/ Modified feb 25, 2016 9:41 a.m.

'Fine Bunch of Cowboys' Compete at Tucson Rodeo

Top contestants will compete Sunday for more than $460,000 in prizes

Rodeo Caitlin Dean Spot La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, 2015 (PHOTO: Courtesy Caitlin Dean)

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The Tucson Rodeo is underway until the end of the week– 400 cattle, 1000 horses and 600 contestants are getting ready to compete in the only open-air winter rodeo in the country.

Gate-puller Philip Evans is one of the many volunteers who help run the Tucson Rodeo each year. His uniform is heavy-duty gloves and a white cowboy hat.

“I’m going to be 70 this year,” Evans said. ”I probably have no business being out here, but I don’t know any better.”

Evans gets calves lined up in the timing chute for the calf-roping competitions. When the cowboy and his horse are ready, he lifts the gate.

The cowboy, he explained, then “runs out there, lassos the calf, gets down off, runs up, drops it to the ground and ties three feet together.”

Some competitors can do all of that under seven seconds. In the first two days of competition this week, Evans said he opened the 50-pound gate for about 400 head of cattle.

“Some of the cattle are not very cooperative about this” he said, “I could feel it last night, that’s for sure.”

Another event he said he enjoyed watching is steer wrestling. The rider chases the steer, drops from his horse and then wrestles it to the ground by its horns. If you want to know what it feels like to wrestle a 600lbs animal, Evans said, you should jump in the back of a pick truck going 40 miles per hour and try grabbing mail boxes by the road with you bare hands.

Being a cowboy doesn’t make any sense, Evans said., but once you get the taste of it, you can’t go back.

Other events scheduled this week will include bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping, and women’s barrel racing. After two runs each, the best contestants will go to Sunday’s finals where they will compete for more than $460,000 in prize money. The top 15 winners qualify for the national championship in Las Vegas next December.

“That’s a fine bunch of cowboys, no questions,” Evans said.

The grounds are open to the public all week and a crowd is expected for the main events Thursday through Sunday.

For more information on the events, go to tucsonrodeo.com.

Julie Luchetta is a freelance reporter.

This story has been updated to reflect that Philip Evans will turn 70 years old this year.

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