Buck Lunak compares bareback bronc riding to busting moves on the dance floor.
"If your dance partner is not very good, you're not going to be very good," the Philipsburg cowboy said. "But if you've got a really good dancing partner, it's going to be electric."
Lightning struck for Lunak on Friday night when he climbed aboard 9 Moons at the Missoula Stampede rodeo. The Browning product posted a score of 82, good enough for a share of the lead with four-time National Finals Rodeo champion Bobby Mote of Stephenville, Texas.
Competing in front of family and friends in what he considers his hometown rodeo, Lunak couldn't have asked for a better set-up. In 9 Moons he drew a critter that's so good it appeared in the NFR.
"I was very excited because I see that horse a lot," he said. "That's the first time I got to get on him so it's a dream come true.
"He'll go high on the front end with a lot of kick and it's about timing. We can expose him and show how cool he is."
Lunak, who recently moved out of the Bitterroot Valley with his fiance, said he tries not to think too much about what other cowboys are in the field when he competes. Still, it's hard not to notice guys like Mote and Oregonian Austin Foss, who rank sixth and ninth, respectively, in the PRCA world standings.
"You try to focus on yourself more than what they're going to do," Lunak offered. "You know Mote has got world title buckles. He's going to show up and do his job. You have to show up and and do yours."
You might say Lunak is due for a Missoula Stampede championship. He will learn his fate Saturday night when the last of three go rounds are held at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.
"It would mean a lot," he confided. "I've been second here I think twice, last year and the year before. It would be nice to get the W this year."
Bareback bronc riding wasn't the only rough stock event that featured a lead change on Friday.
Nebraskan Bryce Miller moved into the top spot in the saddle bronc competition with an 84 aboard Show Biz. Allen Boore of Utah jumped into the No. 2 spot with an 81 on Bury Me Not.
"That's a great horse," Miller said of Show Biz. "I had that horse back in the (NFR) finals, oh gosh it must have been 2005.
"He bucked me off there and this is the first time I've drawn him since. It's a little sweet revenge. I was just really super focused and happy it worked out."
Seizing the lead on a hot evening in Missoula meant the world to Miller.
"I haven't had the best summer, struggled a little bit, so it feels really good to have a good score here," he said.
In bull riding, Texan Reid Barker, ranked 10th in the world standings, jumped into the lead aboard Grandpa Joe with a score of 86. Fourth-ranked Parker Breding of Edgar and Riker Carter of Idaho also had sparkling performances, each posting an 84 to forge a second-place tie.
It was also a big night in tie down roping. Six-time world champion Cody Ohl of Hico, Texas, seized first place with a time of 8.1 seconds. Dillon Holder of Missouri moved into second with a mark of 8.3.
Two-time national high school champion Garrett Smith of Idaho had the best time of the night in steer wrestling. His 4.1 mark moved him into fourth place.
Four-time world champion Sherry Cervi of Arizona had Friday's best time in barrel racing. Her 17.49 moved her into fourth place.
Saturday's final round of competition in the Stampede will start at 7 p.m. Grandstand seats are $16 for adults and $12 for kids ages 5-15. General admission bleacher seats are $12 for all ages and children younger than 5 get in free to all events.