Blustery with a vengeance is what Mother Nature served up for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge's 43rd annual native bison sale on Thursday. Prairie dogs huddled inside their burrows as tumbleweeds jaywalked the highway overhead.
But the 29-mph winds only added to the party-like atmosphere at the Refuge Corrals. The sale is the result of a cooperative effort by a lot of volunteers. Supervisory Biologist Walter Munsterman said that, in addition to the Friends of the Wichitas, he had 16 students from Treasure Lake Job Corps to help him and even one U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee from the Region 2 office in Albuquerque, N.M.
Two volunteers from the Fort Worth area were back for their sixth year, up on the catwalk moving bison through the chutes. Edwin Esparza and Herb Williams said that for 15 years they used to bring Boy Scout Troop 37 from Haltom City, Texas, to camp at the Fawn Creek Youth Campground every January. There were fewer people on the refuge that time of year, and that's why they liked it.
Esparza said he bought some property about six years ago, and a small herd of buffalo came with it. The mother died and he ended up with two young bulls, so Esparza, Williams and their wives drove up here to look for two heifers to go with them.
"Now we have 21," Esparza said.
They said it's fun to open the gates to run the bison through the corrals.
Since the four herd species on the refuge have no natural predators, sales like this one are an important management tool for Munsterman, who is using it to get the herd size down to the right level for the coming winter. The sale will leave the bison herd "right at 500. That's 420 adults, and the rest are calves," he said.
Don Coady of Coady Longhorn Ranch, Lawton, said he and his wife, Patricia, usually come to both bison and longhorn sales every year. They bought their first buffalo from the refuge in 1974, when the going price for a mature bull was $125.
"I'll be surprised if that one doesn't bring between $1,000 and $1,500," Coady said of a temperamental behemoth pacing inside the sale pen below the stands. "Somebody better have a pretty good pen to put him in."
This was the biggest bull in the sale and he had his tail up, a definite sign that he was not happy. He was reported to have had a "take no prisoners" attitude for the last week and a half.