Custer State Park bison shot ... with paintball guns

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CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. (KOTA TV) The bulls at Custer State Park have an extra colorful mark this time of year.

"So every year we do an annual breading bull survey. We currently have about 120 breeding aged bulls in the park and so it is the one time of year that we go out and see how many we have of each age class and we start to compare what we have to last year," says Mark Hendrix, Custer State Park resource manager.

With over 900 bison in the entire park, keeping track of the mobile creatures is pretty difficult.

"The paintball gun is just a way to mark them. As we are going through the herd we usually use a couple of pickup trucks with some park staff in it and it then once you paintball them we record their age," says Mark Hendrix, Custer State Park resource manager.

The bulls were also branded when they were calves with a year marker so the staff can count the number of differently aged bulls in this survey as well.

" There for a while we were keeping ten bulls a year. For the last few years, we've kept 15 bulls. You know, we can tell if we need a few more of the 2-year-olds bulls. We pick all of our breeding bulls at two and a half," says Hendrix

They keep the heard capped at 900 and the cow to bull ration limited.

Hendrix says, " We only need so many bulls for all the cows and as far as revenue is concerned the cows bring a lot more money when you have a calve every year out of the cows. So we don't want to have an overabundance of bulls but, we want to have enough so the visitors are able to see some big bulls, see some cows, and also we do provide some hunts as well with some of the older bulls ."

And this is about the only time of year this count is possible.

" We have to do it during the rut. So for 9 ten months of the year, the big bulls are off by themselves in bachelor groups. So it's a lot easier to do the survey during the rut. The rut started in July and it will go through August. We're kind of at the peaks right now, so that's why we try to pick the peak of the rut when most of the bulls should be with the cows," says, Hendrix.

Park staff also want to warn folks to always keep their distance from wildlife, especially during their mating season.

"During the rut obviously the bulls are pretty protective when they are tending to a cow and so make sure to stay away from a cow that a bull is tending to because that is when they could cause a person to get injured," says Hendrix.