By Keith Ryan Cartwright
Mike Corey is more than just a bull man.
The 59-year-old Washington native has been raising, handling and hauling bucking stock for 43 years — the past 21 as a regular at Professional Bull Riders Inc. (PBR) events throughout the Pacific Northwest.
When the Moses Lake rancher loads up 10 of his best bucking bulls and heads west along Interstate-90 over Snoqualmie Pass to this weekend’s Built Ford Tough Series event at the Tacoma Dome, it’ll be just one three Built Ford Tough Series events in the next five weeks.
Corey has made the three-hour drive drive so many times in his life that he knows the twists and turns and towns he passes through like the back of his hand. Just like he knows every nuance about raising bulls.
“I started raising them when I was 16 years old and it wasn’t cool,” Corey said, “and everybody thought you were weird.
“I’m pretty privileged to have gotten to watch all this evolve. … I’m pretty proud of what these guys created because I was there when it was just drinking beer on a tailgate and it started.”
Corey has been involved in the industry so long he was already considered a veteran stock contractor and was flanking bulls for PBR co-founders – Cody Lambert and Ty Murray, among others – at PRCA rodeos long before those 20 bull riders even dreamed of doing something different.
A lot has changed since then.
In fact, since its inception 21 years ago, the PBR has helped to advance the bucking bull industry not only with a thoroughbred-like registry, but also with breeding that has become an annual multi-million dollar industry because of the combined efforts of the PBR and American Bucking Bull Inc. (ABBI).
Nowadays, Corey said, “It’s all about lineage.”
“A lot of it is better care and better feed,” he said. “The bull riders are so good they brought it out of those bulls. A PBR short-round bull never sees an easy guy. I’d like to think, at least, in my mind, I’ve helped them.”
Lambert, the longtime livestock director for PBR, has watched Corey do his thing for years.
“He’s been around for as long as I can remember,” said Lambert.
Lambert said he doesn’t get to see Corey’s stock as much as some others. “But his word is good enough for me. When he tells me one is good enough to be there, that’s all I need to hear,” he said.
Corey made his mark in the PBR hauling Sugar Bear, War Zone and King of Hearts, who he retired last year after the unusual feat of competing five times at the PBR World Finals and National Finals Rodeo, respectively.
He used to also haul Perfect Poison, known for leaping high in the air and belly rolling one way and back the other.
This year, Corey likes the 10 bulls he’s hauling to the Tacoma Dome, but made special note of one named Super Fly.
“He can be spectacular and he has a different style of bucking way up in the air,” Corey said. “He’s a real eye-catcher if they ride him and they rarely do.”
As a teenager growing up along the Canadian border, Corey was a bull rider first and said his father Ray let him start raising Bremer calves as a way of keeping his son on the ranch.
As a 19-year-old rider in 1974, he had talent and won his share of events, competing mostly in Western Canada, but he was a small-town kid unwilling to get out and travel like those who made their living riding bulls.
Corey – the only cowboy in his family, the others were loggers – has since carved out a career hauling bulls within this corner of the country. He used to drive bulls to Northern California, but he’s happy with three BFTS events closer to home and seven Touring Pro Division events, along with a rugged schedule of rodeos.
He likes to stay within a 12-hour drive of the place he’s owned for nearly 30 years, which is along a canal that runs down from the Columbia River. When it’s hunting season, his bulls are in the pasture and he’s in the woods.
“It’s always been a fine line between being a full-time hunter and rodoeing,” said Corey, who in the fall guides hunters in Montana. “I like them both and I’m pretty lucky having gotten to do both my whole life — basically nothing else.
“I’m going to do it just as long as I can.”
Keith Ryan Cartwright is senior writer and director of Professional Bull Riders Inc. (PBR)
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