When it comes to bucking bulls nobody sees what Chad Berger does.

Like any great talent evaluator, Berger can spot a flaw that may elude someone else. The Mandan rancher, who recently won his record-setting seventh PBR Stock Contractor of the Year Award, said he had a great mentor.

“I think one of the best teachers in the world was my dad, Joe Berger,” Chad said. “He knew everything about cattle and bucking bulls. I’ve been around it from a very young age.”

Yet, when it comes to describing his eye for finding the best bulls, it’s hard to pin down.

“I’m always looking for blemishes, to see if there’s something wrong with the bull,” he said. “I can just tell if the bull’s not feeling quite right or if it’s a little sore. It comes pretty naturally to me.

“I’ve been raising cattle my whole life.”

The 2017 season has been another banner one for Berger on the pro tour. His bulls are responsible for more than 550 outs, meaning the number of times they’ve been in competition. By comparison, the next contractor has about half that. At last month’s PBR World Finals, 34 of Berger’s bulls were used. No other contractor had more than 16.

One of Berger’s bulls, Pearl Harbor, is one of the top contenders for the World Champion Bull title. At this week’s National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, three of his bulls will be in action.

Berger’s place in history is secure, but his drive to succeed remains strong.

“I love the animal. I love the bulls and I love to watch them buck and see how they stack up,” he said. “And I have the passion to win. I want to win every time. I want my bulls to win.”

Family Affair

Ranching and rodeoing is a way of life for the Bergers.

The family runs between 2,000 and 3,000 head of cattle on top of the bucking bulls, of which there are about 300. All but the 2-year-olds and yearlings get to snowbird at Berger’s ranch in Oklahoma.

“We keep them out of the cold. They stay on the soft ground, exercise, play, stay in shape,” Berger said.

All members of Berger’s family are heavily involved.

His oldest daughter, Lacey (Berger) Scott, runs the breeding program, while his other daughter, Sadie, handles merchandising. Berger estimated they do about $100,000 a year in sales of jackets, shirts, caps, patches. “You name, we sell it,” he said.

His son, John, helps run the ranch and is involved in the breeding program, while his wife Sarah is involved in all the day-to-day activities.

The “invaluable” contributions extend beyond his bloodlines.

Joey Hales and Rex Meier are charged with caring for the bulls on the road and making sure they’re healthy and ready to perform.

Berger views himself as the head coach, while Hales and Meier execute the game plan.

A large amount of the year is spent away from the ranch. Berger said Juan Gonzalez and Felix Oquendo are essential in the ship running smoothly.

“They keep the operation going for us in Mandan,” Berger said. “They do a great job of holding down the fort.”

‘Shooting for 10 more years’

Bucking bulls are not cheap. Berger said if you’re lucky, you can find a good one for about $10,000. But prime A1 beef like Pearl Harbor, one of the top bulls around, can fetch upwards of a quarter million dollars.

Berger, 56, likes to buy bulls when they’re about three or four years old. Their competitive prime is typically around age 5. Berger’s best bulls get to stay in Mandan when they’re done competitively and “raise babies.” The others can be sold to compete elsewhere.

“The PBR is like the NFL or NBA of bullriding, but there are a lot of different levels,” Berger said.

The season is every bit as long as a pro sports team. Longer, in fact. He’ll be in Las Vegas for the NFR this week. After a little down time around Christmas it’s off to New York City and Madison Square Garden in early January.

“There really isn’t an offseason. I started out January 1st and didn’t get a weekend off until (Nov. 25-26),” he said.

Even when he’s not crisscrossing the country, he’s still getting tips from all corners.

“I betcha I get a half dozen videos a day every day sent to me about some bull here or there to see if it will catch my eye,” Berger said.

It’s a pricey proposition by any measure.

“The expenses would scare a normal man to death,” Berger said. “But we run a pretty tight ship.”

He’s not complaining. In fact, his flame continues to burn bright. He’d also like to continue to push the bar a little higher for future stock contractors.

“I set the record and I’d like to add a few more so it takes a long time for the next guy to beat me,” he said. “I’m shooting for 10 more years. The minute I don’t have the passion for it I’ll quit, but I’m having too much fun to stop now.”

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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