No other scene says “wild west” like a cavalcade of horseback riders kicking up dust as they bring a buffalo herd in from the range. Before the glow of our Bison Tour wears off, we’re making notes about the bison-related activities we weren’t able to do this time around but would like to experience in the future. Officially now on our bucket list is attending a bison roundup.
(All of the photos in this post are from www.dakotagraph.com, and are used with permission.)
The two most-publicized roundups occur each fall at Custer State Park in South Dakota and Antelope Island State Park in Utah. Both parks have large bison herds, which are corralled once a year. Each animal is given a health checkup, the cows are examined for pregnancy, and the new bison are vaccinated. Some of them are culled from the herd—usually calves—and sold at auction or donated to Native American groups. In these parks, the bison don’t have natural predators, so park officials cull the herds to manage their populations.
Check out this video of a past roundup at Custer SP. Notice the antelope getting caught in the stampede at the 45-second mark. We’ve probably watched this clip a hundred times.
Both parks allow the public to view the roundups, and—on a limited basis—participate as riders. Antelope Island, just west of Salt Lake City, charges each rider $50 and you must bring your own horse. Those rider slots sell out very quickly each year, as you can imagine. Custer has an application process, but usually there are only about twenty openings each year for riders outside of park staff.
It doesn’t take long for the cowpokes to bring in the herds, usually a couple of hours. That sounded to us like a very short amount of time to find every bison in the park and drive them to the corrals, until we learned that the parks don’t bother trying to bring in the large, solitary males. They’re too aggressive and unpredictable to mess with. As one park official said, “We just leave them be.”
Next year will be Custer’s 54th annual roundup, which draws as many as 20,000 spectators and is usually held on the last Friday of September. The day of the roundup starts with a pancake feed—of course it does—and after the bison are corralled, you can hang around for the rest of the weekend to attend the arts festival held in the park.
Antelope Island corrals their herd during the last weekend of October. They also make a party out of the event by holding a festival with food and music during roundup weekend. At Antelope, once the bison are in, they’re given a five-day rest before getting their health screenings the next weekend. On the third consecutive weekend, the culled bison are auctioned off. (We keep looking at our backyard wondering how great it would be to have a bison back there.)
Look for us at one of these events in the future. Karen will be the one wearing a buffalo check flannel shirt and hanging over the fence while taking pictures of the bison as they stampede past her. I’ll be the guy holding up the pancake feed line by trying to convince the flapjack flippers to make me some pigs-in-a-blanket. Note to self: Bring REAL maple syrup to bison roundup.