Highland News Leader

Police shoot, kill bison running loose in Highland

Bison runs wild, before local cops forced to shoot it

Highland, IL, Police said they were forced to shoot a buffalo Tuesday that was running in traffic. Police dash cam video catches the buffalo running down Sportsman Road and crossing Frank Watson Parkway in Highland, IL, near St. Louis, MO. Had the
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Highland, IL, Police said they were forced to shoot a buffalo Tuesday that was running in traffic. Police dash cam video catches the buffalo running down Sportsman Road and crossing Frank Watson Parkway in Highland, IL, near St. Louis, MO. Had the

A bison headed for the slaughterhouse got a brief reprieve Tuesday after it busted through a trailer gate, but police put the animal down after a 20-minute chase in Highland.

Police said it became a matter of public safety, and that they were worried the bison could hurt someone.

“An ornery, 1,000-pound bull buffalo poses a significant threat in a community like this … If there was just people out walking or kids out in their yard, who knows what could have happened,” said Highland Police Chief Terry Bell.

Highland Police Sgt. Scott Athmer said a farmer from the Alton area was delivering the half-ton, 2-year-old bull — along with another bison — to Korte Meat Processing in Highland to be butchered. Athmer said the first animal exited the trailer and went into the plant without incident, but the bull wanted to fight.

“He was bucking and throwing his head around in the trailer,” Athmer said.

The bull banged into a gate on the front end of the trailer and knocked it off its hinges, Athmer said. The people trying to unload the animal were able to get the gate back on the hinges initially, but then the bull hit it again.

“He hit the door with everything he had, and the door came off,” Athmer said.

He hit the door with everything he had, and the door came off.

Highland Police Sgt. Scott Athmer

Police were alerted around 7:50 a.m. that the animal was standing on the CSX railroad tracks on the west end of town. An approaching train sent the animal running.

A 911 call came in reporting the buffalo near Rural King, about a mile to the north of the meat locker.

“I knew I was gonna have my hands full,” Athmer said.

Bison have a notorious aggressive nature.

“They are unpredictable and can charge at any moment. Every year, there are regrettable accidents caused by people getting too close to these massive animals. It’s great to love the bison, but love them from a distance,” the U.S. Department of the Interior says on its online fact sheet about the animals, adding: “They can run up to 35 miles per hour. Plus, they’re extremely agile. Bison can spin around quickly, jump high fences and are strong swimmers.”

“They are an animal that’s very hardy and can run all day long,” Bell said. “It could have ended up in a community somewhere else.”

Police tried to herd the animal west, away from town. It worked, and the bull took off down Sportsman Road, heading toward the countryside.

“If he had went east, into town, it could have been real bad,” Athmer said.

If he had went east, into town, it could have been real bad.

Highland Police Sgt. Scott Athmer

Once it got clear of populated area, Bell said officers had no choice but to try and put it down. The city does not have animal control personnel, or tranquilizer weapons, not that it would have mattered, he said.

“I don’t know how you would put a rope around the head of a buffalo in the first place. We don’t train for that … Even if we had (a tranquilizer gun), could you imagine what kind of potency it would take to bring down an animal of that size? We were doing well to bring it down with the weapons we had.”

Along Sportsman Road, Athmer — an Army veteran, avid hunter and 16-year veteran of Highland Police Department and former firearms instructor — set up to take a shot, picking a spot with a hillside in the background that was void of any cars or buildings.

He put three rounds into the bull, behind its shoulder, a traditional target spot to bring down big game, but the bull did not fall. The rifle carried by Highland police is an AR-15 that shoots .223-caliber, non-penetrating rounds.

“We carry a non-penetrating round, so if it hits a drywall wall, it doesn’t penetrate the other side of the wall. It delivers all its kinetic energy with the first thing it hits,” Athmer said.

The ammunition is ideal for police work, but it’s not what a hunter would pick.

“I knew it was not going to be a one-shot, one-kill deal,” Athmer said.

Still, he was surprised by the animal’s resilience.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather when he didn’t fall over after those first three rounds. I knew those first three were quality shots, and he did not even slow down,” Athmer said.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when he didn’t fall over after those first three rounds. I knew those first three were quality shots, and he did not even slow down.

Highland Police Sgt. Scott Athmer

With three rounds in him, the bull continued west. Police gave chase, and Athmer repositioned himself again for another shot.

Athmer whistled to draw the bison’s attention, and he delivered a headshot. But the bullet was not able to pierce the buffalo’s thick skull, which they use in nature like battering rams when they fight each other. However, the shot did knock the bull down to where Athmer could reposition again to gain a better angle and deliver more rounds. It took about a dozen shots total before the bull finally succumbed to its wounds in a brushy area about 100 yards off Tyson Road, about a quarter-mile outside the city limits.

Athmer said neither employees at the meat locker, nor the farmer, were at fault for the escape. The hinges on the trailer simply failed.

“It was just an equipment malfunction,” he said.

No one was injured.

“Unfortunately, we had to put it down. I was just glad nobody got hurt,” Bell said.

ADR towing was called to remove the buffalo from the wooded area. The farmer was able to collect the animal, which he took home to process, Athmer said. USDA regulations do not allow meat lockers to process domesticated animals that do not walk into the plant of their own power.

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