CANTON ó Letís be abundantly clear, thereís likely no comparison with the Old West when thousands of buffalo thundered across the Great Plains.
Still, itís an awe-inspiring sight to see dozens of the massive animals in a dead run to the sound of what effectively would be their dinner bell: the clanging opening and closing of a range cube feeder mounted on the bed of a pickup.
Ditto for the normally reclusive elk, which, in the winter months when green grass isnít available, are quick to rush headlong into view to savor the protein-laden cubes.
The feeding of buffalo and elk takes place daily at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, a 2,560-acre parcel of native prairie that is dedicated to support the animals.
The bison and elk herds have been on the refuge since 1951.
By and large, the refuge offers the opportunity for a driving tour, and prominent signs are posted along the way to caution people to stay inside their vehicles. While that limits the area available for viewing, the Friends of Maxwell offer guided tours on trams that criss-cross the site, offering closer encounters with the animals.
But in the winter, the caretaker of the refuge, operated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, makes a daily round to offer supplemental feeding to the buffalo and elk, just as most cattlemen do.
Soon after he gets on the road to feed the animals, manager Cliff Peterson starts opening and closing the feeding chute on the cube feeder.
That clanging noise gets the animals running.
As he drives, he releases the cubes on the ground and a feeding frenzy of sorts begins.
Thatís certainly not the time to be on the ground as both bison and elk become aggressive in their search for the food, as bull elk muscle past cows and their calves to get to the cubes.
As the buffalo finish their feeding some distance away, they rush to where the elk were fed to push out the animals and pick up whatever might be left behind.
The elk know theyíre outmatched and start moving up on the hillside. The buffalo linger longer to ensure all the cubes are gone before they wander off as well.
An aging bull is more solitary, content to graze alone as his herd mates saunter off.
ē Maxwell is located approximately 6 miles north of Canton in eastern McPherson County. Tours are available year-round by reservation. Additional information about the tours are available from the Friends of Maxwell group at (620) 628-4455. There is a fee for the tours, which is used to help support the refuge.