BILLINGS -- For the past four years, the routine has been the same.
Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza meet up again in June to hit the road for another rodeo summer.
But before climbing into their respective rigs, the two standout ropers sit down to reaffirm their goals for the upcoming season and how to reach them.
The goals never change.
“The National Finals Rodeo is first, and the Canadian Finals Rodeo is second,” explained Bird, the 37-year-old cowboy from Cut Bank. “There is a priority to our list.”
The two have already roped at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton. Next is the National Finals Rodeo, starting Dec. 7 in Las Vegas.
The other goals are for each competitor to qualify for the finals of their respective circuits – Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit for Bird and the Columbia River Circuit for Cardoza. Cardoza is from Terrebonne, Oregon.
Consider the goals done, done, done and done.
Bird will be competing in his fifth NFR. He is 12th in the world team roping heading standings with $78,288 won. Cardoza is sixth for team roping heelers with $99,773 and also seventh in the all-around standings.
“Man, it was a long year,” said Bird with a laugh when reflecting back to his 2017. “We got a lot accomplished. It took us everywhere.”
Bird estimates the two put “60,000 to 70,000 miles,” on their trucks, while also hauling three horses each.
Bird is also second in the MPRC team roping heading standings, while Cardoza leads the Columbia River Circuit all-around and is second for team roping heelers. Cardoza finished second for heelers in the Canadian Pro Rodeo standings, while Bird was third for headers.
The two won the first round at the CFR and placed second in two others. The money won at the CFR does not count in the world standings. The Canadian money won during the regular season does.
“I think it does help,” Bird said of roping up north in November. “It’s a similar type of set up to the Thomas and Mack. It pays $11,000 a round and that’s pretty decent.”
Bird and Cardoza won four team roping titles in Canada, three in Montana and two in the Columbia River Circuit during the regular season.
“It’s a schedule like we’ve done the past four years,” said Bird who will be using his horses Dolly and Yahtzee in Las Vegas. “We pretty much roped every day. We know where to go. You try to get to the bigger rodeos. It gets pretty hectic.”
Following the high-charged winter season, Bird returned the family ranch in the spring to re-energize.
“It’s a grind to make it to the NFR,” he said. “You get tired. Sometimes, you feel like you’re in quicksand and you need to take a little break. When I get worn out, I come home for a while. I help around the ranch and start craving roping again.”
It also gave Bird more time to spend with his son Stockton and girlfriend Alicia. Stockton Bird turned one in October.
“He’s pretty wiry,” said Bird with another laugh. “He’s on the move.”
Bird also found time to buy 10 acres of land in Wickenburg, Arizona, for his future.
“When a guy is going up and down the road, this is what is important to me. To be able to take care of my family,” he said.
It also got him thinking about his future.
“Maybe in a few years I don’t want to rope as hard,” Bird said of having his own place to park his truck. “I might pull back when my son goes to school. I don’t want to raise my kid in the cab of a pickup.”
For now, Bird has been spending time at the family place in Wickenburg, preparing for another NFR.
“I’m ready to rope again,” he said.