Bison And Their Surprising Jumping Abilities (How They Do It and How It Helps Them)

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Although bison are well known for their strength and power, they aren’t considered graceful or agile by many. Instead, most people think of these animals as slow and clumsy, built only for slow marches similar to cattle.

But there is more to our giant friends than meets the eye as bison are able to move with speed and grace which belies their bulky appearance. To travel long distances as the plains bison do requires them to be agile, being able to run, swim, and even jump when necessary! 

Join us in Floofmania as we explain how these powerful animals also manage to jump so gracefully and why this is important for them.

Are Bison Capable of Jumping?

While it might not look like it at first glance, plains bison are actually excellent jumpers. Whether it be jumping straight up or leaping large distances, this is something all bison naturally excel at. This ability is thanks in part to their powerful hind legs that launch them in the air.

Bison often make use of these abilities to get around obstacles in their way, especially in places where simply walking around is difficult. 

How High Can Bison Jump Vertically?

On average, plains bison can jump up to 6 feet vertically which is about the height of a man. Seeing these one-ton mammals jumping several feet straight up must be an impressive sight, though not one you’d want to be close to.

Bison are able to achieve this height if they are in an open space that allows them to pick up speed. In smaller places where bison aren’t as free to run, they can make smaller jumps. Some ranchers claim that even at a slow trot, some bison can leap over low-laying fences.

While bison are in the air they can also twist and pivot directions. Some bison are even able to do 180-degree spins that allow them to easily change directions and turn around at a moment’s notice.

Bison with snow in its fur walking through snowy landscape.

How Far Can A Bison Leap?

Aside from jumping high, bison can also leap impressive distances, up to 7 feet. The distance they cover in a single jump is astounding and is possible thanks to their speed.

Almost as surprising as their jump are bisons’ ability to run. On average, bison are capable of reaching speeds of 35 miles an hour. With that speed, bison are able to build momentum to make impressive jumps.

Just as when they are in the air, bison are also able to maneuver themselves. Bison can pivot and twist their bodies around while in midair. Some bison can immediately spin as soon as they hit the ground. This can be useful if they need to face something behind them like a predator.

Fact: The longest jump by humans was somewhere around 28 feet, making it four times as far as a bison’s jump. The difference is that bison weigh almost 15 times as much as a human!

Can Bison Jump Over Walls and Fences?

Bison on a grass field whirling up dust.

Bison can jump over obstacles such as walls and fences which has been a problem for ranchers and farmers. Persistent issues ranchers face with bison are these bovines jumping fences meant to keep them on the property and avoid them running away.

Many farmers report that bison can easily leap over 4-foot fences without a running start and 6-foot fences if they have a running start. Unlike their domesticated cousins, cattle, and bison are wilder and less intimidated by barriers getting in their way. It is common for them to try and get over fences and walls or just break them.

That means many ranches have to invest in fences that are even taller and stronger to ensure that their bison don’t escape. 

Some ranchers add additional barbed wire on top of six-foot-tall fences to discourage bison from attempting to jump over. 

Do Bison Jump Over Streams, Or Swim?

Streams and rivers are one kind of obstacle where bison don’t need to rely on jumping as they are natural swimmers. Just as their strong legs allow them to perform impressive leaps, they also allow bison to effortlessly paddle through the water, even under powerful currents. Their large size makes it more difficult for the currents to sweep them aside.

It also helps that bison are naturally buoyant with their humps, tails, and heads sticking out of the water, allowing them to breathe.

But while they don’t always need to jump over streams, that doesn’t mean they can’t. Bison will have no problem jumping over narrow streams and rivers if necessary. Even if they can’t always fully cross them, these jumps allow them to cover a lot of distance in a single bound.

American bison standing in green grass with trees in the background.

Why Are Bison So Excellent Jumpers?

What makes bison such adept jumpers boils down to their biology. Bison are incredibly strong with impressive physical prowess. While their legs are not as long as other animals like horses, they are strong. Their legs are incredibly muscular which is why bison can run, jump, and swim so effectively.

Their hind legs are like a springboard, thrusting them up in the air. When on the move, they can pick up speed which allows them to get more distance when they leap into the air.

Why is Being Able to Jump Useful for Bison?

Aside from looking impressive, being able to jump is an important ability in the wild for bison. In situations where they need to turn around quickly, jumping can be useful as it allows bison to quickly maneuver themselves. 

Some common situations where this might come in handy include

  • Facing predators
  • Jumping over obstacles

As powerful as bison are, it is difficult to fight off attackers from behind. If a predator gets behind a bison, they can take them down, so being able to react quickly is key. Being able to jump and spin around in order to face the predator head-on can be a massive help. They can then charge the attacker before they have time to react.

Aside from fighting getting past obstacles in their way is another benefit for bison. Bison migrate hundreds of miles each year so they are sure to encounter some roadblocks, things like fallen trees, bushes, or bodies of water are just some examples of things that will get in their way. 

Rather than spending extra time going around, bison can just leap over these things and continue running. Jumping is also useful in places with uneven ground such as ledges as it makes it easier for bison to reach the top. 

Can Bison Climb Over Obstacles?

Bison standing on a hill looking down.

Jumping and climbing are two different things, and while bison are excellent jumpers, they are poor climbers. While they can pull themselves up on low ledges and platforms, that is about it and they need to plant their feet firmly on the ground.

For one, these massive land animals are just too big for climbing. Things like trees and fences won’t be able to support them and will more likely collapse under their weight. 

This is why safety experts recommend you climb up a tree if you are ever chased by a bison as they won’t be able to follow you. 

Meanwhile, other obstacles like mountains and hills are too steep for them to climb. As impressive as they are, bison aren’t mountain goats who can leap from ledge to ledge.

Their hooves won’t offer much traction for them, meaning they won’t be able to climb up. This is why jumping is more important as it allows bison to bypass obstacles that might be impossible to climb.

Fact: Native Americans exploited the bison's inability to climb during hunting trips. Groups of hunters would lure bison to steep cliffs where they would either be cornered or fall off as they wouldn’t be able to climb down.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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