N.D. bighorn sheep population doing well
Five of the six hunters with North Dakota bighorn sheep licenses had filled their tags as of Thursday, the Game and Fish Department said. The annual season began Oct. 10 and ends today. "The first four days, we took five rams; that's impressive,"...
Five of the six hunters with North Dakota bighorn sheep licenses had filled their tags as of Thursday, the Game and Fish Department said.
The annual season began Oct. 10 and ends today.
"The first four days, we took five rams; that's impressive," said Brett Wiedmann, bighorn sheep biologist for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D.
In his job as biologist, Wiedmann takes a hands-on role in the hunt, holding an orientation session the day before season and meeting up with the hunters on-site once they've shot a ram.
"For me, this is my favorite time of year," he said. "To see these hunters -- they're just thrilled" after they take a sheep.
Wiedmann supplies hunters with a kit and has them collect the heart and lungs, along with a liver sample and tonsil swab from each sheep for testing. He sends liver samples to Michigan State University and tonsil swabs to the University of Idaho.
"We don't get to handle many sheep, so when we can get biological samples, the hunters have been great," he said. "I've never had any hunter not get me the samples."
Wiedmann also ages and scores the sheep and inserts a numbered metal plug into the horns to certify the ram was taken legally.
This year, the biggest ram scored 161, another scored 160, two others were in the 150s, and Mark Beard of Larimore, N.D., shot one that scored 145.
The state record scored 170 and was taken in 2005.
Despite the rugged Badlands terrain the sheep inhabit, hunter success has averaged 97 percent since Game and Fish first offered a season in 1975, Wiedmann said. The season has been an annual event every year except from 1980 to 1983.
"Usually, it's 100 percent success each year," Wiedmann said. "The hunters are dedicated and they hunt until they get their ram. It's by no means an easy hunt. It's rough country and big country with few animals."
Wiedmann says there's probably not a harder tag to draw than a North Dakota bighorn sheep license. This year, a record 10,425 people applied for one of five lottery tags, Wiedmann said. That's more than the number of applicants for Wyoming and Idaho combined, where about 9,500 hunters sought tags this year.
The Wisconsin-Minnesota chapter of the North American Foundation for Wild Sheep auctioned off a sixth license, which this year fetched $35,000 for bighorn sheep research in North Dakota.
Wiedmann said female sheep can live to be 20 years old, and rams to about age 15. Ideally, Wiedmann says, he likes to see hunters shoot rams that are at least 10 years old.
"Once they hit 10, they're on borrowed time," he said. "They're more prone to predation."
North Dakota's bighorn sheep population is doing well, Wiedmann said, and numbers 350, which is comfortably more than the goal of 300. There now are 16 herds all along the Little Missouri River, he said, and the goal is to maintain a population of 300 to 400 sheep.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to email@example.com .