Kamman and his camera get up-close and personal with professional bull riders - photo courtesy of John Marshall
GROWING UP visiting Montana as a kid, I’ve always loved a good rodeo. The sight of hundreds of cowboy hats lining the arena, the afternoon sun piercing through the dusty air, and the thundering sound of the bulls charging out of the gate - it makes you feel like a true westerner. Nothing is more Montana than spending a summer evening watching cowboys get tossed around on monstrous bulls as the sun sets behind the mountains.
But while I feel like a tough Montanan safe in the stands, I’m no professional bull rider myself. In the ring I’m about as at-home as a cutthroat flopping around at the top of Lone Peak – well out of my element.
But that’s exactly where I ended up this summer when I filmed the Professional Bull Riders Tour on their stop in Big Sky. When I showed up to the rodeo grounds I was told that I would be filming the bull riders as they got on bulls in the chutes; I would be inches from the seething bulls as they exited the gates.
As the crowd filled the stands I ventured into the middle of the ring to get crowd shots for a live feed to the jumbo-tron. My camera scanned the audience members, giving them five seconds of jumbo-tron fame, and I heard an announcement over my headphones: “Everyone ready? Twenty seconds to go!”
Twenty seconds to what!? Was a bull coming out? In a moment of panic I spun on my heel, eyes bulging in anticipation of a brutal bull charge. But as I turned I could already see Erik Morrison, the other camera operator, laughing at me through the safety of the solid steel fence – it was 20 seconds until the cowboy introduction, the bulls weren’t due out for another 15 minutes.
Relieved and slightly embarrassed, I headed back to relative safety next to some burly cowboys and watched as the first rider mounted a massive bull. I leaned in to get a close-up as the rider wrapped himself around the animal. Just then, the gate opened. The steel frame of the chutes rattled, the bull was sent into a rampage, and I nearly fell off my little platform as a wave of dirt was hurled into my face. Shaken, I tried to act cool, painfully aware of the unflinching cowboys around me. I quickly realized how tough and talented these riders really are, able to face huge, strong, unpredictable, and fuming bulls – this stuff was truly scary.
I spent the rest of the evening standing inches away from groaning, snorting, bucking bulls, trying to get closer for every shot as the dirt, slobber, and literal BS began to cake over my skin. But it’s that kind of true grit that defines the cowboy experience, and I soaked up every last bit. Now this was a good Montana Rodeo.
Mad Chad McDealy cowboys it up in this footage that played on the PBR jumbo-tron
Find out more about the Big Sky PBR from explorebigsky.com, and check out their PBR videos too.
Chris and the cowboys - fitting in with the hard-core bull riders
My footage on the jumbo-tron
Photos courtesy of John Marshall, Alyssa Leary, and Whitney Ilten.