GF hunters make the most of their bighorn sheep tags

Two Grand Forks men found themselves in rare company this spring. They beat one-in-1,500 odds to draw two of the five North Dakota bighorn sheep tags issued by lottery.

Two Grand Forks men found themselves in rare company this spring. They beat one-in-1,500 odds to draw two of the five North Dakota bighorn sheep tags issued by lottery.

A six is sold at auction.

Last month, David Danielson and Grant Dunham made the once-in-a-lifetime tags count by shooting rams in western North Dakota.

The hunt was exciting, both men say, but at the same time, there's a sense of relief at being successful.

"You go to sleep thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it a lot of times," said Danielson, 58, parts and service manager at Lithia Motors in Grand Forks. "You put a lot of pressure on yourself. No. 1, you wouldn't want to be the only guy in North Dakota who didn't kill a ram."


No worries in either case. Hunting near Belfield, N.D., Danielson bagged a 7½-year-old ram Oct. 15 that scored 145 Boone and Crockett, the measuring standard for animals killed with a rifle.

Accompanying Danielson on the hunt were Darin Hart, a co-worker from Grand Forks, Jim Benson of East Grand Forks, Mark Bry of Grand Forks and Danielson's 10-year-old grandson.

Dunham, meanwhile, hunted southwest of Medora, N.D., off the West River Road, where he shot a 10½-year-old ram Oct. 22 that scored 149‰. Joining him was his dad, Ray, of Grand Forks.

Pressure mounts

After seven days of hunting, Dunham admits he was feeling the pressure because he was the only one of the six sheep hunters who hadn't yet bagged a ram.

"Everybody got their rams pretty quickly except me," said Dunham, 45, a research manager at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks.

Both men said the hunt is challenging and involves hours of watching and waiting and difficult walking in rugged Badlands terrain.

According to the Game and Fish Department, sheep hunters have a 97 percent success record in North Dakota, but that number is deceiving.


"You spend your whole day behind a pair of binoculars," Danielson said. "It's tough hunting. It wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be."

According to Dunham, it's hard to describe the feeling of drawing a sheep tag and the ultimate success of shooting a ram. There's the initial shock of getting the tag, he said, and the mixed feelings of killing an animal.

"When you get the sheep, it's so different because you've worked so hard," Dunham said. "Anytime you've shot something, it's a different feeling; you've taken a life there. You're happy, and it's great, but it's totally different."

Successful season

According to Brett Wiedmann, bighorn sheep biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Dickinson, N.D., this year's sheep season was one of the best ever. In an effort to shoot older rams, Game and Fish this year moved the rifle opener back from the third weekend in September to Oct. 12. Season ended Oct. 28.

The effort succeeded, Wiedmann said, and all five hunters who drew tags and the hunter who purchased a sixth tag by auction shot rams, which averaged 9 years old.

"This was the oldest group of rams ever harvested in North Dakota," Wiedmann said. "We have a lot of old rams out there, 10 or older. For me, when a ram gets to 10, I wanted that ram harvested."

Wiedmann ages and takes blood samples of all the sheep that are taken and inserts a numbered metal plug into the horns of each ram to certify the animal was shot legally.


A Fargo hunter shot a 13½-year-old ram that ties the record for the oldest ever taken in North Dakota, Wiedmann said.

"Everybody got nice sheep, and that's what we wanted," he said.

Valley invasion

Oddly enough, all five hunters who drew bighorn sheep tags this year were from the Red River Valley - Danielson and Dunham from Grand Forks and three hunters from Fargo.

"I couldn't believe it," Wiedmann said. "That's just the luck of the draw."

This was going to be the last year in which the Wisconsin-Minnesota Chapter of the North American Foundation for Wild Sheep issued a North Dakota bighorn tag by auction, Wiedmann said, but plans for an online raffle were put on hold because of potential North Dakota gaming law violations.

As a result, Wiedmann said, the chapter will auction a tag again next year.


Game and Fish continues to explore a raffle system that would comply with state gaming laws. The goal, Wiedmann said, is to raise money for sheep management, while at the same time making the sixth tag more affordable to average hunters.

Game and Fish receives all of the proceeds from the auction tag for sheep management in the state. This year's auction tag sold for $50,000.

"It would be almost impossible to have the sheep program without that auction," Wiedmann said. "We have the five lottery tags because of that auction, but if we can generate revenue with a raffle-type system, it would be preferable."

As a bighorn sheep biologist, Wiedmann says, the hunting season is his favorite time of year. North Dakota's sheep population stands at about 300, Wiedmann said.

"You see these people take sheep and they're just thrilled, they can't believe it," he said. "It just makes my day."

Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or .

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, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
What To Read Next
Get Local