Devon Mitchell on "Rusty Moose"

Devon Mitchell, of Shepherd, rode Rusty Moose to an 84-point score on Friday and closed out the EPB 2016 Finals as the season's champion, Saturday at the Butte Civic Center.

Walter Hinick, The Montana Standard

Sometimes it’s better to not know.

That seemed to be the trick for a couple of bullriders, who closed out the Elite Professional Bullriders 2016 Finals by earning belt buckles at the Butte Civic Center on Saturday night.

River Stephenson was the top rider in the two-day event, while Wyatt Wilks was crowned Rookie of the Year.

Devon Mitchell was awarded the top prize for being the EPB’s champion of the 2016 season.

“It means a lot, especially in Montana,” said the 22-year-old Mitchell, who hails from Shepherd. “I didn’t even know I had won anything until they announced it. I didn’t even know where I was sitting coming into the weekend. It was kind of a surprise for me.

Mitchell earned his stripes in Butte, just like he did during the entire season.

He did well during Friday’s opening day and closed out the event with a score of 87.5 points aboard Griz in Saturday’s long go.

He didn’t hesitate when it came to revealing his secret to success.

“Stay on,” he said with a grin. “(The standings) aren’t important at all. The less I know, the better. It doesn’t play mind tricks with you. You just go out and ride bulls.”

Mitchell isn’t sure of what he’ll do during the upcoming season but he figures that some of that time will be spent back at home, helping out his family on the farm.

He also knows that riding bulls will remain in his future.

“I’ll make a new plan,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent bull riding but when my family needs help, I can keep my mind off of bull riding for a while then go back to it.

“There is a fire that builds in you. The more time you take off, the more that fire builds and you want to get back at it as soon as you can.”

Wilks also came into the final weekend not knowing where he stood in the rookie standings.

“I didn’t even know they were doing Rookie of the Year,” said the 23-year-old native of Cheney Washington. “I didn’t do too well here so I got it from all of the other rodeos that I went to.”

With a recent diploma from Eastern Washington under his belt, and Rookie of the Year buckle to go on that belt, he has already started to think about the next season.

“I’m looking to do PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and I might do EPB again,” he said. “I really like the EPB. It’s one of the best circuits there is to be on for bull riding.

“I like it because it’s focused just on bull riding. You don’t have anything else you’ve got to worry about, and the people are really good. I love every single one of these guys.”

Stephenson seemed to be the most consistent when it came to riding this weekend. By the time the dust had settled, he was the leader in averages and was the top rider for the weekend.

“I’ve been in the association since I was about 15 and this is always a good event,” he said.

And he didn’t say it merely because he won. Stephenson’s first ride on Saturday was aboard Griz, and he came away with 87.5 points. That went along with his short go score of 78 on Friday.

“I came in here hoping to have a good week,” Stephenson added. “It’s kind of surreal. I’m really happy with it.”

“That first bull that I rode (Saturday) for an 87, that got me feeling really good. I didn’t feel like anything in the short round could throw me off after that.”

Stephenson is pleased with this weekend’s success and is looking to build on it. One of his plans it to get into the PBR circuit. He understands that success in this sport depends heavily on the rider and the bull so he’s hoping that the combination of the two will carry him to bigger and better things.

“If you have a good bull and you’re not feeling up to par, then you ain’t going to get any points,” he explained. “But if your bull is not doing anything, you’re not going to get any points that way either. I love it because it’s like a dance to me. You’ve just got to meet in the middle, and if you do it right it’s really pretty.

“It feels like I’ve got my feet under me and my ducks in a row. I’m very blessed. It takes focus and believing in yourself that you can do it.”

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