track and rope a cantankerous cow
Travis Ericsson and his gray mare, Cinderella, track and rope a cantankerous cow north of Phoenix, Arizona.

“I grew up hating this,” he says. “This is all we did. So I got a job as an ironworker in Vegas. After two weeks of that, I realized that this cowboying wasn’t all that bad.”
Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, the 32-year-old cowboy also trains and shows rope horses and works as a consultant for local ranches. He spends about 100 days a year chasing wild cattle. He and his crew often contract with the U.S. Forest Service to remove hard-to-catch cows from government land. They also provide their services to private individuals.

Sometimes they deal with domesticated, spoiled livestock, but mostly they hunt and rope cows that are essentially feral, descendants of mavericks and remnants that learned how to escape conventional ranch roundups. Dodging cowboys is in their blood.

Because of this, the Ericssons don’t have the luxury of driving cattle to corrals. The only way to get wild cows in their stock trailers is to chase them through the cactus, rope, dally and tie them to a tree, then eventually lead them out like pack mules.

“There are other cowboys around here that do this,” says local trainer Mike Kevil. “I just haven’t seen anyone that can do it as well.

Those other guys don’t have quite the finesse that the Ericssons do, especially in leading cattle out of rough country.”

Kevil specializes in starting young performance horses. But having learned the basics of videography and possessing the unnatural desire to film while horseback, he began riding with the Ericssons to produce an instructional video on catching wild cattle. Undeterred by dusty lenses, angry charging cows, rattlesnakes and low-hanging branches, Kevil has recorded numerous helpful tips on handling and caring for fractious cows, tying knots and practicing sound horsemanship.

By the time Cinderella and Travis reach the bottom of the hill and cross the creek below, Wheeler has already met the cows. Wheeler’s horse stumbles and falls as he swings his loop, and four cows squirt toward Travis.

Travis lines up behind a soggy black cow that likes to kick. Unfazed, Cinderella keeps rating and then hits the brakes as Travis dallies. The cow, with dogs nipping her heels, tries to roll into the creekbed, but the gray mare digs all four feet into the ground as Travis dismounts and ties the bawling brute’s hind legs.

Wheeler, Ryan and Kyle quickly show up to help Travis and rope another cow.

“Yeah! Cowboy!” Travis yells. “Cowboy!”

With the two cows tied down, the crew unsaddles to let their sweaty horses catch their air, cool down and slurp water from the stream.

After the break, the cowboys, some horseback and some afoot, spend the next hour tying each cow to a tree. Time spent hog-tied on the ground hasn’t dampened one cow’s resolve to fight every step of the process. With her feet untied but two loops around her neck, she thrashes around in the creek and manages to punch her back hoof into Kyle’s ribcage.

The crew and dogs eventually move her to a stout tree that has had its lower limbs removed for safety. They again tie her feet and fashion a neck rope that neither loosens nor tightens around the cow’s windpipe. With her tied securely to the tree for the night, the crew removes the tie-strings from her feet and repeats the process with the other cow.

That task complete, they waste little time striking a trot in search of the other cows. Wheeler corners a group near a crossfence and a gate, but they crawl through the barbed wire. Wheeler unlatches the gate and quickly chases down a yearling bull, heading him and tying his back feet. In a matter of seconds he’s back in the saddle and roping another cow.

Travis nabs a bull in a nearby draw, and with Kyle and Ryan pursuing cows in a different direction, Kevil hangs his camera in a tree momentarily to help Wheeler and Travis hook their catches to trees for an overnight stay.

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