Kyler Bourgeous grew up just a few minutes from the entrance of Antelope Island, Utah, a 42-square-mile state park in the Great Salt Lake. Over the years, the now 30-year-old college student has biked and run every route in the park without a problem. That is, until Sunday, June 1, 2019. While running on the Frary Peak Trail, he came around a bend and was gored and trampled by one of the park’s bison.
Months later, on September 27, Bourgeous and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kayleigh Davis, who works for the Utah Department of Health, met up at the park for a date. Davis decided to take a run while Bourgeous hung back to watch his dogs. A few minutes later, a Boy Scout ran up the trail with the news—Davis had been gored by a bison.
The couple, still together, shared their bizarre story with us.
I’ve never had any trouble with animals in the park. We’ve had to take bison detours plenty of times when they’re near the trail—we just swing wide around them. The way Frary Peak is, you can’t see what’s on the other side of the ridge until you’re up there. In June, I was running up this trail, and the bison were hanging out in a little bowl just down the other side of the slope.
I was almost to the three-mile marker on the trail, where it crests this ridge—that’s when I ran into them. As soon as I saw them, I said, “Oops” out loud. Then I started walking away slowly, trying to get some distance between us. But I only made it a few steps when the bison decided to charge. I ran when I saw it coming.
It closed the gap quickly, because their top speed [up to 35 miles per hour] is so high. Right before it got me, I turned sideways into it. So I have this flashback now, where I see the bison right before it hits me, which has been a problem because the incident has caused some PTSD.
I turned into it with my right side, which ended up working as well as it could have because I didn’t suffer any permanent injuries. It hit me with both of its horns. I got one in my hip, which took out a pretty big chunk of flesh, and the other one in my arm, which took out a smaller lump. It also fractured a rib, putting a small hole in my lung, which started collapsing.
The impact sent me flying through the air. I rotated and hit the ground. The bison trampled me after that. I remember this whirlwind of hooves and getting smashed under it, which ripped my ear and scalp and bruised my back.
The whole thing was over pretty quickly, but after the bison stopped, it only moved away a little bit. It stood there and watched me, waiting for me to do anything, like it was going to finish me off if it felt threatened at all.
There were some people on the rocks just above the ridge who saw this happen. I yelled up to them that I need a helicopter immediately, but I could hear them shushing me, because the bison was still so close. I side-glanced over at it and realized I probably shouldn’t move and should just be cool, because it was staring at me. I think I got a huge hit of adrenaline, knowing that I hadn’t died, and that’s why I started yelling.
After a few minutes, the bison finally moved far enough away that the people on the ridge ran down to try and help me. I’ve got a picture where you can see the hoofprint on top of my head and another where I have prints all over my back.
Blood and sweat were running down my face and into my eyes, which hurt quite a bit. I couldn’t really open my eyes and look around, so I don’t know who helped me, but thank you.
After I was airlifted to the hospital, doctors put a drain in my hip and another in my armpit. When they noticed my lung was still collapsing, I had to get a chest tube installed to drain fluid around my lung. But I ended up healing remarkably quickly. [He left the hospital two days after the attack and was back on the trail 11 days later.]
Kayleigh and I matched through an online dating app soon after that. I put in my profile that I survived a bison attack, and of course, that was the first thing she asked me about.
Every date we went hiking or did something outdoors. That day in September, the day she got attacked, we met to see the sunset on the Lakeside Trail. I’d brought my dogs, and since I’d gone running earlier that day, I told her to run ahead.
I’ve been training for a half marathon, so I thought I’d run on Antelope Island, since they have some good long trails. I ran ahead and was going to meet Kyler and the dogs at a trail marker.
The bison was standing there eating grass about 200 feet away, not interested in me. Just knowing Kyler’s story, I didn’t want to get too close. I felt uncomfortable seeing it, so I decided to turn back and tell Kyler I didn’t want to run the trail anymore.
I waved to some mountain bikers and some scouts on the trail, probably about 50 yards away from the bison, who were closer to it than I was. I saw the bison looking right at me. Then it was running toward me. The only thing I could think to do was to run away. I looked over my shoulder three times, and each time it was getting closer. It was 70 yards away from me when I started running, but I only made it ten more yards before it caught up to me. The third time I looked over, he was right there and threw me straight into the air, about 15 feet.
I was thinking a lot of things, wondering if I was going to land on him or if I was going to land on my head. I was thinking this would be it. Honestly, I don’t remember much until I landed and was laying on the ground, staring straight up as it looked right at me. It was doing the hoof thing, like he was going to charge me if I moved. In that moment, I was thinking of Kyler getting trampled, and I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I just stayed still.
The bikers called 911 right away. I laid there scared, the bison standing over me, sniffing me. I heard the scout leader, who was also an off-duty police officer, in the background saying, “Don’t move” and “Calm down.” Then the bison bluffed like it was going to charge the scout leader, who was trying to get it away from me. Finally, it started walking away.
I had a fractured ankle, and it punctured the back of my thigh.
I was like, What are the odds? I was crying, waiting for Kyler to come up, and wondering what he was going to think. I worried that I messed up his day and that he probably won’t want to go back to Antelope Island ever again. I was still crying when he came up to me. He held my hand and told me not to worry. After comforting me, he got his bear mace out and stood guard, in case the bison came back while we waited for the helicopter.
I’ve been blamed for this happening. People assume that by association I must’ve done something, especially when it happens twice.
The rangers said both incidents were freak accidents. I laugh about it, but it’s also pretty traumatic. I had a dream the other night where I was somewhere safe, but the bison kept chasing me, and I was like, Oh, it knows my sins.
A lot of coworkers give me bison jerky and tell me I can get my revenge by eating bison burgers.
I don’t know why this happened. Maybe the bison see me as a threat. I’ve done every trail on the island countless times. I’ve done Frary Peak 150 times. So I wonder if maybe the bison got sick of seeing me out there. I always avoided them, but they were probably pissed off that I’m all over the place.
Since then I’ve been riding my bike along the causeway, but just to edge of the island. The other day, I snuck up the road a little. There’s a wide-open view where you can see the bison from a mile away. Some people were stopped a half-mile ahead of me, and there were three bison in the distance. I saw them get out of their car and start sneaking up closer and closer. One of them stayed by the car, so I biked up to her and told her that they probably should not do this. She called to her friends to come back, and the bison basically didn’t notice them.
I started moving a little bit farther up the road. Immediately, two of the bison turned and whipped their tails up. I got out of there.
Lead Photo: Stephen Matera/Tandem