Austin Hurlburt seized two 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo championship buckles when he finished the Oct. 13-15, event in Minot, North Dakota, No. 1 in the tie-down average and No. 3 in the steer wrestling average for a take-home total of $10,581.
The calf roping competition that went down inside the State Fair Center was good watching for rodeo fans this year. Six cowboys entered the rodeo within $6,000 on the lead for the year-end championship. After three rounds of intense competition, sixth-ranked Bodie Mattson prevailed for the year-end title by the slimmest margin, pairing his All-Around championship with another in the calf roping, while Hurlburt stole the average show in the calf roping and all-around.
Hurlburt’s Minot success
There’s just something about the arena in Minot that suits Norfolk, Nebraska’s all-around hand, Austin Hurlburt. A year ago, the now 24-year-old won nearly $9,000 en route to the All-Around and tie-down titles during the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo, a feat he duplicated in 2023.
“That barn in Minot has been good to me,” Hurlburt said. “They let me draw good ones. Even the rodeo there in March. I just have good luck in that barn. It likes me.”
Growing up rodeo
Luck is sure enough a player in ProRodeo, but there’s also a fair amount of talent and sweat behind the wins for the roper who has plenty of accolades on his resume, including trips to the College National Finals Rodeo and a Central Rocky Mountain Region title for the University of Wyoming in the steer wrestling.
Hurlburt followed dad Brent into the sport, picking up a rope at a young age.
“I was the first child,” he said. “And they said as soon as my feet hit the ground, I had a play rope in my hand and was roping everything I could.”
Hurlburt followed the usual path through junior rodeo, high school rodeo and on to Laramie County Community College for two years before transferring to UW. He graduated a year ago with a degree in ag business and has been rodeoing and working for the purebred Angus operation, Poss Angus out of Scotia, Nebraska.
“I’ve been working for them since January, and Danny [Poss] is good about letting me go rodeo,” Hurlburt noted. “He basically said, ‘When you’re around, just come and work,’ so he made it really easy to go.”
Reaching beyond the Badlands
While Hurlburt focused mostly on Badlands Circuit rodeos and those around Nebraska, he did venture a bit farther, taking a Fourth of July run that found him in Montana and Utah.
All that led up to his inaugural appearance at the NFR Open in Colorado Springs in mid-July.
“Last year I did not do very good,” Hurlburt noted with a laugh. “I don’t know if the nerves got to me or what, but I tore down the barrier and missed on the first one and then, on the second, I took a deep breath and let the calf out too far. I ran all the way down the arena and missed again.”
Still Hurlburt enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to the chance at redemption.
“It was a fun rodeo; I met a lot of new people,” he said. “But I’ll definitely go at it differently this year.”
The fight for the finals
Hurlburt gave himself the second chance thanks to solid roping through three rounds in Minot where he placed in each round to claim the average title by 3.3 seconds over Mattson.
The repeat victory was not a given, of course, and looked a little dicey after the first round.
“When we ran them through before the rodeo, we breakawayed them and the one I drew in the first round I remembered as being one of the softer ones,” he explained.
But the calf found another gear in front of the packed house and Hurlburt was late.
“I missed the barrier. She stepped off to the left and I threw a loop that was not pretty, but somehow fell on.”
When his horse “General Lee” hit the brakes, Hurlburt was flung down the rope on a run that was rolling faster than expected.
“As I was going down the rope, I was literally just trying to stay on my feet I was going so fast!”
Despite the troubles, Hurlburt’s 9.4-second run held up for third in the go round. On Night 2, things were a bit rough again, but he improved his time to 9.1 and won third again.
“The second calf really let off when I roped her, and I had her pretty deep, so the run got messed up a little as the slack came tight really slow,” he noted.
Hurlburt relied upon General Lee, an 11-year-old gelding he bought six years ago from Justin Maass Performance Horses.
“He never disappoints me,” Hurlburt said. “He has dang sure helped me get started going where I want to with my roping, and I’d love to find another one like him.”
General Lee, the calf roping rocket donkey
The only flaw? A tendency for pre-roping, high strung antics.
“He knows when it’s game time,” Hurlburt admitted. “Sometimes, he gets so fired up, he’s acts more like a barrel horse. Like, I’m looking down going, ‘What’s this rocket donkey I’m on?’
“But he scores good and leaves flat across the line. He runs hard and is easy to haul.”
Turns out, Hurlburt and General Lee got all the squirrelly stuff out of the way and by Round 3 they were on cruise control.
“Everything came together like it needed to,” he said of the 8.1-second run that not only clinched the average at 26.6 seconds but also earned the round win as the fastest run of the rodeo.
All-around systems go
Hurlburt collected $7,796 in the tie-down and added nearly $3,000 more for a pair of go-round checks and the third-place average win in the steer wrestling to be named the 2023 Badlands Circuit All-Around Champion. He noted his goal in the steer wrestling this year was to knock three down and place in the average.
“I like both events, but I like roping calves more,” Hurlburt said. “In the past, I’ve only bulldogged in the circuit. I don’t get to practice as much [in the steer wrestling], but it’s fun to have two events at the circuit rodeos.”
With the NFR Open in mid-summer bookmarked on the schedule, Hurlburt will be venturing out a little more in 2024 thanks to the entering skills of fellow Badlands Circuit roper Ty Moser who is a rookie this year.
“He entered us at Lubbock and Texas City, Texas [in early November],” Hurlburt said with a laugh. “Last year, I had a later start and Ty’s wanting to go, so I guess we’re going to try a few more.
“We’ll see what next year brings.”
Calf Roping results from the 2023 Texas Circuit: