ANTELOPE ISLAND — San Juan Capistrano has the return of the swallows.
Pamplona has the running of the bulls.
Northern Utah? We’ve got the bison roundup.
The 32nd annual bison roundup is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27, on Antelope Island, west of Syracuse in the Great Salt Lake. And if you haven’t ever watched 250 riders on horseback driving more than 750 of these massive animals across the vast expanse of Antelope Island State Park, you haven’t really lived.
“It’s like nothing else,” park manager Jeremy Shaw told the Standard-Examiner. “This is the one place you can come and watch this.”
Shaw invites the public to show up early on Saturday morning and enjoy one of the most unique shows around.
“Come out and watch something that doesn’t take place anywhere else in the world, really,” he said. “And it’s right in our own backyard.”
The roundup serves an important function on Antelope Island. Each year, the island’s wild bison population — one of the largest and oldest public herds — is rounded up and herded into a holding corral near Whiterock Bay. The herd is allowed to rest for five days, then the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday the bison are run through a chute one-by-one, where they’re vaccinated and given a heath screening that includes checking for pregnancies, parasites and various health issues. Each also receives a computer chip for identification purposes.
After they’re checked, the bison are sorted and either released back onto the island or kept in the corral to be sold at a public auction.
“Most of what we sell are calves,” Shaw said. “That’s how we cull the herd.”
The only animals they don’t bring in at each year’s roundup are the “great, big, mature bulls,” according to Shaw.
“We leave them alone,” he said. “They’re our breeder bulls, and they’re just basically out to pasture.”
Usually between 150 and 180 calves, along with a few cows and young bulls, are sold at a live public auction each year. The idea is to keep the herd at a manageable size — somewhere between 500 and 700 animals. And since 100 to 200 calves are born into the herd each year, Shaw says they need to cull the herd each fall.
“Most of them go to feed lots, or to those who want to start their own herds,” Shaw said. “Some people buy them to put them in the freezer.”
All of the events — the roundup on Saturday, the bison checkups on Nov. 1-3, and the live auction on Nov. 10 — are open to the public.
Shaw said each of the events is completely different.
“One is a Wild West rodeo, the other is more of a choreographed program,” he said.
For those interested in Saturday’s roundup, Shaw recommends arriving on the island between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Entrance fee for the state park is $10 per vehicle. (Visitors who present a can of nonperishable food receive 20 percent off the entrance fee.)
“Then, head for Fielding Garr Ranch; most of the public viewing is typically on that east-side road,” Shaw said.
The horseback riders will start herding at Fielding Garr Ranch, and work their way to the holding pens on the north side of the island.
Also on Saturday, near the holding pens, will be free public tours, food vendors, and music.
And once you’ve experienced watching a bison roundup, Shaw says the next step is to take part in one.
For a $50 fee — and if you have your own horse — you can take part in the ride. However, slots sell out quickly, so Shaw advises you plan ahead and and contact the state park next Sept. 1 for the 2019 roundup.
And if you don’t happen to own a horse? You can always contact R&G Horse and Wagon, which offers horseback rides on the island.
Shaw likes to tell the story of the man from Germany who called him two years ago, right after the roundup. He’d been in town for work and happened to see the riders pushing the bison across the island. He was hooked.
“He said, ‘I need to know how to do this,’” Shaw recalls. “I told him to call R&G Horse and Wagon and arrange for a horse right now, then get a hotel room for next year’s roundup. He came over and introduced himself after the ride, and we had dinner that night.
“Be careful,” Shaw concluded. “Once they see it, people will get hooked on this.”