By SVERRE BAKKE
George Hinderliter Jr. is among the best in the Northwest when it comes to roping steers.
That's not bragging; that's a fact.
The White Salmon resident demonstrated his skill by partnering with Ron Schmidt of Mosier, Ore., for a second-place finish in the "pick/draw" division of the United States Team Roping Championships-sanctioned Oregon Spring Classic, held April 26 in Eugene.
In late October, Hinderliter and his partner hope to prove they're among the top team ropers in their division during the USTRC National Finals Shoot-out at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
It'll be the first trip to the national finals for the 21-year-old, who is in his first year as a USTRC member but has been throwing loops competitively for five years.
Hinderliter got his start at age 16, competing in junior rodeos, and later high school rodeos, while attending Glenwood High School.
His love of the challenge of trying to lasso a moving target has kept him active in the fast-growing sport ever since. "It's good, clean fun," he noted.
Hinderliter and his regular partner, Steve Hurn of Underwood, went to the Oregon Spring Classic hoping to earn one of five seats to the national finals.
Both did just that, though with different partners. (Hurn qualified with Angie Gorman of Lebanon, Ore., on the strength of a fifth-place finish.)
Hinderliter said he felt bad about not qualifying with Hurn.
"We had just shown up when they announced our names. We weren't even warmed up when we entered the arena," Hinderliter recalled. "I missed (the head) for Steve and that was it for us as a team."
Fortunately for both, each got two more chances in the first go-round to advance to the second go-round and have a shot at making the final short round.
Under USTRC pick/draw rules, each roper can qualify for the short round with as many as three partners: one picked by the roper and two drawn randomly by a computer program.
On his third attempt in the first go-round, Hinderliter was paired at random with Schmidt. It turned out as a fortuitous drawing for both.
"I was lucky to draw Ron. Together, we made a clean run. I caught the head and Ron roped both heels. And our time was pretty good: 8.2 seconds," Hinderliter noted.
In team roping parlance, Hinderliter is known as the "header." His partner is called the "heeler."
Working in tandem, the ropers' aim is to catch the head or neck and hinds legs of the steer cleanly, in the fastest time possible.
Schmidt, a USTRC veteran, was Hinderliter's only partner in the second go-round, and they were successful on their first try, though they were penalized five seconds because Schmidt only roped one leg.
In the short round, the Columbia Gorge duo had another clean run, again in the eight-second range.
"We were sitting in first place until the second to the last ropers went out and beat our time and bumped us down to second," Hinderliter said.
After two steers, Hinderliter and Schmidt were in ninth place (out of 16 teams) with a combined time of 24 seconds, seven seconds off the lead.
Hinderliter said he had no idea they were one more clean run shy of first place when they saddled up for their final steer in the short round.
"Normally I fold under pressure," he admitted. "But this time I didn't know we were close to first place, so I was able to block out all the distractions, and went out, roped aggressively and caught."
An earlier attempt to qualify -- at the Washington Championships in Pasco during Easter weekend, Hinderliter's first USTRC competition -- fell through in the third and final round of competition, when Hinderliter's loop failed to catch either the neck or head of his quarry.
"If you don't catch, you're toast, especially if you only make it to the third round with one partner, which is what I did," Hinderliter said.
But roping one steer, with one partner, is all it took for Hinderliter to qualify for his first national shoot-out. And he plans to make the most of the trip. "There'll probably be close to 200 people competing in October, so it's not going to be an easy thing to win down there. Because it's my first time, I'm just going to go and have fund, and whatever happens, happens."