May 3, 2016

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How many adult riders does it take to move a herd of kiddie bison? Fourteen. Obviously.

That was the size of our posse this past week when we pushed the remaining managed bison herd into the corrals on the Medano side of the Zapata Ranch. The wee woolies were getting prepped for their long road trip to the Land of Tatonka aka South Dakota aka the location of our newest ranch management project aka their new prairie home.

I always jump at any chance to visit our sister ranches — Zapata is just postcard stunning ringed by snow-capped mountains and majestic sand dunes plus the largely lady crew there is tons of fun and the food (shout-out to Zapata’s incredible cook Julia!) is SO YUMMY — but this time I was EXTRA pumped because it was my first bison move. Even brought my fancy fringe gloves to mark the special occasion. (Zapata’s ranch boss Brett took one look at my flair and informed me that Bon Jovi called, he wanted his gloves back.)

And I have to admit that I was secretly hoping for things to get real “Western” — I had this image in my head of bygone bison gathers where a line of gallant Ranchlands riders galloped full bore at the back of the herd (please see the “Duke and the Buffalo” trailer for a visual), wildrags (that’s cowboy for “scarf”) and manes streaming behind them, risking life and limb to bend the implacable bison to their directional will.
But we don’t do bison moves like that anymore. We use ranch planes and motorcycles to move the bigger, wilder herd (over 2,000 animals). It’s much safer and faster. And this was a smaller portion of our more domesticated herd — just over 200 animals, all under 3 years — so there was no need for any rodeo theatrics.

We simply trotted up to the gang of younguns, lined out our equine wall and VERY slowly ping-ponged them all the way to the bison barn. Maybe once or twice a few troublemakers had a hankering to scoot off and had to be steered back into the fold — but otherwise it was a very calm affair. No stampede strap required.

That’s not to say I was disappointed. I got to ride Cinco, a spunky gelding with plenty of go who has a brand on his butt that looks like a power button. (Just boot him up!) I had the chance to chat with the awesome new Zapata wranglers. I gestured emphatically with my fringe gloves. It was a blast.

Most of all, it’s always a treat to roll out as a big Ranchlands posse — there’s nothing like team building with a San Luis Valley view. Which is why I wasn’t too bummed to be stranded at Zapata when a late spring snow kept us off the mountain pass back to Chico… Julia’s biscuits and gravy for breakfast anyone?!

By Chico Basin intern Becca Frucht


1 reply to “The Bison Posse

  1. Tony Dowling

    Becca:
    I was reading this on my iPhone at a bar not knowing who wrote it when i started. a quarter way in, i figured it was probably you. You certainly get a lot of pleasure out of your time at the ranches and capture it well in your writing. I had to postpone my May trip to Chico. Too much going on at home. I hope to make it out in the fall but you will probably be back doing “real work” in LA by then. Keep the stories coming. tony

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