The dust was flying high that day as a dry spring lead to an interesting gather. The creek the cows were accustomed to had dried up. A new water supply had been temporarily set up until we could move them to their spring pasture. Trying to round them up however proved that the cows were quite content to stay by their new watering hole. After some trying moments, the herd was gathered into a nice bunch and was headed to their new home. That is until a lone rider, overcome by curiosity, strode through the center of the whole bunch and scattered them. Now we try our best to refrain from four letter words around our house, but it slipped: DUDE!
Most ranchers are well aware of the group of people I’m referring to, but for clarification for those in our culture wearing bagging britches that show their undershorts, complete with chains to accent it, I’m not referring to a cliché now used as a pronoun, nor have I lost my car. I am referring to people who have no idea that ranching is work. They come with their cameras and insist we hold the branding iron in just the right position for their picture. They shriek if their new Ariats step in a fresh pie. They don their Kmart cowboy hats with a personal revelation of authenticity. Often they have so much buckle bling they frighten the cows and their spurs jingle louder than the Salvation Army Bell Ringers. They hook their thumbs through their belt loops and begin the swaggering linguistics of a John Wayne movie. After five seconds, they’re convinced their “one of us” and begin spilling stories of their rich agricultural background.
“My grandpa owned two acres while I was growing up. We used to go out to his farm and catch grasshoppers. Them suckers might be small, but their mighty fast. He also had a rabbit or two back in the day and boy we used to let them out in the grass to play with them. Sometimes they were a little quick for us, so we called on Grandpa’s ranch dog to help us out. Yep. That dog would round up those rabbits and we’d help him. Sure can’t wait to get on a horse and herd something again. It’s been a long time. Does this saddle knob face the horse’s butt or head?”
“Oh sure, I know all about ranching. I’ve been to the rodeo at the county fair almost every year. Once I even rode the mechanical bull. If you want, I’d be happy to show you a thing or two.”
Dudes are those people who truly think they know what ranching is all about, when in reality, they know nothing at all. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to learn and admitting there is room for improvement (I am still in this category), it is the profound combination of ignorance and confidence that cause a rancher’s tongue to spit out the four-letter word: DUDE.
Once we had a dude with us during a gather. We just had a small pasture to gather, about 150 acres, and only about sixty cow/calf pairs to move down the road about two miles. Two riders were slowly pushing the pairs from behind, while another rider rode front to close gates along the way. “Dude” was there too, anxious to make the “big ride”. After climbing onto a borrowed horse, he walked the back for a minute before he began trotting the horse. Before long he was zipping from side to side behind the cows, kind of like that annoying little yappy dog from cartoons. Those of us who move cattle regularly know that when you move pairs, the calves don’t necessarily stick with their mommas. They will always pair back up again when you get them to the new pasture, but along the way they may lose sight of momma. Calves looking for momma will occasionally stop, bawl, and then keep walking with the group when momma answers from somewhere in the herd. Well, Dude saw a calf stop and before we knew it, he was zipping through the herd to push the little guy forward. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop his zigzagging and began whooping and hollering. Soon the herd was scattered all over. Dude went after the calf still, chasing it right through the neighbor’s fence. Chaos ensued until Dude was given the important job of “crowd control”. This consisted of Dude riding behind the cowboys and hollering if he saw something stray. By the end of the ride, Dude’s voice was hoarse and he’d probably ridden 50 miles zipping back and forth. During lunch, he recounted the ride:
“That was something else! Those cows were really riled up. The calves were all scared and we had to keep them moving. Then all of a sudden they spooked and the cattle were going everywhere. Luckily I caught one in the neighbor’s pasture. Once we got gathered up again, I rode like the wind trying to keep everything under control. Man, I don’t know what you guys would’ve done if I hadn’t been here. Let me know the next time you move cows.”
This self invitation is usually very selective though, which almost always works out to the cowboy’s advantage. It is here that the rancher can say something like “Actually, we’re rebuilding a fence tomorrow out in Rocky Ground pasture. If you want, bring a shovel and be here by 6 am.” This is when Dude confesses that he is really only good with cattle and he’s busy tomorrow. The cowboy expresses his understanding and from here on out always attaches chores to any cattle work when speaking with Dude. This actually works on most dudes, as they are more concerned with their own showmanship than with getting any work done. At least this is true for bad dudes. Bad dudes always say much and know little, while good dudes may know little, but they listen much.
Perhaps it is like anything else in life, it takes a little while of listening to someone else’s story before you can really understand them. If you don’t choose to take the time to listen though and show up pretending to bow legged, you may just hear a four-letter word slip.


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