By Christie Henry (Jour’12) 

Hunter Rief (StratComm’20) likes to think outside the box.

In fact, when his father, Craig Rief (Econ’93), needed help designing packaging for his company, Hunter—an advertising student at CMCI—developed a unique stand-up pouch.

“I like not being restricted to a certain method or way,” says Hunter, who aspires to create advertisements and package designs as a career.

The same qualities that draw him to advertising—an ability to embrace spontaneity and delve into the unknown—are at the heart of his main extracurricular activity: bolting across Folsom field with one of America’s most famous buffaloes, CU Boulder’s Ralphie.

Rief, 20, grew up on a bison farm in Durham, New Hampshire. In seventh grade, he woke at 5 a.m. daily to bottle feed a weak bison calf born unable to nurse. He then fed her after school and again before bedtime. The calf, Suzy, quickly became a family pet, and even bonded with their black lab.

“She was the only one we kept,” he says.

Rief’s father, Craig, decided to raise and sell bison around 2004 to maintain the overgrown pastures on his farm.

“We considered Scottish highlander (cattle), elk and bison,” Craig says. “Being a CU Buffalo, the choice was obvious.”

Rief’s fondness toward the animals paid off when he transferred to CU Boulder as a sophomore from Colorado State University. He tried out and made the team of Ralphie Handlers, a group of 15 CU athletes who care for and run the university’s female buffalo mascot, Ralphie, at football games and other special events.

“I was dead set on becoming a Ralphie Handler,” says Rief, who has aimed to be a handler since he attended a CU football game at the age of 12.

In the fall, Rief spent 20 to 30 hours a week training with Ralphie, caring for her and lifting weights. Football game days could last up to 12 hours and included the elaborate transport of Ralphie to and from her farm at an undisclosed location east of Boulder.

“As soon as Hunter was selected for the team, he immediately started working hard in the weight room and running sprints to ensure he was strong enough and fast enough to run with Ralphie,” says John Graves, manager of the Ralphie program.

Rief developed an immediate and comfortable bond with the animal, who weighs 1,200 pounds and can run up to 25 mph.

“I love her,” he says. “It’s the best experience I could ever imagine.”