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Governor's Buffalo Roundup ready to rumble on Friday
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Governor's Buffalo Roundup ready to rumble on Friday

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About 60 draw riders will take off Friday morning through Custer State Park in three teams to corral bison for the 55th annual Governor’s Buffalo Roundup.

Resource program manager Mark Hendrix said there are about 20 on this year’s team that have never chased buffalo before.

“Anybody is able to put in,” he said. “We have people that have been doing it for years and people that it’ll be their first time and a lot in between.”

Hendrix said the newer riders will likely be paired with more experienced riders. The group will prepare by making their way on horseback through the herd to familiarize their horses with the smell. They’ve all also been briefed on what to watch for in a herd.

There are about 450-500 calves in the herd of 1,450 bison, which is the most the park has had in the last 10 years, he said.

Hendrix said the park is starting to increase the amount of bison following the end of a drought and the Legion Lake Fire from three years ago that burned 36,000 to 37,000 acres.

“All of our animal or wildlife population objectives are based on how much grass we grow here in the park, so that way we make sure to sustain healthy vegetation for the long-term,” he said. “We’re really proud of all we’re doing to preserve bison and to enhance the number of bison in the wild.”

About 400 of the park’s herd will be auctioned off the first weekend in November. Visitor services program manager Kobee Stalder previously told the Journal that the bison are selected at random.

Hendrix said last year’s auction brought in about $730,000.

“It’s a good chunk of change for the parks system,” he said.

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During the roundup, about 75 bison will be vaccinated against brucellosis, have a checkup and be tested to see if they are pregnant on roundup day. The rest will be worked over about four days.

Hendrix said there will be small family groups of bison within the herd, and the mothers naturally wean the calves off the mothers’ milk. 

The first new bison in the park was born April 6. Hendrix said the calves are between 300 and 500 pounds, although some were born more recently and are smaller than others.

The oldest bison in the herd are about 24, but Hendrix said they haven’t had any older than that. The oldest bull is about 15 or 16 years old. The age can sometimes be figured out by looking at the diameter of the base of the horn.

There are about 92 herd bulls, which are picked when they’re about 2.5 years old, with six cows of breeding age to each, Hendrix said. 

He also said the bison wallow, or roll around on the ground, in order to get rid of bugs. Bulls will do this to stand off another bull instead of fighting first.

“They don’t want to fight, they’d rather just intimidate,” he said.

Hendrix said if someone were to come across a buffalo without being in a vehicle, they should stop, check their surroundings and find a tree or large rock to stand next to. If they’re out in the open, slowly back away, turn around and walk away.

“As long as you don’t startle them, a lot of times you’re going to be OK,” he said. “If you come over the hill and startle them and they jump, you never know because at that point they’re scared.”

Hendrix said first-time viewers should be patient, particularly when parking.

Over the past few years, the roundup has averaged about 20,000 attendees. This year's roundup will be broadcast on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

The roundup will begin at 9:30 a.m. with gates to park open at 6:15 a.m. Spectators may watch from the North or South viewing areas. Those viewing are asked to remain in the viewing areas until all buffalo are corralled, which should be around noon.  

For more information, visit custerstatepark.com, call 605-255-4515 or email CusterStatePark@state.sd.us 

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