Quirt Hunt has carved out his niche in the world, doing what he loves, making a living at it, and supporting his family.
The Hershey, Neb. man is a bullfighter – one of two men at a rodeo who wear the clown makeup but have a serious mission: protect the bull rider after the buzzer sounds, so the rider doesn’t get mowed down by the bull, and can go on to compete at the next rodeo.
It’s a fun job, a dangerous job, and one that requires some dedication. It’s not a huge money-maker, but Quirt has diversified with his second passion: horses and ranching — to provide for his family.
As a youngster growing up in Custer County on the family ranch, he dreamed of rodeo but his dad never encouraged it.
“We worked. We didn’t rodeo. We went and watched in Burwell (at Nebraska’s Big Rodeo) and that’s as close as I got.”
His dad and granddad had work to do: rodeo was secondary. His dad’s thinking was: if Quirt wants it bad enough, he’ll do it.
“If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it. He didn’t do it that way because he hated it or didn’t love me, but he said, if you want something bad enough in life, you’ll work hard to get there.”
He competed in high school rodeo his senior year, riding barebacks and bulls, but it was the bullfighting that compelled him. He rode bulls in the amateur ranks for a few years, but “I would only find myself wanting to get jobs fighting bulls rather than riding bulls. I decided I wasn’t going to do them both, so I stuck with one.”
After that, Quirt had the chance to do something that was instrumental in his rodeo and ranching career.
“The greatest thing I did was work high school rodeos,” he said.
He fought bulls at about 16 Nebraska high school rodeos a year, building relationships and getting to know people.
“I got to know all the parents, from the timed event parents to the roughstock parents. I knew all those kids growing up, (two time world champion steer wrestler) Dean Gorsuch is my age, I watched (six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifying bareback rider) Steven Dent’s career. It’s cool. The relationships you make.”
And as he met more people, he found work during the week, between rodeos.
“I got a lot of jobs when I wasn’t fighting bulls. In the fall (rodeo) would slow down, and I’d ride colts, do fall (ranch) work. I stayed real busy.”
In 2003, he got his Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association card, and his PBR membership. Being single, rodeo was his life. He traveled across the nation and was gone all summer and part of the winter, working big rodeos like North Platte, Burwell, Austin, Texas, Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Denver, Prescott, Ariz., and the little ones, too: Idaho Falls, Idaho, Tonganoxie, Kan., Northfield, Minn., Oneida, S.D.
He fought bulls at the PBR World Cup in Mexico and Brazil, and worked the PRCA Tour Finale in Omaha three times.
There wasn’t much down time between rodeos, but when there was, he started colts for people, including steer wrestling champion Frank Thompson, and Hall of Fame rodeo announcer Hadley Barrett, who ranched in North Platte.
And he dreamed of ranching.
When some grass came up for lease northwest of Hershey, he took it. He got married, and ranch work picked up. He and his wife Amber run cattle on leased grass, he builds a little fence (“I don’t like that to get out,” he joked), and he makes horses for his kids. Daughters Raylynn, six, and Racquel, four, love being on horseback, and Raylynn is junior rodeoing. She does well at horseback riding. “She’s a good hand for no older than she is,” Quirt said. “She sits a horse naturally.”
Raylynn has won the all-around title at a couple of junior rodeos, and she loves to go to brandings. Quirt takes pride in the horses he makes for his daughters.
“I put a lot of time in on my horses. Most of the horses I have, the kids can ride and get along good with them.”
It’s harder to be on the rodeo trail now. He works as many rodeos as he used to, but isn’t gone for long stretches of time, as he was in the past.
“Now that I have two kids and I’m married, my priorities are different. I still try to go (on the road) as much as I can. I’d be gone every weekend if I could, but it’s hard to be gone for a month and a half and never come home.”
His closest rodeo is the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte next month. It’s his third year to fight bulls in North Platte, and he’s grateful to North Platte and to his fellow Nebraskans.
“I’m pretty thankful for Nebraska. They’ve supported me. There’s a lot of people in this state who have supported me, whether it was with a job or encouragement.”
When he started in rodeo, Quirt knew his career wasn’t guaranteed. There are a lot of bullfighters who don’t last long, who don’t get hired for the big shows. “I always knew, deep down inside, that not everybody makes it to the top. So you have to have something going all the time. I don’t have any complaints. Trying to find the right balance in everything, that’s my biggest problem.”
And rodeo has been good to him.
“I wanted to rodeo my whole life. I love every part of it. Everybody can make a living doing something, but the relationships and the friends, bonding with people, has been the best.” ❖
Ruth Nicolaus writes for the Adams County, Neb., Ag Society.