Try and Shoot the Bull


From the Canadian Hereford Digest (October 1990): The following is a true account of a humorous incident that happened in Drumheller, Alberta, in 1988. I know that many of our readers have had similar experiences in their own hometowns. We congratulate Dr. Schienbein on his excellent presentation and storytelling ability:

     It was the day before the annual Broncosaurus Festival, a sunny and hot late June day in the badlands valley city of Alberta. Now don’t be fooled by Broncosaurus! As I later concluded to my own embarrassment, there really was no such dinosaur. The name appears to be simply a very clever association between past and present: dinosaur and bronco riding, a featured rodeo event. Nevertheless, Broncosaurus seemed especially fitting for the dinosaur capital of Canada.

     I was substituting for a classmate on vacation at the local veterinary clinic and somewhat looking forward to the end of my temporary assignment.  After all, I had survived. In Fact, I was even feeling a bit smug about my performance. None of my patients had died and nothing really terrible had happened. Although a veteran of such short-term positions, I could never escape the anxiety and apprehension inherent in starting fresh in unfamiliar territory. However, I always looked forward to a change and appreciated the challenge.

     While enjoying a mid-afternoon break between an assortment of appointments from kittens to calves, Dr. Jay, the associate veterinarian, summoned me to quickly assist with the unloading and restraint of a large male bovine patient. I sensed trouble. The bashful and jittery red and white Hereford giant advanced from the trailer with stubborn hesitation into the narrow confines of the steel framed cattle chute. His bulky head was striking, so smooth and closely shaven was his hair, yet no horns crowned him. Perhaps he sensed the trap or head gate that waited ahead of him. I’m sure he resented the rude intrusion into his familiar peaceful life.  His rather pleasant pastoral gregarious world of the free-ranging cattle herd had swiftly changed to a rough ride over gravel roads in the lonely solitary confinement of a dark horse trailer. This was his first “Big City” visit and his obvious nervousness indicated no preparation for the occasion. Furthermore, the blended aromas of disinfectants and medications, combined with the sights and sounds of scurrying humans amidst the sterile surroundings of concrete and steel, would be sufficient to repel anyone let alone a very lonely and frightened the bull.

     Fred Russell, a blue jean clad older and frailer gentlemanly rancher, responded to the reluctance of his herd sire with an enormous will more in keeping with a man much his junior, There was no doubt by the determination of his actions that this bull would be examined for breeding soundness. Pushing and prodding, first two reluctant steps forward then three steps back. Inch by inch, foot by foot, until finally, just when our patient appeared secure, he suddenly managed to spring loose the gate and turn himself around a complete half circle, only to face a terrified Fred Russell.

     The sight of daylight now before him through the open door called for an instant response. At that point we witnessed in silent astonishment the unthinkable escape of this 2,400-pound muscle machine into the blazing sun of dinosaur country. Free at last and vanishing in full gallop from our sight.

     After recovering from momentary paralysis, I somehow decided in my shock to notify the Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) about our fugitive while vivid images of danger and devastation flooded my mind. I clearly imagined our runaway charging through homes, stampeding over vehicles and flattening pedestrians, leaving nothing but a reckless pathway of destruction behind.

     Meanwhile, a somewhat shaken Dr. Jay disappeared when I too though of desertion. Such a predicament is an absolute nightmare for a practicing veterinarian and, to say the least, severely frowned upon a relief assignment. How would I explain this to my classmate? I was not amused and felt unjustifiably accountable as the veterinarian in charge of his clinic.

     Minutes later a pensive Dr. Jay returned with a rifle in hand and the assurance that we were both in this mess together. I welcomed the perfect solution enthusiastically until realizing our next problem. This was not a standard rifle but instead a capture dart variety of weapon, which neither of us had any experience loading or even firing.

     Already an R.C.M.P. patrol had reported that our escapee had been sighted circling wildly in a busy in-town intersection. I realized the bull’s normal unpredictable nature would now be greatly enhanced by an expected surge of flight or fight hormone associated with a chase. The prospect of a quick apprehension seemed doubtful or even quite remote.

     With capture rifle and lariat in arm, Laurie, the clinic technician and I set off in determined pursuit. The spirited bull was still at the intersection, confused and obviously spooked by the oncoming cars and trucks. When suddenly he made a determined advance prancing in our direction, I realized I was in a pickle. Seven ml of potent tranquilizer would probably slow down an aggravated bull of this size but would certainly be fatal to any human. I’m not a marksman and could not guarantee striking a moving target from such a distance. With rifle in hand and strange feeling of the absurd or ludicrous in mind, I began to stalk my snorting prey on foot before it vanished on a trot behind a large hoodoo. A passing motorist immediately recognized the entertainment value of this scene and shouted his amusement; “I thought the rodeo doesn’t start until tomorrow.” I smiled nervously in return… the rodeo just started today and this is a new event! Now I was beginning to appreciate how ridiculous and how totally out of hand the entire situation was becoming. Only criminals carry loaded rifles on foot through town! Don’t they?

     By this time reinforcements were clearly attempting to assert themselves and regain control. The navy blue police cruisers following in haste left me inspired, confident I was in good hands. Knowing the reputation of the force for getting their man, I had little doubt that they would get this bull. What puzzled me the most was the apparent enjoyment mirrored on these grinning officers’ faces. I couldn’t believe it! This was supposed to be very serious business. After all, property, if not human lives, was potentially at stake. 

     The chase was on; jumping curbs, over muddy boulevards and then across to the opposite side of the road against oncoming tourist traffic with lights flashing horns blaring, terrorizing the wide-eyed urban residents. What a spectacle! At this point I wasn’t sure if we were part of the solution or part of the problem!

     As I approached my allies, I soon recognized the lowered barrel of a shotgun secure in the hand of a R.CM.P. Officer. “You’ll likely have to shoot him with yours,” I said nervously, realizing the hopelessness of it all and a sense of guilt confronting a police officer as a total stranger with a loaded rifle in my arms.

     After a very short self-introduction, I soon found myself literally “riding shotgun” with a sportive Constable LaPorter in the R.C.M.P. cruiser. I couldn’t believe it! The invitation seemed so contrary to accepted roles, yet quite logical under the circumstances. I had been asked to accompany a police officer with a loaded capture rifle pointed out through an open window and even authorized to pull the trigger. In retrospect I was unceremoniously deputized without knowing it. This had to be the ultimate! Changes were happening so quickly on this mission that little thought was given to the consequences of my action.

     Constable LaPorte capably narrowed the assault vehicle to within 15 feet of our tireless game and skillfully managed to maintain this distance between parked cars on either side of the street. This had to be the perfect opportunity for a direct first strike. Shoot! I aimed carefully at the large mass of muscle in his hindleg and gently squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. Instantly mild but controlled panic and not complete surprise consumed me. Remember, neither Dr. Jay or I were trained in the loading of this immobilization rifle in the first place. How could the R.C.M.P. be expected to perform their service if I couldn’t even deliver the projectile? Forget about a live capture I thought. “What’s wrong? Why won’t it fire? Here, let me see. Oh, you’ve left the safety on!” Remarked Constable LaPorte. “Of course,” I responded as if I really knew what I was doing. What a relief, just maybe I’ll dart the beast after all and restore my credibility either as a veterinarian or even a big game hunter. Sure enough, seconds later the tranquilizer-filled cylinder struck its target. The bull’s hindlegs kicked up in surprise as he narrowly avoided stampeding through a caragana hedge and flower garden.

     Constable LaPorte and his partner in the second cruiser continued close pursuit but avoided any aggressive action. Meanwhile. I searched for the missing dart in full anticipation of a required second administration, since the desired effects cannot be predicted in a startled animal.

     Little did Laurie and I know during this time that the last stand in this rodeo adventure was already beginning to take place only a few blocks away. From our position in the cab of the clinic vehicle on a flat valley road within the city, we observed a convoy of assorted vehicles and a small army of volunteers and Mounties assembling on the slope near the grassy peak of a residual mound. Nearby, in the centre of the level summit, stood our vanquished foe in perfect profile beneath the bright blue sky. His towering body now swayed slowly in unison with his lowered head, so peaceful and humble before his approaching conquerors. He was obviously no match for a generous dose of well-placed chemical restraint. I found it very difficult to conceal my elation. At last I could relax, unburden myself from the responsibility and perhaps even find enjoyment in the final seizure.

     Despite his somewhat somnolent condition, the final loading of our formerly belligerent captive was not without a great deal of wrestling and harmonious teamwork. The mood of victory and celebration was quite appropriately captured on camera. Together we stood, Constable LaPorte and myself, dauntless over our fallen prize like two proud hunters on African safari: Constable LaPorte’s left foot placed firmly on the bull’s head and his rifle cradled between his arm and chest. What jubilation! It seemed like the perfect ending to potentially dangerous business. I was exhausted, very relieved, yet overjoyed.

     Once again peace and order had been restored to dinosaur country. This rodeo had ended but really all the participants were winners. The R.C.M.P., in cooperation with civilian assistance, had succeeded in arresting a wild and frightful bovine menace, a comforted Fred Russell could miraculously claim his property alive and intact and the citizens of Drumheller could now sleep safely and awake to enjoy the Broncosaurus festivities. But would it be proper for me to feel smug once again about yet another experience in a day in the life of a practicing veterinarian? 

The Canadian Hereford Digest - The Official Voice of the Canadian Hereford Association