BILLINGS — Every time he climbs into the bucking chute, Payton Fitzpatrick is chasing a moment.
He can’t feel it or hold it. But he knows when it’s there.
And for him, there is no better feeling.
“It’s the 20, 25 seconds after the ride,” said the Polson cowboy. “The atmosphere … with the crowd cheering ... that’s a high I’m chasing all the time. I can’t find it with anything else I tried.”
The 24-year-old bull rider was pursuing it again Saturday night of the PRCA Yellowstone River Round-Up.
Fitzpatrick got it and a whole lot more when he rode the Sankey Pro Rodeo and Phenom Genetics bull Hy Test for an event-record 89-point ride to win the bull riding in the rodeo’s final performance.
The previous Yellowstone River Round-Up bull riding record was 88 points, shared by Kody DeShon and Wesley Silcox, both in 2015, according to the PRCA. This is the 10th year of the PRCA MontanaFair Rodeo.
Fitzpatrick knew the winning moment was within reach when he received word earlier in the week that he had drawn Hy Test again this month.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Fitzpatrick rode the coveted bull for 87.5 points to win Great Falls and $3,428, one of the biggest checks of his career.
“I was pretty excited when I saw the draw. And nervous,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a good bull. People want him. I was super excited to see him again.”
Two winners emerged from the Saturday night performance. Cody McCartney, of Ottawa Lake, Michigan, earned a share of first place in tie-down roping with a time of 9.0 seconds, while Will McBride needed some help to win the steer roping average.
Jason Evans, formerly of Biddle, led going into the final performance and needed just a time of just 22.1 seconds for the win. Evans, now of Glen Rose, Texas, had a time 21.5 seconds but his horse took off and the cowboy had to settle for a no time.
The second ride aboard Hy Test is just another highlight in Fitzpatrick’s stellar season.
Fitzpatrick came to Billings leading the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit standings with more than $16,000 won. He is also second in the Northern Rodeo Association standings to traveling partner Gerald Eash of Trego. Less than $360 separates the two friends.
He was both second in the 2018 MPRC and NRA final standings.
Fitzpatrick is also 48th in the PRCA world standings, which would qualify him for the large-paying winter rodeos in 2020.
“I’m pretty happy to be where I’m at,” he said. “I’ve been riding every other bull at this point. Fifty percent, that’s pretty good. But you always try to ride them all.”
Fitzpatrick also won at Plentywood and was second at Belt and third in Missoula.
And he, Eash and Cole Wagner of Valier have not been afraid to travel this summer. They went to 10 consecutive rodeos — PRCA and NRA — during the Fourth of July run and went from Plentywood to Libby, “With a stop at Helena in between,” he said of the last weekend in July.
“Since May, we’ve probably gone 8,000 miles,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a big state.”
When not riding bulls, Fitzpatrick works in construction. “I work for a great guy who allows me to go off and ride as many bulls as I do,” he added.
Fitzpatrick got his start riding mini-bulls and did junior rodeos. But he didn’t get on a full-sized bull until he was 17.
“I’m not a very big guy and my dad (Brett) didn’t let me get into the big bulls until later,” said Fitzpatrick.
Brett Fitzpatrick finished third in the final 1990 NRA bull riding standings.
“Since the start of the new year, I’ve been to about 60 rodeos,” said the son. “To stay healthy is an accomplishment.”
In other events:
Lane Schuelke, of Newell, South Dakota, was 82 points on Shining Mountain to finish in a tie for second in saddle bronc riding while Grant Denny, of Minden, Nevada was fourth in bareback riding with 83.5 points on Fun Haver.
Tyler Wade and Billie Jack Saebans finished second in team roping with a 4.5-second run.
Two other records were matched during the three-night rodeo. Devan Reilly, of Sheridan, Wyo., won the bareback title with 86 points, matching the mark set by Clint Laye in 2015 and J.R. Vezain in 2014.
Kellan Johnson and Carson Johnson, of Casper, Wyoming won the team roping 4.4 seconds, tying the record owned by Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill (2017), along with Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira (2016).