Highway 101 was one bumpy ride, full of twists and turns. Rescue 911 could put the hurt on you in eight seconds flat.And Crimson Tide? Nothin’ but a winner.No wonder the Professional Bull Riders circuit wanted them. And no wonder Harry Bryant just said no to selling his prized bucking bulls.”I like a good bull just as well as they do,” Bryant said. “If I got him, I don’t want to sell him.”Any stock contractor — whether it’s Bryant way down in Escambia County or Clark Brown way up in Cullman County — will tell you the same thing: A really good bucking bull is tough to find — and even harder to part with.Yet, both are among several Alabama farmers who have chosen to make bucking bulls a sideline to their more traditional cattle operations. It’s a sideline that has attracted a lot more attention these days now that professional bull riding has all but replaced professional wrestling as the new media darling.”It’s akin to wrestling and NASCAR,” said Brown, a 63-year-old former bull rider himself. “I think it may be the same fans. I don’t know if that offends people or what. But bull riding is an almost gut-wrenching sort of deal to watch. Faint-hearted people don’t go bull riding.”For Bryant, it’s a hobby. For Brown, it’s a business. For both, it’s more fun than a barrel of rodeo clowns.”I just always loved it and fooled with it,” said Bryant, the 66-year-old president of Southeastern Bull Riding Association, an organization he launched two years ago. “You don’t make much money out of it, but I don’t drink whiskey and I don’t fish and I don’t hunt and I don’t do anything else, but I love to fool with bulls.”Bryant, who has won stock contractor of the year from various rodeo associations nine times since first getting into the business 25 years ago, also stages rodeos. That’s where he also contracts out horses for saddle bronc and bareback riding, calves for roping, and steers for wrestling. “But,” he adds, “bull-riding is the main thing.”That’s why you’ll find about 30 bucking bulls on his farm in the Lottie community near Atmore. Among those are two who have won bucking bull of the year. There’s Blackjack, a black Brahman cross with a ’21’ brand on his hip and white striping above his eyes that could be mistaken for war paint, and Seagram’s Seven with his ‘S-7’ brand and an unquenchable thirst for bucking.”If we don’t take that S-7 bull when we load at home, he’ll jump out of the pasture and start coming down the road,” Bryant says. “Twice I’ve had to stop beside the road, open the gates on the trailer and he’d jump right up in there he wanted to go so bad.”A really good bucking bull, Bryant says, is “athletic” — not “crazy.””That’s where most folks mess up,” he said. “They think (the bulls) have got to be crazy and stupid and ignorant. People call me and say, ‘Man, I’ve got a bull I want to sell you for a rodeo bull.’ You just keep talkin’ to him, and after awhile, he’ll say, ‘You can’t keep him anywhere.’ Well, what am I going to do with a bull that’ll jump out on 3,000 people? You don’t want a bull like that!”Neither did Brown, who traded away one particularly nasty bull after it was banned from PBR events. “Cat Nap did everything but pull a knife,” said Brown. “He put a boy in the hospital. He had great big ol’ long horns … he meant to hurt you. There could be three bullfighters standing there when the guy got bucked off, but (Cat Nap) would pay them no mind because the fellow that was on his back was the fellow he was going after and the one he was going to get. Nine times out of 10, he would hook (the rider) before he came out of the pen.””These bulls know exactly what they’re doing,” said Bryant. “Bulls know people. Boys that help me with my rodeos can go into those back pens with just a switch and make the bulls move. (But) you go back there, and they’ll try to kill you. They know a stranger just like I know one. Now a lot of people don’t think that, but they do.”Likewise, Bryant knows his bulls. He takes pride in his ability to recall exactly what it’ll take to get a 2,200-pound bull bucking and kicking five feet off the ground.”Everyone of them has their own little lick, and you have to figure it out,” said Bryant. “That’s where the stock contractor comes in. The back rope, that’s my steering wheel, and I can figure out which way to put that rope to make that bull buck the best. And if I ever get him figured out, I never forget it. That’s just a plus that I’ve got that not everybody has.”Of course, he uses that flanking rope to one purpose — unseating the rider. “I’m just as interested in throwing that cowboy as that cowboy is riding that bull,” said Bryant. “He’ll have his wife sitting up there with his video camera, filming him. Well, they’ll go to the motel room that night and play that tape over and over and they think they’ve got the bull all figured out. So, they’ll change their rope … and I will change mine.”Brown, however, is a tad more generous.”I like for somebody to ride my bulls,” he said, perhaps recalling his own days riding behind the humps and horns. “People like to see guys make rides — they don’t like to see them get bucked off in one jump. That’s no fun. When a cowboy comes up to me and wants to know about a bull he’s drawn, I’ll tell him every move he makes. I hope he wins on it. I’ll be more famous if they win on him than I will if they don’t ever ride one.”Brown’s theory obviously works. Among the 30 or so bulls he shuttles between his Jones Chapel farm and the North Carolina farm of his partner, Jeff Robinson, are some of the more familiar names on the PBR’s Enterprise Challenger Tour. Names like Acid, Barbosa, Screaming Eagle, Monkey Bones, Black-Eyed Pea, Dagger, Jazz and Chicken on a Chain to name but a few. In fact, all three bull riders on The Learning Channel’s popular new PBR-based reality series, “Beyond the Bull,” Adriano Moraes, J.W. Hart and Brendon Clark, have ridden bulls that have grazed Brown’s pastures about 15 miles west of Cullman.Brown usually gets around $200 per bull for a weekend event. He has even sold more than $50,000 worth of semen from one bull, Junior, which sired the top bull of the 2004 PBR finals, Crossfire Hurricane. And Bryant tells about a bull down Theodore way that sold three times in a single year — the first time for $12,500, the second time for $40,000, and finally, $120,000.
“Sometimes, I don’t believe all the big prices they give,” Brown said. “Sometimes they go up to $100,000 or $150,000. One man claims he’s been offered $400,000, but I don’t see how a man could turn down that kind of money.”