After several months of radio silence and near misses, a runaway bison who had escaped last September from a Wauconda farm was once again spotted by residents in McHenry and Lake counties, on April Fools’ Day no less.
The female bison, who locals have nicknamed Tyson or Billy, was spotted in Hawthorn Woods last Friday, even as the Lake County Sheriff’s Office made an April fools’ joke about the bison destroying the often-hit Long Grove bridge.
The Northwest Herald incorrectly reported in late March that the bison had been returned to its farm.
Scott Comstock and Bob Kryscha, co-owners of the Milk & Honey Farmstead in Wauconda, said some of the confusion expressed by residents could be because the farm has a second bison on the property. They confirmed the bison in Hawthorn Woods was the same bison who has been roaming the region since September.
“We are just trying to be careful,” Kryscha said. “We want to get her back safely, but also keep everybody else safe. She’s a wild, 1,200-pound animal.”
The owners also said, despite the entertaining videos and photos, the best thing residents can do to help, and be safe, is to leave the bison alone.
“The bison is cool to look at, but people should stay away,” Comstock said. “People will stop in their cars to take photos. I got a call from a lady who said, ‘Hey I got your bison.’ So I asked, ‘Is it in your garage?’ She replied, ‘No, I’m chasing it down Highway 12.’ I said, ‘Stop chasing her. You don’t have anything.’”
The bison was being delivered to Mike & Honey Farmstead from Green Bay when it escaped in September.
In the early months of this year, the owners came very close to recapturing the bison, a difficult task because of the bison’s size and temperament, Kryscha said.
“Tracking the bison isn’t a challenge,” Kryscha said. “But they are smart. Bisons have grown up on this land for 10,000 years or more. They can hear and smell us coming.”
The bison had been living in the woods roughly between the farmstead and Seven Oaks Farm in Barrington, and Kryscha said they were gradually trying to pen the bison into a smaller and smaller space, keeping her calm and comfortable so she could then be transported to the farm.
“She kept going over there, so we started to bait her into a horse trailer,” Kryscha said. “We almost had her. We were within a day or two of getting her. And then somebody went out there walking with their dogs and chased her out. Perfect timing.”
The bison was in its trailer, eating bait, when it got scared and ran off, Kryscha said.
After that, Kryscha said they think the bison headed east towards the Lakewood Forest Preserve. The bison was then spotted Friday near the intersection of Old McHenry Road and Midlothian Road in Hawthorn Woods. The owners know people in the area who said they were keeping an eye out and could try and bait the bison into a horse range or paddocks.
Ideally, the farm would be able to recruit cowboys who had roping expertise to safely bring in the bison, but the nearest cowboys they were aware of live in Iowa and are not available, Kryscha said.
While the bison is roaming, Kryscha said she was “happy as a clam” running around local forest preserves and “enjoying her freedom.”
For local police, the bison sightings have represented a strange and unique challenge, said John Malcolm, director of public safety for Hawthorn Woods.
Malcolm said they hadn’t had any calls about the bison since Friday, and it was his understanding that the bison currently is roaming in the Lakewood Forest Preserve.
“This is definitely a first,” Malcolm said. “We will get calls, go over to where the bison was, and then it’s gone. But this is a thousand pound animal, we’re not chasing a squirrel.”
Neither bison officially has a name. The owners said they are waiting for the second bison’s return and have maintained their goal of hosting a fun event, which will include a naming contest, once it is captured.
Until then, Comstock hopes people stop chasing the bison.
“She’s been chased by dogs, people, and police cars,” Comstock said of the bison. “We keep having to start over again, and she’s not going to trust anybody.”