Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup: A Close-Up View

Bumping along in the bed of a pickup truck, standing and hanging onto the rack with one hand, shooting photos with the other, we bounced over the hilly terrain in South Dakota’s Custer State Park. The aroma of sage filled the crisp air on the late September morning as our group of travel writers rode in a caravan to the starting point of the annual Buffalo Roundup in the park’s pastures.

Caravan to Buffalo RoundupAmerican bison2015 marks the 50th year of the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, the event in which citizen cowboys and cowgirls round up most of the 1300 head of buffalo (technically American bison) that roam the park and move them to corrals for annual vaccinations, pregnancy tests and sorting.

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An estimated 15,000 bystanders come to watch the action each year, standing on hills and using binoculars to watch from a distance. I had the privilege for the 2014 event of being right in the action amidst the horse riders and bison.

Once we got to the starting point, we hung around during last-minute preparations.

Before the Buffalo RoundupCowboys and cowgirls at Buffalo RoundupThen, with a crack of a whip and a loud “Ya!” the roundup began.

Start of Buffalo RoundupDust kicked up as bison ran from the chasing horses, the thunder of horse and bison hooves growing louder and louder.

American Bison at Custer State ParkOccasionally a bison would escape into thick brush, and a rider would chase after it.

Chasing a bisonThe experience felt surreal, like I was in the midst of a western movie.

Rounding up the bison, Custer State ParkCitizen riders rounding up bisonCracking the whipCrowds gathered in the viewing areas roared with cheer as the bison were maneuvered into the corrals.

Viewing area at Buffalo RoundupBuffalo Roundup spectatorsIt was estimated that 1100 bison were rounded up that morning. A couple hundred were rounded up a few days prior, so they could start the vaccines on the day of the roundup, allowing the public to watch from a grandstand. (Bison are given a couple day rest between being rounded up and the testing/vaccine procedures.)

Bison calvesCorralled bisonAmerican BisonAfter the roundup we sat down to a chuckwagon barbecue and baked bean lunch, a perfect way to round out the roundup experience.

Chuckwagon Lunchbarbecue lunchThe 2015 50th anniversary Buffalo Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 25, in Custer State Park, 13329 US Hwy 16A, Custer, South Dakota. Entrance to Customer State Park is free on the day of the Roundup, but there is a fee for meals. Check the web site for event details.


Disclosure: My visit to South Dakota was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

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7 thoughts on “Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup: A Close-Up View

  • July 1, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Those photos do look they’re from a western movie. What a cool experience.

    • July 2, 2015 at 7:56 am

      It ranks at the top of my list of cool things I did last year, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  • July 5, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Really fun experience! I think my husband would really appreciate this kind of western style adventure.

  • July 7, 2015 at 1:23 am

    That truly does look like a Western movie. How exciting. I wasn’t expecting there to be that many bison… or cowboys. It’s look so much better than a staged rodeo. I’ll be headed up to Custer in a few weeks and need to poke around your blog for other suggestions.

    • July 7, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      There are definitely a lot of bison in the park. We even saw a couple roaming not far from the park’s lodge. There is so much to do in western South Dakota. I loved my visit there and want to go back to fill in what I missed.

  • July 10, 2015 at 4:49 am

    Oh wow what a cool experience you to have! Roundup of Buffalo and then a chuckwagon barbecue and baked bean lunch, perfect!
    I love horse riding – and rounding up so many Bison would be something outta of this world 🙂
    Thanks for sharing the experience. Great photos of the day.

    • July 10, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thanks, Lisa. It was an awesome experience, and I understand getting to ride a horse during the roundup is coveted.


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