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Bison country: Antelope Island roundup celebrates 'cowboy way'

ANTELOPE ISLAND — Cracking whips and the "heeyahs" of 350 men and women disrupted the still morning air Friday on Antelope Island as the 27th annual push of bison got underway.

"If you think about it, how many people on the planet have ever rounded up buffalo or even seen them?" Ray Conner asked as he geared up for his sixth roundup. "It's such a minute number of people that have actually been able to round up buffalo. To say that you've rounded up buffalo is truly an experience."

Besides being on the island, which Conner says is a special place in itself, getting to ride anywhere and seeing wildlife brings him from Central, Sevier County, once a year.

"Every single year has been totally different," he said. "That's what keeps us coming back. "

John Sullivan, assistant park manager, said the volunteers get to camp out for three or four days, "experience the island and really do something that a lot of other people don't get to do, which is pretty cool."

"We want everyone to have fun, but it's work," Sullivan said.

The island has a carrying capacity of about 500 bison, he said, but the herd has grown to between 600 and 700. The roundup gives park officials an opportunity to check the health of the heard and cull the excess animals.

The riders herd the bison from the south end of the island to the north and into corrals and the handling facility, where they will be vaccinated and tagged with a computer chip in their ear, Sullivan said.

"It's like a well-oiled machine," he said.

Conner's son, Ryan, and his son's girlfriend also made it for the roundup, driving about 750 miles from Southern California to join in.

Ryan Conner said he takes a vacation once a year to visit Antelope Island for the "old cowboy way."

"It's just the chance to come up and do something that you normally can't do," he said.

Rhett Jenkins, of Preston, Idaho, made his third ride Friday. Every year, he said, presents a different challenge.

"My first year, all of (the bison) were on the east side of the mountain," Jenkins said. "Last year, they were all on the west side of the mountain, which was much more rugged country, a lot more challenging for the horses and the rider skill level."

Sullivan said having volunteers is an upgrade from the earlier method of herding the bison with helicopters, which was much more expensive and stressful for the animals.

On Oct. 31, after a week of rest, Sullivan said the inoculation process will begin. Don Linnen said that's one of his favorite parts because he gets to see the bison up close.

"It's an experience you need to do," he said.

Linnen said he has been to the roundup nearly every year since it started. He has helped herd four times but now is a spectator from afar.

"I have lots of wishes of all the things I used to do when I was younger, and this is one of them," the 84-year-old said, attributing his age to the reason he's "not riding out there now."

Sullivan said the roundup is fun for those riding and watching but is also helpful for the care of the bison, which he says are synonymous with the island.

"You think of bison probably more than you think of the antelope," he said.

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