If you live in an urban area, finding yourself face-to-face with an angry bull seems unlikely. But, should you find yourself in a place or situation where you’ll have to deal with a bull that’s ready to charge at you, it’s better to be armed with the knowledge of how to survive or, better yet, avoid a raging bull’s attack.
In this article, we dispel a few myths about bulls and show you how to survive their attack, if it can’t be avoided. Before discussing how to avoid or survive a bull charge, it’s worthwhile to know what actually causes a bull to charge.
Red Doesn’t Anger Them
It’s been demonstrated in many movies, cartoons and other works of fiction that bulls are enraged merely by seeing the color red. This myth has been propagated so much that a bull’s crimson-stoked ire has become a common expression known as “seeing red”. Red seems to be the one color (regardless of what the item is) that causes bulls to switch to a full-on rampage the instant they see it.
This is simply untrue. Bulls are color-blind to red and green and can’t make a distinction between these colors and gray. What actually sets bulls off is the movement. This myth about red rage was likely created by spectators after observing the age-old tradition of Spanish bullfighting. In the bullfighting ring, the Matador taunts the bull to charge with a small, bright-red cape (called the Muleta), which seems to irritate the bull and cause him to charge. Later in the fight, the bullfighter or Matador uses a larger cape (known as the capote) which is colored magenta on one side, and usually blue or gold on the other. The bull charges at this colored cape with just as much rage.
Note that the Matador doesn’t just “show” these capes, but rather dangles and whips them in front of the bull; it’s these “annoying” movements that taunt the bull and causes it to charge.
Myth Further Busted
In the British mini-documentary “Duck Quacks Don’t Echo”, four man-shaped placards each of a different color (green, blue, yellow and red) were placed in a bull’s enclosure. The motionless placards were presented to the bull one at a time, and the bull didn’t react to any of them. Each placard was then attached to a fishing rod and dangled in front of the bull; each placard that bobbed in front of the bull was then attacked, regardless of their color. This simple “experiment” further proved that bulls don’t react to color, but to movement.
How to Avoid a Bull Charge
There are some very simple measures to take to avoid getting charged by a bull. Here are the steps:
Step 1. Avoid any fields or pastures where bulls roam. Much like avoiding getting mugged or abducted, the best measure is to simply not be anywhere near bulls. But, if you find that you have to be with or near any cows for any reason, keep a wide berth between you and the bulls as they can be very territorial.
Step 2. If crossing or passing through a pasture inhabited by bulls is unavoidable, be aware that a bull will see you as an intruder and will make it clear that you should leave. Don’t make eye contact, tease or pester bulls, or make contact with any of the cows and calves. Bulls are both extremely territorial and very protective of their females and young. Leave the area as quickly and calmly as you can.
Step 3. Sometimes your mere presence in their pasture is enough to make a bull aggressive.
Be aware of the signs that a bull is about to charge:
- He glares at you.
- He tosses his head about forcefully.
- He widens his stance slightly, lowers his head, followed by pawing the dirt.
- The bull may even move to position himself such that he shows off his side to you, just to show how big he is.
- The bull “growls” at you; he breathes audibly and it sounds a bit like: “Rrrrumph rrrrumph”.
If a bull exhibits any of these signs, stay away from it, but don’t run away in panic as frantic movements might trigger the bull to charge.
Step 4. Look behind you occasionally as you cross a field with cows and bulls; bulls can be surprisingly quick and stealthy. Sometimes you may not notice that a bull has already snuck up behind you and is sniffing your back or your back pockets to “assess” if you’re a threat.
If you notice a bull is “stalking” you, don’t run, but back away calmly. “Sneaky” bulls like these can be more dangerous than those that display obvious signs of aggression. Running will only encourage them to charge. Remember how it was demonstrated that movement sets off a bull charge? Apart from becoming agitated at moving objects, bulls can run up to speeds of 35 mph, making running a potentially foolish move.
Step 5. Arm yourself. A hefty stick that won’t break after impact, like an ax handle, long piece of pipe or baseball bat will work. Pack something long, sturdy and blunt that would make a bull think twice about attacking you.
Step 6. If you need to get into a corral or bull’s enclosure, be sure to walk along the fence; staying close to the fence will allow you jump out of the bull’s way and escape. Remember that despite all their bulk, bulls can run extremely fast and can turn on a dime.
Step 7. If a bull charges at you and you can’t escape, side-step the bull and run in the opposite direction. If you can’t get past the bull and it’s still behind you, don’t run in a straight line. Try to zig-zag to offset the bull’s kinetic charge, and disrupt its momentum.
Step 8. If you can’t escape and can’t outrun the bull, prepare to fight back — hard. Scream as loud as you can and hit the bull across its muzzle or nose with a stick, pipe or baseball bat. Cruel as it may sound, you won’t actually be doing much harm to the bull, and it’s what farmers and ranchers usually do when faced with an aggressive bull. You may have to scream and whack the bull’s muzzle or nose a few times before it backs off. Be persistent until it decides to leave you alone. In many cases, this can be enough to put them off the attack.
Step 9. Should you find yourself attacked by a bull and you don’t have a weapon, run as fast as you can (not in a straight line) and toss your backpack or strip off your shirt and throw it at the bull. This may distract it long enough for you to get to safety. Jump over a fence or get behind a tree, rock, large bush or any other large and sturdy obstacle (they can and will charge through closed doors).
Don’t make eye contact, and don’t drop to the ground and play dead; bulls aren’t like grizzly bears –they will continue to attack what they think is the “source” of their annoyance and always charge with intent. Bulls don’t bluff like grizzly bears do.
If you thought that beef bulls — bulls raised to be slaughtered for meat — are more dangerous than their dairy counterparts, you’d be wrong. It’s not what the bulls are raised for, but how they’re raised is what makes them dangerous.
Cows and bulls have an innate behavior, a “herd instinct” that presides over how they behave socially towards their fellow bovines. Bulls and cows raised for meat make less contact with humans, so their “herd instinct” naturally kicks in when they interact with others of their kind, and humans are treated with indifference.
Conversely, bulls and cows raised for milk have more interactions with humans as they’re growing up, so they tend to think that humans are part of their herd, so they “apply” their herd instincts to humans as well. Dairy bulls are usually hand-fed and handled by humans, so they grow up thinking that humans are part of their herd. This throws off their “natural” herd instincts and causes some confusing behavior and could contribute to them becoming more aggressive with age.
Although bulls are usually docile livestock that are raised and slaughtered for food, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous if they’re provoked. Your best defense against a bull charge is to avoid invading their territory, and not giving them any cause to charge at you; don’t pester or annoy them and they should leave you alone.
But if SHTF and you’re faced with an angry bull for any other reason, back away from it as calmly as possible. Bulls don’t bluff, and when they look they’re about to charge, they will. Scream at them and fight them off with anything you can use as a weapon. Running should be your last resort, since they really get annoyed at furiously-moving objects. If you must run, do so in a zigzag and throw your bag or shirt at them to distract them as you run to a safer spot. Remember that bulls are smart, fast and powerful creatures that are best left alone, so keep your distance.