Even among cowboys, bull riders are cut from a different cloth. If you’re willing to get aboard a 2,000-pound, whirling, snot-blowing beast who would love nothing more than to snap you in half, well, the circuits in your brain are definitely wired a bit differently.
So it should come as no surprise that a bull rider might have a different idea about what constitutes a vacation, during those rare breaks in a sport that is almost year-round. For Chandler Bownds, once the regular season wrapped up at the end of September, he was ready for hunting season.
Bownds, fellow National Finals Rodeo qualifiers Kaycee Feild (bareback riding) and Wade Sundell (saddle bronc riding), and fellow bull rider Wesley Silcox trekked to a remote area of South Africa for a week in late October-early November. And like bull riding, hunting in that part of the world is a different animal. Rather than pursuing deer or elk or birds of some sort, this trip involved zebras, impalas, kudus and warthogs, among other animals native to South Africa.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said Bownds of Lubbock, Texas.
Bownds booked the safari through a Texas company called Cowboy Cool Outfitters. As in the U.S., hunts such as the one he went on are done to help thin out overpopulated herds, but the cost for rights to hunt those animals is far higher — $1,400 for the zebra Bownds took, along with another $2,700 package he purchased that included African antelopes and warthogs.
And it was a lot more work, too.
“I’ve done a lot of bird and deer hunting, and hunting for wild pigs. But in South Africa, we had to do a lot of tracking to get some of these animals,” said Bownds, noting his group was aided by native expert trackers. “We tracked them for miles. It ain’t like shooting in a deer blind.”
That said, it was still less stressful than sitting atop a bull.
“After a long season, you’ve just got to get bull riding off your mind and let your body rest and have some fun,” Bownds said.
With the bumps and bruises heeled, and his mind cleared, Bownds is ready for his second National Finals Rodeo. He reached the 2011 NFR en route to winning the PRCA’s bull riding rookie of the year award. Then halfway through the 2012 season, the 22-year-old suffered a groin tear and had to have surgery, shelving him for the rest of the year. He’s looking to make up for lost time and lost money, but he said patience is the key to success.
“I’m just thinking my approach is one round at a time, stay on each bull and try to win every time,” said Bownds, noting even though he’s been to the NFR before, it’s still a nerve-wracking 10 days of rodeo at the Thomas &Mack Center. “I got them first-year butterflies out of my system — and I did have them — but you get them every night in that arena. It will take more than two years to get those butterflies out.”
Bownds, who finished eighth in the world standings in his rookie year, was 11th heading into this year’s NFR, with earnings of $75,652. That put him about $55,000 behind leader J.W. Harris, but less than $24,000 behind second-place Tyler Smith. And with more than $60,000 up for grabs each night, including $18,629 to the go-round winner, ground can be made up in a hurry.
“There’s a lot of money to be won during those 10 days,” Bownds said. “In 2011, I only rode three bulls, but I won two go-rounds and walked away with $60,000.”