Dawson County High School graduate Hunter Adams recently earned tenth place for bull riding at the Wrangler Junior National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas Dec. 7-15. The Junior NFR was in conjunction with the NFR as well as the Cowboy Christmas convention located in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“Vegas is pretty crazy. It’s nothing like Dawsonville,” said Adams. “It was just a whole other world I guess – it was a culture shock.”
The young bull rider was excited to qualify for the national rodeo. Out of 200 hopeful bull riders, Hunter was one of the top 15 in the nation to make it to the annual competition.
“I feel like I should have finished higher,” said Adams who felt like he was overwhelmed and overthought his riding. “I still kind of beat myself up about it.”
Bull riders are scored based on the time they stay on the bull as well as a point system. With Hunter’s time and points during his two normal rounds and his one short round, the 18-year-old was still able to finish in the top ten.
“I feel like I was just overthinking it, putting too much pressure on myself and the cards weren’t in my hand that night, week,” said Adams. “It just makes me want to get out there and come back and win it. I just don’t feel like I showed off my potential.”
Hunter competed in the 16 to 17-year-old bull riding division during three days of the rodeo, but he almost didn’t make it due to a previous injury.
Not long before his flight to Las Vegas, Hunter was still in the hospital recovering from a separated shoulder. He wasn’t released until a week or two before the rodeo, leaving no time for him to get in a practice pin before the big event.
“When I first went out there that was the first time I’d been on a bull in about a month and a half which feels like a year when you ride bulls,” said Adams. “I pretty much went out there and winged it.”
The first bull he rode, Hunter wore his shoulder brace but it didn’t allow him to move as freely as he was used to. For his next rides, he went without the brace and prayed that he wouldn’t sustain injuries.
When bull riding, Hunter says it’s better if he stays loose, but his overthinking and worrying about his recently healed shoulder caused him to tense up.
“I was thinking ‘just stay right here, just stay right here, stay right here’ and then I’d find myself face down on the ground,” Adams said.
On his second ride, the bull fell on Hunter which caused him to get another ride. Thankfully neither Hunter nor the bull was injured, but the ordeal is certainly something Hunter will always remember.
“When you’re sitting there laying down next to a bull and you got all this dirt in your eyes that’ll scare you up real fast – you’ll be running,” he said.
Hunter says the Lord blessed him with a week without injuries and counts every ride as a win when everyone leaves walking.
Though Hunter didn’t place as high as he wanted, he still had a wonderful time watching his friends ride and cheering them on. The sportsmanship and bond between bull riders is nothing like Hunter experienced in baseball and football. He says it’s like being one big family.
“We all want to win obviously but at the same time when push comes to shove we’re cheering for you regardless,” said Adams. “We want you to do good just like we want to do good. And if something ever happens you know they’ve got your back.”
When he wasn’t riding bulls, Hunter was either taking in the sights with his girlfriend, Haley, and his parents Donnie and Lynn Adams, who accompanied him, or hanging out with his bull riding buddies who also made it to the competition.
The teen also got to see some very famous faces in the rodeo scene, including former World Champion Bull Rider Gary Leffew who now operates his own bull riding school that trains many NFR riders.
While Hunter was too nervous to meet his idol, he did have the opportunity to not only meet Cody Snow, an NFR Team Roper, but sign autographs with him as well.
Hunter said he had a few kids come up to him for autographs, one little girl with Down syndrome really stuck in his mind.
“She came up and she was just the happiest I’ve ever seen somebody in my entire life. She came up happy as all get out and just to see her get excited… she didn’t know me but she was just so happy just to get autographs from us and she wanted pictures with us,” said Adams.
Hunter said he really enjoyed seeing how happy this little girl was to meet a complete stranger. Her happiness was contagious and Hunter enjoyed being able to experience that excitement.
“I wish everybody was like that. I wish I could be like that sometimes,” he said.
After his long week in Las Vegas, Hunter came home even more determined to continue riding to make it to the pros one day.
As it currently stands, the Junior NFR will only allow bull riders up to age 17. Hunter, though 18 by the rodeo, was eligible to qualify because he was 17 when he began the series. He hopes that next year the Junior NFR will change the age limit so that he has another chance to compete in 2018.
Until then, Hunter is content to participate in local rodeos and work towards keeping the cowboy spirit alive. Currently there are not many options for aspiring bull riders in north Georgia.
“Cowboy’s a dying breed,” said Adams.
He hopes to one day own property where he can set up practice pins with a few bulls to help keep the passion and love for the rodeo alive in the hearts of kids.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I like going and talking to little kids about it,” said Adams. “I feel like God’s just always told me that’s something I need to do. It’s just trying to help out kids because I know it’s hard.”
When Hunter first began riding bulls two years ago, he made many mistakes that led to serious injuries because there was no one there to tell him how to ride the right way. He hopes that one day he will be able to help kids and young adults learn the sport so they don’t make the same mistakes he did.
“I don’t want to ride bulls the rest of my life. I’ve said that since I started riding,” said Adams. "I just want to do it while God’s letting me and then eventually have a bunch of cattle and a bunch of bucking bulls and grow old and die. That’s really all my life’s plan I’ve got so far.”