NEWCASTLE — From dinosaurs to cowboys, the Discovery Channel’s newest show “Dino Hunters” will feature Weston County ranchers Mike and Jake Harris as they hunt for dinosaurs while tending their cattle.
Highlighting ranches in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, “Dino Hunters” will feature cowboys who are finding new ways to make an honest living while potentially making history. The show premiered Friday.
When he purchased his ranch south of Newcastle in 1994, Mike Harris said, he never imagined he would be digging up dinosaurs, especially on the Discovery Channel. At first, after being approached by the channel several years ago, Harris admitted, he was unsure if he wanted to see his life and work on television.
“I had a producer give me a call and ask if I would be interested in something like ‘Dino Hunters.’ At that point, I wasn’t,” Harris said. “I am a private person and didn’t care too much for the idea of having my life out for the world to see.”
His opinion changed, however, after visiting more with the
producer. The idea of an educational, family-friendly show interested Harris.
“I thought about it and decided that it would be pretty cool. Nowadays, we need more shows the family can sit down and watch together, and dinosaurs are a cool subject, especially for kids,” Harris said. “There are plenty of them (dinosaurs) out here.”
According to Harris, his journey to becoming “Cowboy Rex” began roughly 17 years ago when he discovered pieces of bone that looked like petrified wood. The pieces discovered by the rancher turned out to be pieces of a triceratops horn.
Harris invited a friend to his property to help further investigate the dinosaur possibilities on the land. He said the discovery of that triceratops is what sparked his interest and made him excited to continue hunting for history.
Determined to excavate the fossils in the best way possible, Harris worked with an expert from Florida, who spent two months on the ranch, teaching the cowboy how to properly care for the delicate pieces of ancient history.
“He taught me how to do the science, including how to map, the proper way to dig the fossils out, how to preserve them and how to make the casts. He taught me the way scientists do the work because I never want to lose the science,” Harris said. “Some people out there dig to try and make money. I want to do things the right way and work with the academic community whenever we can.”
Using the knowledge, he had acquired, Harris later found a Tyrannosaurus rex, although at first it was thought to be more triceratops pieces.
“At first, we were told it was more triceratops stuff, nothing out of the normal. We have a lot of that out here,” Harris said. “The next spring it was identified as a T. rex. … That is when we got pretty excited.”
While the T. rex sits on the shelf, waiting for a buyer, Harris continued to hunt his ranch for dinosaurs with the help of his son, Jake. The ranch and the dinosaur discoveries being featured on national television gives the father-son team another stage to share their discoveries while they continue to look for their next big find.
According to Harris, a big payday isn’t necessarily the goal. The hope is to preserve the history for the future before it disappears.
“All of the stuff we are taking out of the ground would be gone within a few years if we didn’t have people out here on the land finding and protecting it,” Harris said. “So much of this would be gone if we didn’t look for it.”
Hoping to share their exciting finds with the world, Harris has donated a triceratops to a museum, although he admits that he can’t give everything they find away.
“We have to do this commercially as well, although we like to work with the academic community too. If we don’t get this stuff out there, then the public will never see it,” Harris said.
He is trying to keep the T. rex in the state but has yet to find a way to make that work.
Working with the Discovery Channel, according to Harris, gave the family the ability to share their findings with the world while giving them exposure as real cowboy dinosaur hunters.
“I honestly didn’t think it would go as far as it has. I think we have one of the coolest shows that there has ever been. This is something we can all be really proud of,” Harris said.
The show will feature more than just digging for dinosaurs, he said.
“The show covers the cowboy aspect too, the western way of life. The crews did a lot of filming of cattle, how the business works and what us ranchers have to do to make sure the beef is safe to eat,” Harris said.
Jake said that he thinks it’s neat that he and his father fit into a small niche of people.
“There are a lot of ranchers out there and a lot of paleontologists,” Jake said. “To have both worlds, to run cows next to where the dinosaurs roamed, that is neat.”
Overall, the Harrises are excited to share their lives and work with the world while promoting science and the Wyoming lifestyle.
“This is the real deal, and it just keeps getting better and better. This show features dinosaurs and cowboys, those are two of the things that people like most in the world,” Harris said.
“Dino Hunters” premiered on Friday, June 19, at 7 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. You can also watch by downloading the Discovery Go app on your smart phone or other device.
The Harris family and their findings can be found at Wyomingdinosaurranch.com, on Facebook at Wyomingdinosaurranch and on Instagram at either CowboyRex or CretaceousCowboy.