It’s been 14 years since 21-year-old Justin Davis roped at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2009. Now 35 and roping with his seventh partner of 2023, the Cottonwood, California cowboy is currently ranked third in the world heeling standings. Will this be the year Davis closes the deal on his second NFR back number? It’s sure looking that way, and thanks to several second-place finishes, including a round win and second in the average with Jaxson Tucker at the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo in Davis’s Golden State over the weekend.
“I’ve won a lot of seconds this year, and those are good checks that add up,” said Davis, who with Tucker on the front side finished second in Santa Maria behind Zach Kilgus and Tyler McKnight; Tucker and Davis also won Round 2 with this 4.9-second run.
Davis, who heeled for Blaine Linaweaver at the 2009 NFR, has banked $51,777 in 2023. That ranks Justin third behind Jeremy Buhler (who with Rhen Richard won Houston just ahead of Justin and Nelson Wyatt), and Buddy Hawkins (who won Fort Worth with Andrew Ward) in the early going of this year’s world championship race. Davis’s 2023 success has not been standard, considering that North Carolina native Tucker is his seventh header thus far this year.
“I started the year with Garrett Rogers, but we only went to Fort Worth,” said Davis, who finished 16th in the world in 2016, and has had other top-20 finishes over the years. “I roped with Hayes Smith at Austin. I went to San Antonio and Houston with Nelson Wyatt, and won second at both of those. Then I roped with Matt Sherwood at San Angelo, Logandale, Red Bluff and Oakdale, before roping with Spencer Mitchell at Redmond, and Brandon Beers at Redding and Central Point. Now I’m roping with Jaxson. That’s seven partners, and I’ve only been to 16 rodeos.”
Davis says he and Tucker are locked and loaded for the summer run, with no Plan B on the books.
“Jaxson’s a Luke Brown protégé,” Davis said. “I think he moved in with Luke when he was 13, and to me, he’s like a miniature Chad Masters. He also has two outstanding head horses.”
Davis has been aboard a 10-year-old red roan, Pocket, that belongs to his Uncle Allen and Aunt Tracy Gill. Where will this ride take him in 2023?
“I was on the ‘See how I do at San Antonio and Houston, then take it from there tour,’” said Davis, who lives in Cottonwood with his wife, Emy Lou, and their 9-year-old daughter, Shyla. “And here I am. I’m older and wiser, I have a really good heel horse, and I think I know how to make certain shots better now than I did when I was in my 20s. I’ve had really good partners who’ve gotten out of the barrier and turned a lot of cattle, and I’ve been lucky enough to catch ’em.”