Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

Because I’m one of the great cow trappers in western folklore, I am often asked to relate my harrowing experiences as a student of the art. Cow trapping, as you may know, is very much a lost art amongst today’s macho cowboys. That is because when a few wild strays are left behind on a modern-day round-up, a crew of cowboys usually goes out and either ropes them or shoots them. I, on the other hand, trap them. There are several reasons why I prefer this method. Number one, I can’t rope, number two, I can’t shoot, and number three, my horse, Gentleman, is too slow.

Perhaps my proudest moment as a cow trapper occurred recently when I accidentally left behind two cows and one baby calf on a recent gather. One attempt at collecting them later on horseback convinced me it was time to strap on my Daniel Boone cap and trap the runaway beasts. Every time I approached the trio with Gentleman, they went on military maneuvers, divide and conquer.

The first prerequisite in being a good cow trapper is to be able to think like a cow. This is no problem for me. As I informed my wife, “If we just park the feed truck in the corral, they will see it and come running into the corral hoping to be fed, and then you can just shut the gate on them.” All through the day, my wife waited patiently as the confident cows stood on the hill laughing at her. “Some cows are trap smart,” I told my doubtful wife as we plotted our next strategy.

“If we shut the water off on them everywhere, but in the corral, they’ll have to come to the pens,” I said. “We are, after all, in the midst of a drought, and there are no running streams or springs where they can sneak a drink.” So we shut the water off in their field. After two weeks and still no sign of the trio, I thought sure I’d find them out in the hills dying of thirst. You can imagine my surprise when I found them in the back of the ranch with mud up to their bellies. It seems they’d dug their own shallow well.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

At this point, the strays were making me mad, and my wife was rapidly losing confidence in my abilities as a cow trapper. “We’ll have to bait them,” I told her. Now, most inexperienced trappers would use only the best number one alfalfa hay for bait. But this is a big mistake. My cows know that I would never spend that kind of money on them, and they would get suspicious. “We’ll use that old rain-damaged barley hay leftover from six years ago for bait,” I informed my still skeptical wife. “After she moved a few old moldy, smelly bales that broke apart on impact, she was wondering to herself why she ever allowed herself to get caught in my trap.

In giving my wife final instructions, I said, “When the stupid cows enter the corral to eat the hay, I will be poised on the other side of the hill on my trusty steed Gentleman. On a signal from you, the honking of the truck’s horn, I will come charging over the hill on Gentleman, run down to the corral gate, jump off my horse and close the gate on the cows and they’ll never suspect a thing.” At this point, my wife was laughing hysterically.

When I heard the honking of the horn, I knew that my plan was working. I took off on Gentleman on the fly, but as I topped the hill, the baby calf member of the trio caught a glimpse of the speeding blur and alerted her mother and her aunt. From that point on, it was a race to the gate.

Actually, I’ve seen Gentleman run faster, like back to his stall after we failed once again to corral the cows. We just stood there dejected with our tails stuck between our legs as the cows headed for the farthest corner of the ranch. My wife was smirking about our failure and made the snotty comment, “I guess I should have married a better cowboy.”

“No,” I retorted, “you should have married a better horse.”