• Barry Kaye holds a bison skull at his ranch near Wainwright, Alta.

    Barry Kaye holds a bison skull at his ranch near Wainwright, Alta. (Photo: Laura Stanley)

“Can you imagine 10,000 of those bastards going across the plains?”

Barry Kaye rests one hand on the wheel of his Ford F-350 pickup and points the other out the window at his nearby herd of bison, several of which look capable of flipping the one-tonne vehicle over with a flick of their great, shaggy heads.

“They’re athletes,” continues Kaye, who’s kept bison on his ranch outside Wainwright for about 15 years and through Buffalo Adventures, a local tourism consortium, offers appointment-only tours to see his herd. “They’ve got a big windpipe, a heart like a supercharger and can run more than 55 kilometres an hour.”

Bison are nowhere near as prevalent in Alberta as they were a mere 150 years ago, when millions roamed the Prairies, but you can still see isolated pockets of them in places such as Elk Island and Wood Buffalo national parks (the latter holds North America’s largest population of wild bison).

While it’s not surrounded by the beauty of a national park, the guaranteed close-up view of the bison you get at Kaye’s ranch is hard to beat (and the salty stream of patter coming from Kaye himself will keep you chuckling for days). A zoo atmosphere this is not, though, especially in August, when bison breed and can be aggressive. As Kaye wheels the pickup around the herd for a better view, a 1,000-kilogram bull that’s sheathed with muscle and nearly two metres tall at the top of its hump stops, drops and rolls in the dirt after a series of (unsuccessful) amorous advances. “He’s trying to cool off,” laughs Kaye, driving away and leaving the bison in peace.