By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Didn’t know chicken-roping was a “sport”?
A lot of people didn’t until Senate President Ogden Driskill brought it up at a legislative hearing this past Tuesday when discussing the controversial topic of liquor licenses.
The licenses are hard to get in towns and cities in Wyoming and there’s a need for another tier of license because existing ones are too restrictive, say proponents of the proposed additional tier.
Driskill mentioned how Dewey’s Place in Moorcroft hosts chicken roping, but it can’t let children participate because it happens at a bar.
Under the proposed legislation, businesses that provide activities like chicken roping, golf simulators and ax throwing that derive at least 60% of their revenue from food or entertainment could get a liquor license.
This all led us to wonder: what exactly is chicken-roping? We took Driskill’s suggestion and reached out to Dewey’s…
Dewey’s Place In Moorcroft
The crowd gathers around the arena in Moorcroft in anticipation of the livestock coming out of the gate: Will the header’s rope catch? Will the heeler have a chance to throw the rope? Who will rope their animal the fastest? Or will it elude them all?
For most Wyomingites, the anticipation and action of team roping make it one of the more popular rodeo events.
But for this crowd in Moorcroft, the team ropers aren’t on horses, cowboys roping cattle. These wranglers at Dewey’s Place bar and grill are there for the annual chicken roping competition that draws crowds from miles around.
“It’s exactly like a calf roping,” said Chris Castello, a bartender at Dewey’s Place. But instead of a rope, “they use a little cord. They set it up and they run a chicken out of a little pen and they rope it.”
He said this year’s event on Feb. 18 is the ninth year Dewey’s has hosted a chicken roping.
Castello told Cowboy State Daily that participants are often rodeo cowboys and cowgirls who don’t have an opportunity to compete in the winter.
“It’s an actual circuit,” he said of chicken roping. “I’m guessing during the winter months, all these people are also cowboys and calf rope and rodeo in the summers.”
How It’s Done
At Dewey’s, the action goes down in a back room, which is cleared out and set up to accommodate a miniature arena and room for spectators.
“They’ll put a little short pen, maybe a foot and a half, 2 feet tall, and they’ll scatter hay all over the floor,” said Castello. “They shoot one chicken out, and they use little cords. Someone throws a cord around the neck and someone tries to get one of the feet.”
Lindsay Wood is a board member for the Recluse Community Trust in Campbell County, which hosted chicken roping in 2017. She said there are rules in place to avoid hurting the plucky poultry.
“The rule is, you can’t jerk your chicken above your knee,” Wood told Cowboy State Daily. “You can pull, but you can’t pull that hard.”
Winner, Winner, Chicken …
Castello said that just like a regular rodeo event, everyone who participates pays an entry fee (usually around $20), then from the entry fees, money is paid back to the winners.
But winners walk away with more than just money.
“The bar normally buys some belt buckles, just like a calf roping, for the top header and the top heeler,” said Castello.
Wood said the event Recluse held in 2017 was well received by the locals and brought in some extra money for the community center.
“We probably had 70 people at the hall that night,” Wood told Cowboy State Daily. “And a lot of people roped.”
Wood admitted she isn’t a very skilled chicken roper herself.
“It was fun,” she said. “I wasn’t very good at it, but it was a lot of fun. My daughter at the time was 2, and she had a blast.”
This year’s event is going to be a little different at Dewey’s because of a national chicken shortage, Castello said. He said the person who provides chickens every year said he was unable to come up with any for the event next month.
“He said, ‘I don’t have any chickens,’” Castello said. “But he called back later and said, ‘OK, we can do it, but we’re using roosters. So you’d better call it a ‘rooster roping’ this year.’”
Wood said the unique activity appealed to everyone who attended the Recluse event.
“It was just something different and fun, and everyone seemed to enjoy it,” she said.
Castello said that chicken roping is a fun way to entertain locals in small Wyoming towns like Moorcroft, especially in the winter months.
“Wintertime gets to be a little slow,” he said. “So we look for things that will bring people in.”
While the rules for chicken roping can vary by venue, there are some basics. Here are the posted rules for a chicken roping event held in Gillette:
• 45-second time limit
• 5-second penalty for one heel in loop
• Must attempt to throw rope, do not just drop over the head.
• Must rope chicken’s head first, then heel.
• No “choking” the chicken.
• No lifting chicken above the knees.
• If you rope a wing, you must remove it from the chicken (the rope, not the wing).
• If chicken is running along a fence, you can push it off the fence with your foot, but not kick the chicken.
• Any abuse of the chicken will not be tolerated.
• Killing a chicken is a $100 fine.
• If your chicken craps in the arena, you clean it up.