Lifelong cowboy Dave Stoddart offers tips on the various rope shots every ranch hand should be able to throw.

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Montana horseman Randy Rieman practices shots on his roping dummy. Photo by Ross Hecox

Over the Shoulder
You must choose the shot for the situation, and one of my most successful shots is over the shoulder.

The roper eases toward the rodear, so he doesn’t disturb the cattle. Say the calf’s on the edge of the rodear, on your left facing toward your horse’s tail, or even facing you. Using the over-the-shoulder shot, you can ride to the right. When you get into a position of about 45 to 90 degrees to the calf, throw across your horse and over your shoulder.

The calf just stands and looks at you because, in his mind, you’re leaving. I’ve seen guys really reach with that shot, about 30 feet, throw a big loop, pretty high, and it just swallows up the calf. But that’s for a pretty unsuspecting calf. To gain distance, some guys put an extra coil or two with their loop.

If the calf’s pretty wise, you just ride by, and he thinks you’re going someplace else. You can throw an over-the-shoulder shot if your hand is pretty flat. The honda will go down. Your loop releases and your honda spins off the spoke as it carries. You don’t get any advantage by turning your hand farther because of the plane of the loop when you swing it. Where you release it determines how it’s going to carry – depending on the exact position of the calf. But, and this is essential, you have to follow through across yourself.

The houlihan is a one-swing flip shot at a calf traveling in front of you from left to right. With the calf at about 90 degrees to your horse, throw as the calf passes your horse’s ears. A lot of people call it a backhand shot because of the position of your thumb when you swing. It’s really a houlihan. You rotate your hand so your thumb is down and the hondo is down. The position of your thumb and the honda stands the loop up in front of the calf. And he’s yours.

The backhand shot is similar to the houlihan, with minor variations. The backhand can be thrown behind your horse, which is kind of tricky. It’s not a high-percentage shot. When you throw the backhand, keep your hand and your thumb up to concentrate the energy in the loop. You can’t throw a loop behind with your thumb down; the honda would just take it into the ground. If you keep your thumb and the honda up, you can catch the calf behind your horse.

The culo, meaning “tail shot,” is a masterful throw, generally used when the calf travels straight away. The loop can be manipulated to achieve a number of results. You can throw the culo from a long distance and not have to hurry. When I throw the culo, I focus right on the back of the calf’s neck.

In our country, the Buck Miller culo is thrown by swinging a loop flat, a bit behind you and over the top, or you can throw it a little sidearm. When you release, bring your hand over the top and flip your hand straight. That little flip is important because it causes your loop to push out at the bottom and makes it stand up. It’ll sail through the air, hit the calf on the back of the neck, flip around the neck and cross in front of its front feet. The calf runs through it and you jerk your slack. Your slack comes out between the calf’s hind legs, and you have him by the neck. If you throw it over the top and flat, you’ll have quite a Christmas package.

The heel shot can be thrown from any position. If you’re on the left or behind the calf, swing it sidearm. Bring your hand over the top when you release, and focus on the back of the calf’s neck. The loop should carry and go around the calf as it hits the calf in the back of the neck. The tip of the loop flips in front of the calf’s front feet. Then you have to go to work. Flip your loop over – it’s a subtle thing, because if you flip it too hard, you’ll jerk your slack and it’ll bring your loop off the calf. If you flip your loop over correctly, you’ll catch him by both hind feet.

Throwing the culo for a heel shot is a little harder on the calf’s right side. You must really scoop that loop under the calf’s neck and over its back.

If you’re heeling calves with the culo, your header needs to know what’s going on. If the header alters his speed, it won’t happen. The best thing the header can do is just hold the calf straight and let his turns slide to keep the calf’s feet on the ground, and maybe get him bouncing a bit. It makes the calf think if he pulls back a little more, he’s winning.

If you throw a culo on a calf that’s standing still, and it’s a well-thrown culo, there’s no escape. The loop goes around in front of the front feet and goes over the back of the neck, the honda will be on the left side, and the loop encircles them. No matter which direction the animal goes, something will end up in the loop.

If you have to rope a large animal outside, and your opportunity is limited by brush or terrain, the culo is a perfect alternative.

Hip Shot
This is a good heel shot to throw from either side, but best when you throw it from the right at about 90 degrees to the calf, or facing the calf. If you’re too far in front and angled, it’s pretty easy for the calf to tip his hip just enough to keep the shot from working.

The plane of your loop should be between the flank and the front feet, a little bit side-armed. Throw your loop into the calf’s flank, then flip your hand over the top, which causes the loop to hit the calf’s side and fold over the top of the hip. The tip of the loop goes in front of the hind feet. The honda travels a little bit behind it, and actually goes past the hip. Then you don’t have to do anything but wait. Even if a calf standing still goes forward, you have him; he goes backward, you have him.

You can throw the hip shot from behind, too, only you throw it a little more like a trap shot, kind of flat over the top. Think about putting the tip of your loop into the flank just like you would with a trap, and still bring it over the top with your hand. The loop hits the flank and splatters out, goes under the calf’s belly and the honda carries on over the back.

If the header takes the calf straight away, the heeler can use the hip shot by riding straight away behind the calf. At about where the calf passes your stirrup, throw a backhand shot right in between the hip and flank. The loop folds right around to catch the calf’s hind feet. Thumb up or thumb down depends on the position of the calf. It’s like the team roper’s heel shot from the other side.

The neat thing about this shot is it’s an easy one to start a colt on. He gains confidence out there where he’s got lots of room, and you don’t have to crowd him among the cattle and make him nervous. I just park the colt and carry on from there.


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