In the Land of Big Chest Freezers

Man in floppy brimmed hat aiming a slingshot at very large animals

After weeks in lockdown and months of social distancing, it is surprising to hear urgent knocking on the front door. Body blocking an excited golden retriever, I stick my head out as my neighbor retreats to a COVID-safe distance down the front walk. He hurriedly tells me that he believes that one of the Tibetan Yaks, from a family member’s ranch up the road, has escaped. It’s alleged that the hairy, horned beast has taken up a position in another neighbor’s yard, trapping them in their house. As next of kin and within walking distance, it falls to me to figure something out to correct the situation. There is radio silence at the YakityYak ranch. My neighbor pulls up his mask, jumps in his truck, and speeds away, feeling smug that he has done his civic duty.

It is dark and cold with a miserable, biting wind by the time I get outfitted. Headlamp firmly affixed, I trudge down the street dourly contemplating my options. It is important to note that I know nothing about riding, roping, or herding cattle. However, I have watched roped yaks pull professionals off their feet, dragging them around the pasture. I have also seen them stare down a pick-up truck.

A full-grown Tibetan Yak is large, surly, well-horned and prone to lunging at whatever object, person, or animal it determines to be lunge-worthy. Assuming the information I have is correct, the odds of getting trampled, gored, or chased are high. The odds of me not making the situation worse are long. The best I can hope for is that someone with large animal skills will arrive before an ambulance is needed. This good neighbor mission has disaster written all over it.

As I cautiously approach the property of the trapped residents, I am relieved to see that there is no sign of an animal. Spying me from the front window, the door opens, and I get the details shouted across the yard. Thankfully, there is a video. On the one hand, I am relieved to see that the animal in question is not a yak but a giant red bull. It retreated into the woods behind the house. Technically, this situation is now no longer my problem. On the other hand, there is a free-range bull roaming the neighborhood.

The occasional stray cow or two is a regular occurrence in our area. Most escape while being transferred at the cattle auction around the corner. These escapees generally spend a night or two out before being caught or making their way to one of the nearby cattle farms to be retrieved by the auction trucks. Assuming that the red bull was a newly escaped animal, I called the livestock agents to give them a heads-up. You can imagine my shock when the agent asked me the animal’s color and then proceeded to tell me that THEIR missing bull was the black one. I am told the red one is an escapee from the ranch one road over.

Apparently, these two 2,000+ pound behemoths turned an empty farmhouse down the street into a Bull BnB for the last several weeks. Despite questionable efforts, neither the livestock agents nor the ranch can secure the horned marauders. The livestock agents hope for a big snowstorm to slow the animals down and make them more likely to be lured into a food trap. Mother Nature continues to thumb her nose at them. Until this incident, it had not occurred to either of the missing bull owners to let the neighborhood know there was a killer cattle epidemic.

The bulls become a bit of a local cause celebre, and the neighborhood is on high alert. While people are concerned about potential property damage or injured pets, the road is the real fear. Our road is the connection between the interstate and a main rural thoroughfare, so semi’s, farm equipment, and every other type of transportation scream up and down the road like a salt flat test track. Little imagination is required to visualize the bloody carnage if one of those bulls meets with one of the vehicles at speed. The stakes are raised when a third bull escapes from another ranch, joining the bovine gang.

Rumor has it that the newest member crashed his way through an electric fence and pinned a ranch hand against a door. By all accounts, this bull is a stone-cold threat. The neighbors are getting agitated. We are warned not to let the kids go to the barn by themselves as the bulls may wander in looking for food.

The situation continues into the New Year. Once in a while, someone will report seeing the animals in the powerline ROW or standing by the old water tower. Mistaking a bull for a yak, a Sheriff’s deputy calls and asks if our animal is standing by the road. I tell him about the bull situation, and he responds with, “Wow. Ok. Thank you,” and hangs up. Like COVID, the bull epidemic proceeds with a lot of fear, no clear plan forward, and no idea when it will end.

This is rural America. Like maritime salvage law or perhaps piratical code, rural property customs allow a property owner to shoot any offending animal that strays over the line. Deer season has just ended. Most people are overly-armed, and this is a land of big chest freezers. For quite a few residents, there is a definite allure to the idea of securing several hundred pounds of free steak and hamburger if it causally walks into the yard. There are calls to put together a hunting party, but no one seems inclined to take the lead.

Change comes in February. As told in texts, shouts across the road, and out of truck windows, the story is that a local landowner with extensive holdings has taken the matter into his own hands and shot two of the bulls, ending the epidemic. According to the gossips, the landowner located the animals using hunting cameras just a month into their escape but waited till the end of deer season to dispatch the critters. Most neighbors are relieved, though several are visibly disappointed that they missed out on the free meat and an opportunity to shoot a large, semi-domesticated animal.

Some neighbors contend that the bulls were not dispatched immediately because the local butcher was overrun processing deer. One conspiracy theorist alleged that the brutes received an additional reprieve because the butcher came down with what was assumed to be COVID and was unable to work for several weeks. He claims that once the butcher was healthy, two animals met their demise and now purportedly reside in packaged form in several undisclosed local households.

The third bull has simply disappeared, a legend, like Bigfoot roaming the area’s fields, avoiding capture and photographs, and I suppose, living his best life. ■

This semi-true story originally appeared in the June 2021 edition of The Woody Creeker, an online magazine run by Anita Thompson, wife of one of my literary heroes, Hunter S. Thompson. My submission was part of a writing contest called the Viral Menace, which sought stories about a painting created by the inimitable Ralph Steadman.

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