ANTELOPE ISLAND -- Volunteers are the driving force behind making the annual bison roundup on Antelope Island a success.
Each year, approximately 150 volunteers on horseback, many of them club members of the Davis County Mounting Posse, form a line and slowly drive the nearly 700 free-roaming bison from the southern tip of the island to the bison corrals on the northern end of the island.
In an effort to get the often stubborn bison to move, helicopters have been used in past years, but it is quite costly, so the backbone of the whole operation rides on the efforts of these saddled volunteers.
Merl Thurgood, of Syracuse, who is a member of the Davis County Mounting Posse, has been working the roundup with his horse for the last 20 years.
The hardest part, he said, is dealing with the temperamental animals.
"You can push them to a point, but if their tail is pointing straight in the air, they will fight you and they are deadly," said Thurgood.
Thurgood has seen what damage the animals can cause; for instance, he saw two horses gored last year after they got a little too close to some bull horns. One of the mares was cut open so badly, Thurgood said he could have inserted a sweatshirt into the hole the bison left. It took the horse a year to recover from the injuries.
In an effort to help curb any injuries this year, the volunteers will be divided into teams with captains who are experienced with the roundup procedures and can help their team know how to behave around the bison.
Once the bison are corralled, they will be given a week of rest and recuperation from the experience before they are turned over to the next set of volunteers who separate the bison and prep them for their health checks.
One of those volunteers, Rick Kerr, of West Point, has been helping with this aspect of the roundup for the last 10 years, in addition to managing the visitors center a couple days a week.
According to Kerr, the roundup is pretty stressful on the bison, causing them to emit a real low guttural grunt, which for bison is a distress signal indicating they are worried or apprehensive.
The bison will also mill around a lot and butt into one another, which is very opposite of their usual inactive state, said Kerr.
On Nov. 5 and 6, the sorting process begins as Kerr joins about 30 other volunteers separating the animals into smaller groups.
"We do a lot of running between the pens and occasionally you get chased up the fences," said Kerr, who has gotten stitches as a result of a big female bison who charged as he was closing a gate behind her.
Once the herd is checked for diseases, receive their vaccinations, and pass their health checks, the biologists pick the best mix for reproducing the herd and make sure there are not too many for overgrazing, then release that group back onto the island.
The other group, usually about 200 bison, will be sold at the public auction on Nov. 13 to keep the herd at a healthy number.
Antelope Island has a lot of volunteers on the island, but they are always looking for more with help patrolling trails on horse or foot, help at the visitors center, or out at the ranch. The park only needs about four hours a month from volunteers.
"We are looking for anyone interested in the outdoors and interested in learning and imparting that knowledge to visitors," said Kerr.