Camping with Range Cattle(!)

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

When camping, never mind the dangers of bears, you really need to beware the bulls!


Earlier in the summer, when we camped along Cottonwood Pass in Colorado, we found a very pretty little area for dispersed camping between the top of the pass and Taylor Park Reservoir, at an elevation just below 10,000 feet.

Teardrop camper and tow vehicle in a pretty clearing in the forest
Cottonwood Pass campsite

The long, narrow clearing near the road was perfect - we had sun and shade, plus nice views along the clearing in both directions, and we parked near the center of its length beside an old cross-buck fence. We did see that cattle had been in the area in the past, but we didn't see any the first afternoon and evening, nor the next morning. Some cows and calves wandered through in the late morning and early afternoon, but other than a curious calf checking out our friend's tent, they basically ignored our campsite, and soon disappeared into the trees as they made their way toward Pass Creek.

Clearing surrounded by evergreens with mountain in the distance
Evening view toward Gladstone Ridge

Quick background: Every year many thousands of acres of US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land are leased to ranchers for cattle or sheep grazing during the summers. The grass is good and these cattle become semi-feral and quite self-sustaining. We had happened onto an area where cattle were being summered.


Sometime later, around the time we started to think about making dinner, there was a lot of "a-pawin' and a-bellerin'" as my grandfather would have said, by a big black bull coming out of the trees and up the clearing toward our camp. He was accompanied by two other bulls who seemed to care less that we'd invaded a space they apparently traveled through every few days.

Three bulls, two Angus and one Hereford
Zero, Eight and Nine wandering through our camp

I ended up naming the three bulls by the brand on each one's shoulder, evidently identifiers used by the owner - Zero, Eight and Nine. Zero (which matched his apparent brain capacity, too!) was our noisy and aggressive boy. He was bawling and pawing up dust over his back, tossing his head around and generally making a spectacle of himself trying to let us know that he was boss and we were in HIS space. He came up all the way up to the fence we were parked beside and tried to challenge us from the far side. We sat still and told him to quit being so stupid. After Nine took the lead in walking around the end of the fence and around our campsite at the edge of the trees, Zero calmed down a bit and followed. Eight, the Hereford, seemed older and much more laid-back; he barely acknowledged our presence. They disappeared into the trees after they'd passed us, and we didn't think any more about it. We made dinner, using the portable fire ring my husband got for us, and later had an evening fire in the campsite fire ring.

Bull saliva marks on camper door
Bull lick marks on our camper door

At bedtime, we made sure the fires were out for the night. However, sometime during the night, I woke up to a loud thud outside. I told my husband something was out there and he opened his door to find our big water jug and his shoes had been knocked to the ground, and there were two black bulls next to the camper! One had made his way to where our portable fire ring was near the galley at the back, and was cleaning out the ash and charcoal from it. The other bull had knocked things down (and we later discovered, left saliva marks on the camper door too) trying to figure out how to get between the camper and the post of our canopy. I'm glad he didn't actually push through there - he outweighed our camper by a few hundred pounds and would have done some damage.


I poked my head out my door and started yelling for the bull to get away from the back of the camper. Unfortunately, he just looked at my flashlight and ignored me. My husband had found his shoes and gotten them on, and was shooing the second bull toward the back of the camper, but he saw the one already there was thinking of getting possessive about the ash and charcoal he'd been cleaning up. My husband's flashlight has a strobe function, so he turned that on and started flashing it into the bulls' eyes. From playing around with that flashlight, I KNOW the strobe hurts even in daylight, but it took awhile for it to start bothering those two - especially Zero. It was truly as if things had to percolate for some time before he got the gist of what was going on. Number Nine had moved back into the trees before Zero finally decided to follow him. They disappeared and we started looking around to see what they'd been up to. We found that every bit of charcoal and ash from both fire rings was completely gone; apparently these guys were missing some mineral that the ash provided. We never decided how hot some of the coals might still have been - maybe they have iron tongues and first stomach chambers.

An old cross-timber fence
Attractive, but no match for range cattle!

About then I noticed the bulls hadn't left; they were hanging out at the edge of the trees watching us. I started their way, loudly telling them to 'get lost, we didn't want them around, we'd had enough.' My husband brought out his trusty strobe again, and started flashing it and yelling at them to get going as he hazed them past the attractive, but decrepit old fence and on down the clearing toward the creek. Nine decided we were too much trouble and took the lead in getting out of there. Again, old Zero took his sweet time figuring out that he really wasn't liking that thing flashing in his eyes, and finally followed. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night and kept poking my head out to see if they'd come back. When I decided to get up in the morning, I saw Zero making a beeline for the fire pit again! I yelled at him to 'get out of there, he'd already cleaned it out,' and he did a quick U-turn and headed back to the trees like he'd been planning to go that way all along. I wonder if he had a headache from the strobe.


Check out my website, www.DeniseDethlefsen.com, for artistic nature and outdoor photography. #photography #NaturePhotography #TravelswithMinnie #teardropcamping


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