Catching maverick cattle and gathering feral livestock is like cowboying times a thousand. It requires a high level of skill, knowledge, finesse, and brute strength. Regular cowboying tests a person’s knowledge of livestock handling, horsemanship, and physical endurance, but catching wild stuff requires even more from a man.
Before rogue cattle can be caught, they must first be located. They are usually located in the biggest, thickest, thorniest brush patch in the Southwest, and they have lived there for years. They like it there. It’s cozy and safe, and they will defend their right to live there by force if necessary.
Sometimes, these feral animals have learned to evade a cowboy’s attempts to gather them. The cows learn to lay down in the brush and remain motionless until the man on horseback passes by. If she has a calf with her, that calf learns this trick as well. Add a couple unbranded bulls to the region and you have the makings of a multi-generational feral cow herd that can exist for decades.
Until a cowboy comes along who is just a little craftier than the crafty cow. He knows to look for tracks on the ground and low spots on trees where bulls broke limbs as they walked by. He knows to ride silently into the rough country, then stop his horse on a hillside and just wait. He waits for his presence to blend into the environment, for the feral cattle to lose their sense of danger and reveal themselves to him when they walk out of the brush.
Then he drops his horn knot around his saddle horn and signals to his catch dogs. They hounds tear through the brush, faster than a horseback cowboy and hot on the heels of the wild cattle. He follows as fast as he can, ducking his head so his hat takes the brunt of the beating from the numerous branches. He rides toward the sound of the baying hounds, who hold the cattle in a bunch until he arrives with a small brush-country loop shook out and ready to swing.
Once he catches an animal, the hard part begins. He then ties the bull down on the ground. Or he ties her to a tree to be led out to a waiting stock trailer. Or he makes a halter out of his extra rope and puts it on the formerly feral cow’s head. He might use a piece of rubber or his denim jacket to make a blind fold and tie it over the bull’s head. They are easier and safer to handle when they can’t see.
No matter which method he uses, the end result is the same: A feral bovine is removed from the range. The cow, bull, or steer can then be accounted for on the ranch’s record books and help the rancher turn a profit. This ensures that natural resources are used for their highest and best use and that all animals on the range are properly managed.
Also, a wild cowboy gets to throw his rope at a wild cow.