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NORTHLAND OUTDOORS: Larimore hunter makes ND bighorn sheep tag count

Mark Beard had been applying for a North Dakota bighorn sheep tag since the state began offering a season in 1975. Beard, of Larimore, N.D., drew a moose tag about 10 years ago, which he successfully filled, and he figured he might someday draw a...

Mark Beard ram
Mark Beard of Larimore, N.D., shot this North Dakota bighorn sheep Oct. 13 in the Badlands. Beard, who's been applying for a sheep license since North Dakota first offered a season in the 1970s, says he never expected to draw a tag. The odds of being selected are about 2,000 to 1, making the North Dakota sheep tag one of the hardest licenses to get in North America. Beard's ram weighed 210 pounds and had a three-quarter curl that scored 145.

Mark Beard had been applying for a North Dakota bighorn sheep tag since the state began offering a season in 1975.

Beard, of Larimore, N.D., drew a moose tag about 10 years ago, which he successfully filled, and he figured he might someday draw an elk license.

But never bighorn sheep.

This past spring, though, Beard was one of the fortunate few to beat the 1-in-2,000 odds and draw one of North Dakota's coveted bighorn tags.

Two weeks ago, he made it count, shooting a bighorn in the Little Missouri National Grasslands near Grassy Butte, N.D., on Oct. 13, the fourth day of the season.


It's an adventure neither Beard nor his son, Jeff -- who helped with the hunt -- will forget anytime soon.

"I'd say it was way more exciting than the moose hunt," said Mark Beard, an avid outdoorsman who hunts everything from fox and coyotes to deer. "The terrain they're in is a big part of it. I worked out all summer to get in shape, and I'm glad I did."

Beyond getting in shape, Beard said he and his son made a scouting trip to the Badlands during the Labor Day weekend. But the temperature soared to 103, and they didn't see any sheep, he said.

After the unproductive trip, Beard contacted Brett Wiedmann, the Game and Fish Department's bighorn sheep biologist in Dickinson, N.D.

Wiedmann's advice: The area Beard scouted would have sheep in October.

"During the summer, they spread out," Beard said.

Pre-hunt session

Beard and the other five hunters with tags gathered in Dickinson for an orientation session Oct. 9, the day before the season. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department offers five tags by lottery, and the Wisconsin-Minnesota chapter of the North American Foundation for Wild Sheep sells a sixth tag by auction. This year's auction tag fetched $35,000, and proceeds aid bighorn sheep research in North Dakota.


During the orientation, Wiedmann gave a presentation on bighorn sheep and offered suggestions on where and how to hunt.

"The main thing he recommended was to get as high up as you can and spend a lot of time with the spotting scope and the binoculars," Beard said. "I did some of that, and it really worked. It was very helpful."

That was apparent the next day within minutes after he started hunting, Beard said.

"I had eight bighorns run by me -- four rams and four ewes -- at close range" about 80 yards away, Beard said. "I glassed for awhile and decided I could get a bigger one."

Beard admits he might have had second thoughts about that decision later in the weekend as weather conditions deteriorated. It rained Oct. 11, and the next morning, a Sunday, Beard said he woke up to about 10 inches of wet snow.

That created treacherous conditions in the Badlands' rugged terrain, and there was little hunting that day.

Beard had hunted alone the first day, but his son, Jeff, arrived at the campground Friday night to help with the hunt for the next three days. The snow meant they didn't hunt much that Sunday, but there still was cause for optimism when they set out Monday morning, which would be Jeff's last day to help his dad.

"We kind of scouted the area the night before after it quit snowing, and we found a place where we could get through a line of buttes," Beard said. "That's where we figured the main herd of sheep would be."


Trek to success

They'd hiked about a mile Monday morning when Jeff spotted a herd of 10 sheep on the opposite side of a ravine about 600 yards away. There was a big washout at the bottom of the ravine that they were unable to cross, Mark said, so they had to backtrack around a couple of buttes to get a better look at the sheep.

Atop a ridge, they could see most of the herd about 150 yards away, but they couldn't find the biggest ram they'd spotted initially.

That's when they looked over a ledge and saw four rams, including the biggest one, standing below about 70 yards away.

"I was surprised when I seen him standing there," Jeff Beard said. "He was standing straight broadside looking right at us."

Using his .300 Weatherby, Mark fired a single shot through the lungs.

"The ram ran 30 yards," Jeff Beard said. "He ran for a washout and would have fallen in, but he got hung up in a tree."

At 9:30 a.m. on his fourth day of hunting, Beard's bighorn quest ended in success.


"We knew they were there, the wind was in our favor, and it worked out," Beard said.

After the hunt

Jeff, who also is a taxidermist, plans to make a full-body mount of the sheep so he skinned and caped the ram, and Mark cut the carcass into quarters for the walk back to camp. He also took the heart and lungs and collected liver and tonsil samples using a kit Wiedmann had provided.

The kit included a scale, and the ram weighed 210 pounds. Wiedmann, who met them at the campground, aged the ram at 4½ years old, and inserted a numbered metal plug into the horns, which he does for all rams, to certify the sheep was taken legally.

Wiedmann scored Beard's sheep at 145 inches Boone and Crockett, the standard for scoring big game shot with a rifle. The horns only have a three-quarter curl, Mark Beard said, but they measured nearly 16 inches around the base.

North Dakota's state record bighorn scored 170 and was taken in 2005.

Looking back on the hunt, Beard said it was all he expected and more.

He said the sheep are very alert and can see like an antelope.


"When they'd see you, they'd just stop and watch you," Beard said. "You can stand and watch them for quite some time, but as soon as you go behind trees or a hill, that's their danger signal, and then they move.

"It's hard to explain," he said. "I didn't actually expect to see as many sheep as I did. They're in the roughest stuff you can imagine."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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