How to Avoid Getting Gored by a Bull

The basics on how to survive an angry bovine.

Image courtesy of Corbis.

This year's running of the bulls at Pamplona's San Fermin Festival, which ends today, made international headlines, when news spread that one of the men gored by the rampaging bovines was Bill Hillmann, a Chicago writer who had co-authored an e-book guide to surviving the event. (He's recovering nicely, he told by phone.) If it can happen to him, it can happen to you.

To prepare for next year's run— whatever curveballs life may throw you— asked Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University (as well as one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People), how to avoid getting gored by a bull.

Know when you're in danger:

If you're out in the country, and a bull gives you what's called the broadside threat—a menacing sideways glare that emphasizes the mass of muscle on its shoulders—then it's time to start thinking about an exit strategy. Same goes for if you're strolling down a cobblestone Spanish street and spot several tons of angry bulls coming your way.

Consider what the bull's thinking:

In a pasture, a bull that threatens a human is doing so because he was reared incorrectly and sees the human as a rival for mates, Grandin says. "That's because he didn't grow up with his own kind...If a bull gave me a broadside threat, I'd find the farmer and tell him that bull needs a trip to the slaughterhouse right now—bulls shouldn't be displaying broadside behavior toward people. That's a dangerous bull. People should be seen as benevolent feed givers and butt scratchers."

In situations like Pamplona or a bullfight or rodeo, on the other hand, the whole point is to make the bulls aggressive. "Those animals are so stirred up that their behavior is going to be absolute panic and fear, they will go absolutely berserk—I don't care whether they're cows or bulls, they all behave the same way," she says.

Avoid showing a pissed-off bull your back:

If you're in a situation where the bull hasn't begun to chase you yet, don't give him an easy target. "Never, ever turn your back on a bull," Grandin says. "Just quietly back away and get out of there." If you're in a bull pasture, back up to the fence, then quickly roll under it.

Try cowing him (as it were):

If the bull hasn't yet decided on a course of action against you, you can try to beat him at his own game by convincing him that you're the bigger threat. "Sometimes if you make yourself really big, yell at him with a big deep voice, face him, and put up your arms like a muscle man, that might work," she says. "But that would only work out in the pasture where things are calm. If he turned and faced and challenged me, I think he'd run after me anyway."

Move north:

"Climb up on something high," Grandin says. "Climb up on anything."

Know the motions:

Bulls go for motion (they don't see red). If there's a mass of other people nearby, Grandin suggests trying to run away from the large group in hopes the bull will be attracted by the more obvious source of motion. Or go motionless—If you stand completely still, the bull might ignore you and go after something else that's moving.

Play matador:

As we said before, bulls go for motion, which is why matadors' capes are essential parts of their arsenal. If you can't escape in time, or are cornered, you can try distracting a raging bull with a makeshift cape of your own. "Do what the matador does: Yank your shirt off, wave the shirt, and hope he attacks the shirt," Grandin says. "I was with a guy once who was being attacked by a [male] bison. He ripped his coat off, and the bull attacked the coat, giving him a chance to get away."

Go for the nose:

If you're a horn's length away from getting gored, and all else has failed, fight back. The bull's nose is particularly sensitive. Aim for that and the eyes. "Give him enough pain, and he'll go away," she says. "I'd smash him on the nose, poke him in the eyes, jam my car keys in the nose and eyes. If you just hit him on the body, it's like hitting Arnold Schwarzenegger—he's not going to feel it."

If the bull has a ring in its nose, grab onto it and twist for dear life.

Know the right way to get gored:

If a goring is inevitable—you're between a rock and a hard place—you could be speared in the torso or you could get it in the leg, where there are no vital organs but where the horns could sever your femoral artery and you could bleed out. Grandin suggests that you turn sideways, in the hope that you'd be lucky enough for the horns to miss you and the bull to butt you with its forehead instead.

If you're unfortunate enough to end up on the ground under the bull, you're now going to have to avoid as much injury as you can from being trampled by an animal that can weigh over a ton. Your instinct, if you can't roll or crawl out of the way, will be to protect your head and curl up into a ball. It may save you from a fractured skull or brain damage.

The only silver lining here is that the bull isn't attacking you to make you into its next meal, but because it saw you as a threat. At this point, play dead. "With a mountain lion, you've got to fight it with all your might," Grandin says. "But with a bull, if you stay very still, he might decide you're dead and leave you alone. Well, he might, or he might not. But he's not going to eat you."

The No. 1 Rule for Not Getting Gored by a Bull:

Don't go to the San Fermin festival. "Basically, I'm not going to be caught dead running with the bulls," Grandin says.

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