This past Friday I headed for Custer State Park in South Dakota. I had heard about their annual buffalo (yes, we all know they are bison but it’s not called a “bison head nickel”) round-up. They have about 1200 head of wild buffalo in the park, and once a year they will round-up the herd to check their health and cull as needed depending on the state of the grasslands.
I was met by photographer, Ron Fry, a long time park volunteer and all around nice guy who gave me a tour of both viewing locations and some tips for where I might be able to get the shot I was looking for – namely a pattern of buffalo, thick with animals where one back and shoulder overlaps the next. Throw in some dust kicking up in the air and I’d be especially happy.
I was anticipating the shot – but not the sound and spectacle of the round-up itself. Some 40 men and women on horseback pushed the buffalo into a meadow before driving them to the first of two fenced areas. Out of the stampede, individuals would try and cut away – only to see a horse and rider take off at a dead run chasing them down and turning them back to the group. Constant “Whoops!”, “Yips!”, and “Yaws!” could be heard all-around the valley.
And then the whip! The crack was like a gunshot – never touching the animals, to be sure, but from behind pushing them forward into a run down the hill and into the fenced-in valley below where I was waiting along with some 10,000 others to watch the charge.
Bulls can weigh 2000 pounds, stand 6 feet tall and run up to 35 miles per hour! They are very dangerous animals and in the past have even taken down a horse and rider during this annual round up (the rider was fine though the horse did not survive). This is not a domestic cattle round up by any stretch.
Once in the larger fenced off area they were then herded to the gates of the smaller corrals where a treat of fresh hay, water and a rest lured them in. It was at that bottleneck of the second gate where I got the shot I wanted – a dense crush of buffalo where you can hardly see the ground as one back and head overlapped the next.
From South Dakota, it was then off to Colorado to present Photography As Art to an amazing and gracious crowd in Denver, but first I set my sights on Aspen for what else – Aspen trees of course! The fall colors were in full effect, and the whites, greys, yellows, and greens painted the breathtaking Colorado landscape. It was an excellent and peaceful way to end a busy weekend, and I’m especially grateful to the new friends I made on yet another adventure!