfectly.
11. Bison Works usually falls around Halloween, so in addition to lots of candy, some attendees enjoy wearing costumes. Photo of Woods Leach by Avery Sass, 2018.
10. Using a slower shutter speed, Forest Woodward’s 2017 photo of bison running gives a tangible sense of their thundering movement, suffused with the ethereal glow of early morning light.
9. A “behind-the-scenes” glimpse of the toll a long week of working bison takes on our crew. Nick Baefsky, one of our ranch managers, rehydrates from a keg-turned-water bottle in this 2016 photo by Charles Post.
8. Sometimes an animal will get “stuck” in one pen, hesitant to move forward through the following gate. Baefsky went to extra lengths, hanging off the corrals into the pens, to try to encourage this cow to keep moving. Photo by Matt Delorme, 2015.
7. Of all the hundreds of animals that come through the pens over the course of the week, the biggest bulls are the most striking. Avery Sass, 2018.
6. Days at the bison barn usually start before dawn and end after sunset, making for a tired crew and some stunning skies. Matt Delorme, 2016.
5. Matt Delorme got creative with his approach to get this frame, zip-tying his camera to a crossbeam of the corrals, and firing the shutter with a remote control as the bison came down the alley. 2016.
4. The pure force of this bison cow is on full display as she charges between two trucks in the alley. Matt Delorme, 2015.
3. Sweaty and dust-covered, our crew puts in long days at the bison barn. Samantha Bradford by Matt Delorme, 2016.
2. This photograph captured the decisive moment: the bison turning her head toward Bradford in defense as she runs past, with Bradford likewise standing her ground with a flag in hand. Matt Delorme, 2016.
1. At the end of the week, the bison return to pasture — thousands of acres at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains — where they roam and graze undisturbed for the rest of the year. Forest Woodward, 2017.