Reader Essays: Bullfight!

John Joy goes fist-to-nose with an invasive species.

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Last October my wife and I spent four days backpacking in Utah’s Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. We hiked along Pine Creek and never saw another soul the entire time. On our last day, nearly at the trailhead, we heard a loud crashing noise from the brush near the creek and out came a bull. The bull spotted us and without any hesitation it broke into a full charge at top speed. We backpedaled toward the creek as fast as possible but he closed the distance in seconds. He came straight for me, and I put my hiking poles out in front of me (ha! useless!). Just as I got to the edge of the bank, the bull hit me full speed square in the sternum. The blow sent me through the air, over the bank, and onto my back on a pile of logs, hanging by my knees over a log upside down. (I am positive my fully loaded pack saved my life, as it protected my back and head when I hit the logs.) 

Shockingly, the bull was not able to stop—he fell over the bank and pinned my legs against the logs and we were both stuck. A 30-second cyclone ensued as the bull tried to gain its footing, the whole time flailing, kicking, and bellowing—with my wife beating him from above with her hiking poles. I did the same, hitting him with my poles and screaming from my upside-down position. The bull finally regained his footing and staggered out of the logjam to the top of the bank, which released my legs. The weight of my pack pulled me over backward, causing me to tumble down the rest of the logjam and into the creek. 

The bull immediately turned on my wife and charged; luckily, she was only about eight feet from a large tree and thicket of brush, which she dove behind. Now he didn’t know who to go for first. I got to my feet and climbed the log pile and went toward the bull to divert him. As I climbed up the logs, the bull charged toward me again. I really thought this animal was going to kill us. When it was three feet away, I wailed on its nose and face with my poles. Both poles broke in half. I retreated after giving him a bloody nose and a swollen-shut left eye. 

We now settled into a standoff that lasted two hours in the blazing sun. The three of us remained 15 feet apart in a triangle, my wife and I each behind a tree. We tried our cell phone but no coverage. Any movement or conversation by us started him stomping, head swaying, and snorting. Both of my legs were bleeding badly, and my chest hurt. We decided to strip off our packs and make a dash to a rock wall—which worked except that the bull then took up a position below us, and we had no food or water. We scrambled up to a ledge and crawled on hands and knees, inching upward; thankfully, we reached a mesa and safety. We quickly got to our car, drove eight miles to the visitor center, and the park service staff gave us food and water. After cowboys took care of the bull (they said it would be “hamburger by nightfall”), rangers retrieved our packs—and my camera, which I had used to take a picture of the bloodied bull (right), so that there might be a record of what had happened in case we didn’t make it.

Perhaps bullfighting should be in your next survival issue? 

Joy lives in North Montpelier, VT. Favorite hike: Secret Canyon Trail, Sedona, AZ.

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