Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thundering Hooves!

The sun wasn't up and the moon was still high in the sky Monday morning when we loaded up and joined our friends, Mike & Pat, Mark & Dale and Rollie & Gina to "head 'em up and move 'em out" for the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.

After entering the park, we joined a miles-long train of cars winding their way along the park's Wildlife Loop toward the roundup site. It was a glorious, cool, almost windless morning, so we sipped our coffee and enjoyed watching the sun rise as we waited our turn to park.

Once the dogs were walked (yes, they got to come too!) we found a spot to put up our lawn chairs and wait for the buffalo to arrive. And arrive they did!

First a few head appeared, accompanied by some of the park's burro herd. Then we saw the main herd pouring out of the canyon to our right. From a distance, it looked like a river of dark, rich chocolate headed across the prairie toward the corrals. Then as they got closer, we could see the individual animals, led by one of the matriarchs. At one point, the herd attempted to take a side canyon, and the riders really earned their pancakes turning them and moving the 800-1000 animals in the right direction.

The riders did most of the work, but there were a number of pickup trucks on hand, too. Mike and Pat, who volunteered in Custer State Park for ten summers, explained what was happening. They have participated in a number of roundups, so they knew what to expect.
The final challenge is to get the entire herd to go through the gates into the pastures and working pens. This year, everything went smoothly, and the actual penning took very little time. However, that is not always the case. Two years ago, the herd apparently got within a few yards of the entrance and turned back. I don't know how long it took to to corral them, but I'll bet it was some kind of exciting!

Most of the bison in these photos are cows, calves and young bulls. When the bison are rounded up, the older bulls are not included. Most do not stay with the cows and calves once the rut is over, and besides, Park personnel say they are just too unpredictable and mean to bring into the corrals. The fences are stout, but we were told that the older bulls could turn them into kindling if they panicked and charged.

Once corralled, some of the herd were put into pens for all us Tinhorns to look at. They are magnificent animals. After milling around outside the corrals and stirring up dust, and with the bison kicking it up inside, we were almost and sweaty and dirty as the cowboys by the time we headed back home. It was a not-to-be-missed experience, though, and one we'll look forward to the next time we're in Custer.

And speaking of those large, older bulls.  On Tuesday we came across a group of six hanging out in the Park and being glad that they weren't forced to join the roundup.  We were able to see the brand on one of was a 5.  That means that he was born in 2005, and is five years old this year.  What magnificent animals! 

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