Some visits to the National Bison Range lead to specks of dark fur on a distant hillside. Others mean sharing a trail with the beasts and getting up close. This time was certainly the latter.
It's a struggle to narrow down the keepers after being so close for so long. I find the bison exceedingly adorable and full of expressions. These photos are more typical 'cool bison in Montana' in style, but I do have some distinctive portraits I might release later, depicting everything from curiosity, disgust, bewilderment, concern, and contentment. Bison can be deadly, and the vulnerability experienced in intimately sharing their space is humbling.
The controversy I refer to in the title surrounds the management of the preserve and animals. It's currently managed by the federal government and has been for a long time. Some say the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) should be given the land and animals given their history in the area and that the range sits right in the middle of the reservation. They've been mum on the issue and are leaving the decision to the feds for now. It looks like there wont be any changes until 2023 at the earliest. More info on the issue here.
In any case, the National Bison Range is a magical place that offers easy access to Montana's wildlife in a location only 45 minutes north of Missoula. I have many stories of taking visitors on 'safaris' there, and can account for a huge variety of species, including the bison, coyotes, elk, big horn sheep, eagles, hawks, osprey, deer, waterfowl, and so many more. There are also horses, cows, and farm animals nearby that could be interesting to city dwellers who don't see them every day.
While they move slowly and are very expressive, the bison aren't the easiest to photograph. The depth of shadow detail in their hide means it's very easy to confuse the camera into over-exposing the photo. The solution I've developed after a dozen or so visits is to leave the camera in evaluative metering (I used to use spot metering almost exclusively), and set a +1 exposure compensation with auto ISO (1600) enabled. This is a very similar setting I used for white-out winter photography and tends to bring the best balance of shadow detail for their coats.