BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
ANTELOPE ISLAND – It’s not quite home on the range, but it’s closer than most people ever get.
Hundreds of modern-day cowboys from all across the world will head out to Antelope Island this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, for the 27th Annual Bison Roundup. The event, which features riders on horseback guiding the island’s herd of bison towards their winter holding pens, gives volunteers the chance to get a taste of life in the old west.
“It’s a unique thing,” said Jeremy Shaw, manager of the state park. “There’s not a lot of places where the public is invited to herd free range bison, and those that do are on a limited basis.”
The roundup gathers the bison herd, which usually spend their days on the east side of the south end of the island, and urges them north towards the holding pens. There, they’ll be kept for a week while the animals are checked, given inoculations when needed, and the microchips in their ears are scanned and updated.
“We’re not trying to get the animals bigger and bigger,” said Shaw. “Steve Bates is our wildlife biologist, and his end goal is watchable wildlife.”
Then the animals are sorted into pens, and anywhere from 200 to 250 will be sold at live auction. This returns the herd down to a manageable enough size that the island won’t be overgrazed during the winter.
“We have a whole bunch of different folks come out,” said Shaw. “Some people want to start their own herds, and others are just filling their freezers.”
Though a core group of experienced herders return year after year to help guide the roundup, the island opens up a volunteer list for those who want to offer additional support. This year, more than 260 people signed up to participate.
“We’ve had people come from as far away as Guam,” said Shaw. “Our concessionaire who rents horses is always booked up a year in advance.”
The ride starts at 9 a.m. both mornings, with a mandatory ride orientation beginning at 8 a.m. Several of the riders will set up camp on the island Friday night, just to increase the authenticity of the experience.
“Years ago, we did it by helicopter and truck,” he said. “It kind of lost the allure.”
Despite the cowboy spirit of the event, there is one thing that historical figures such as Buffalo Bill got wrong. The animals on Antelope Island, and all over the American west, are bison.
“I think buffalo is a term Europeans brought over,” said Shaw. “Real buffalo live in Africa.”