Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mingling with the bison in Minnesota August 28, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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With more than 300 acres to roam, the bison conveniently clustered around a watering hole next to the road through the prairie during our visit to Minneopa State Park.


OH, GIVE ME A HOME, where the buffalo roam…


This pair was so close to our van that I could almost have reached out and touched the calf.


Whenever I think of buffalo, those lyrics pop into my head. My classmates and I sang the words during informal music time at Vesta Elementary School some 50-plus years ago.


Interpretive signage about the bison is positioned overlooking the prairie.


An overview of the Minneopa prairie, home to a herd of bison.


A map shows native prairie remaining in Minnesota, land needed by bison for grazing.


Or, whenever I think of buffalo, I remember childhood visits to the small zoo at Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls. There a tall wire fence separated us from these massive animals I associate with Native American buffalo hunts on the prairie.



Or, more accurately, bison hunts. These powerful animals are technically bison, not buffalo.



Today you can see them in Minnesota at the Minnesota Zoo, Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne and now at Minneopa State Park outside Mankato.


A gravel road slicing through the Minneopa prairie allows visitors to get a close-up view of the bison herd.




On a recent weekday afternoon, we drove to Mankato into bison territory. Literally. Vehicles turn onto a gravel road that winds through the Minneopa prairie, home to about 20 bison. Having grown up on a dairy and beef farm (with several mean bulls), I respect animals that outsize me, especially those with horns.




Vehicles park to watch the bison and a passenger steps out to photograph the dangerous animals.


I didn’t even question the validity of signage warning visitors to stay inside their vehicles because bison are dangerous. I watched in disbelief as a woman stood outside a car taking photos with the bison herd within stone’s throw. What on earth was she thinking? Only moments earlier a sheriff’s car passed by and I wished the deputy had seen, and ticketed, her.



We had a bit of a scare ourselves when a bison walking nearby suddenly bolted toward our van, but veered away at the last second. I envisioned horns impaling the metal.



These animals command respect. They are massive, powerful and beautiful, a part of our state’s history.



To share space with them upon the prairie is not only an experience, but an honor.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Mingling with the bison in Minnesota”

  1. The Bison is a keystone species like the Gator is to Florida. They are key to the ecosystem and when their numbers dwindle the ecosystem is declining in its health. Loving your captures 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  2. Gene Bertrand Says:

    What did papa buffalo say to his son when he left for college?
    Answer. Bison

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    In the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, near Medora ND, the bison wander through the campsites. I found this out one morning while taking a walk. I heard a snort behind me and found myself face to face with a bull. Fortunately, he couldn’t care less about me.

    • Whoa! Wander through the campgrounds? Now that seems mighty dangerous to me.

      I saw a news clip this morning about a rhinoceros charging a zoo employee’s car, rolling the vehicle three times. The staff member suffered only minor injuries. But the incident took me back to the startled bison that lunged, then veered away from, our parked van.

  4. Missy’s Håndarbeid (Missy’s Crafty Mess) Says:

    Bison attacks are on the rise in the Custer area for this exact reason. Obey the signs they are their for a reason

  5. Edward Brian Says:

    You are wise to respect animals that can kill you, if only more people were gifted with that common sense. Thank you for your post.

  6. Bella Says:

    I had no idea one could encounter a bison herd in southern MN and yes I agree photo taking at times one can be dangerous just trying to get that perfect shot. But you did manage to get great shots staying safe in the car

  7. valeriebollinger Says:

    Great photos. We did not see the buffalo when we visited Minneopa State Park…we wondered where they were…

  8. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    There is a huge bison farm on the way to our cabin…..did you see them when you came up a few years ago. Its quite a sight to see. 🙂

  9. Littlesundog Says:

    I’ve seen many foolish people/photographers, getting out of vehicles in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge (about an hour from here – and a lovely place to hike and see wildlife) to get a closer look or photograph of the Bison. I’ve seen bison charge vehicles and people. I think people mistakenly think they are large and slow beasts, but they are ferocious and quick footed. I’m content to stay in my car and use the zoom lens!

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