Hitting Cows and Other Hazards of Eastern Montana

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My second assignment on “Frontier Force” sent me to Miles City, Montana. It’s a small town two-and-a-half hours from Billings. One of the largest cities in Montana, Billings itself still isn’t exactly a metropolis. Miles City has a small old-fashioned downtown and a string of fast-food chains, but it doesn’t take long to get into ranching country. Ranching is the major industry in the area and each head of cattle is food on the table and money in the bank. One of our first nights in town, a call came in about a cow loose on the road. 

We cruised with Deputy Battin out to the mile-marker that had been called in. It was a moonless night where a country road without street lights gets dark quickly. To make matters worse, the cow loose was black. The concern was that a car, driving fast on the straight dark empty road, would hit the cow, potentially causing a severe accident with injuries both human and bovine. We found the cow pretty quickly, using the deputy’s spotlight. It was a large calf that was acting nervous and bouncing back and forth across the 2-lane highway erratically. 

Deputy Battin called the local livestock manager, a state employee who inspects brands and is trained to deal with just this sort of situation. When the livestock manager arrived, he thought that the lights on the car were making the cow more nervous and harder to wrangle, so I got out and stayed with him while the shooter rode with Deputy Battin to sit in the dark by a gate he had opened, while he tried to round the cow up and through the gate. I talked with the livestock manager and then jogged up the shoulder of the road in total blackness, trying to keep up with a darting cow. He got in his truck and tried to herd it. I had my tiny headlamp in my hand, but no radio communication with my shooter who was about a half-mile away. When the livestock manager was right behind me, I could see my shadow in his headlights. Nighttime cattle chasing was not what I’d anticipated for the night! When I got back to Battin and my photographer, we sat silently in the dark, so as not to disrupt the livestock manager’s process. Out of the darkness, a large pickup came down the road, driving as fast as you’d expect on a straight empty road in rural Montana. 

All of the sudden, we heard a loud THUMP. We all knew instantly that the pickup had struck the cow. We raced back down the road. The livestock manager inspected the cow. Deputy Battin was prepared to shoot it if he had to, but luckily for a certain vegetarian producer, this wasn’t necessary. Fortunately, the pickup was outfitted with a cattle pusher, a big metal brace across the front grill specifically for this type of situation. It had absorbed almost all the impact so the passengers were unharmed and there was minimal damage to the pickup. The cow did not fare as well. I had just assumed we would get the cow to safety and while I’ve always been aware of the risk of hitting deer, I hadn’t ever seen a cow struck by a vehicle. I told the deputy after how much sadder it had made me than I expected and he pointed out that the cow was bound for a slaughterhouse at some point anyway! 

One thing is for sure, I drive a lot more carefully in Montana these days!

Dara Horenblas, Producer 

Be sure to tune in to Frontier Force: Meth Van Takedown Tuesday at 10P e/p.