The day started out with Samantha, my “trusty” GPS aiding in both she and I getting lost while trying to find the location to watch the bison round-up at Custer State Park. In fairness to Samantha there was no search entry for “bison round-up” but I was still mad at her. With the round up starting at 9:30 am I left Deadwood at 5:00 am to give myself plenty of time. I arrived to Custer around 7:00 am (PS it’s only an hour and a 1/2 drive – but I guess Samantha likes to take her time).
I had read about this round-up in my tour guide-book and it just happened to fall on the weekend I was going to be in South Dakota so it worked out great. After a few wrong turns and some slow traffic I found myself in a very long line of cars waiting to enter the parking lots for the round-up. Because I’m a worrier I of course thought I was going to miss it … but it was the 47th year of this round-up and I guess they’ve got it under control…
After I got parked I saw something unexpected DOGS everywhere. I was annoyed… I had read to not bring your dogs on several websites and here were people all over the place with their dogs. Normally dogs are allowed in the park, it was just on this day it was noted to not bring them. After I got over my irritation I found myself a spot, got my camp chair out and waited… and waited…. AND waited…
Then I saw a puff of dust on the horizon. The cowboys on their horses began to move towards the puff. There were two viewing areas, northern where I was and southern. I think I had a pretty good view as I could watch the herd swiftly moved across the rolling hills and I was reminded of the scene in “Dances with Wolves” where they were hunting while immersed in the “tatanka” herd.
As the herd approached where I was it became slightly anticlimactic as the bison had slowed down to a stroll – literally moseying… I could only assume this wasn’t the first time for many of these bison and they knew what lay ahead of them if they went into the corrals … vaccines and branding. Sounds like fun, right – who doesn’t like to get poked by needles and burned on the ass with a hot iron?
I had read horror stories about how long it took to get out of the park after the round-up was finished so I waited for majority of the bison to be put away, grabbed my belongings and bolted for my truck. This was the right decision as I was out of there in 30 minutes.
If you would like to watch the annual round-up in Custer State Park it is usually at the end of September. This is a great activity for families but it may be hard for the little ones to see as you are mostly standing in a crowd. I brought a camp chair, snacks and water, which all came in handy during the wait for the round-up to start. Also remember to bring your camera.
The round-up has two viewing areas, the northern can be reached by entering the park on South Dakota highway 16A. The southern viewing area can be reached by heading east on the wildlife loop road in Custer State Park. The park opens at 6:30 am and the normal $15 park fee is waived the day of the round-up.