New bighorn hunting opportunity addedWritten by Christy Hemken
The license is for a herd of 110 to 120 bighorns southeast of Newcastle in Weston County. “The sheep have pioneered from a South Dakota transplant, and they’re now spending more time in Wyoming,” says Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Bighorn Sheep Coordinator Kevin Hurley.
While the WGFD will work to get a better handle on how many, how often and during what time of the year the sheep come into the state, the department did issue a single hunting license for a Wyoming resident in the new Hunt Area 20.
“We’re pretty excited,” says Hurley, noting that a young woman from Rock Springs drew the license and has been hunting the area with her father. The WGFD has set up a long, liberal season of four months, since the agency’s unsure of where and how often the herd crosses the state boundary.
In other hunt areas, in early October the state was halfway through sheep hunting season. “Last year, statewide, hunters took 194 rams and all indications are this year will be equal to or better than last year as far as harvest, age, size and quality. Things in the sheep hunting business are looking up,” says Hurley.
Of the 194 sheep harvested last year, 164, or 84 percent, came from Hunt Areas 1 through 5 above Cody. “The epicenter for sheep hunting is northwestern Wyoming, and we’re pretty excited about the hunting opportunities,” notes Hurley. “Where hunters have helped pay for transplants, we want to provide opportunity back to them and we’re trying to do that where we can.”
A recent change in license procedure has allowed the harvest of rams in smaller herds that would otherwise have died of old age.
“About three years ago we got permission from the State Attorney General that, as long as we met a three resident to one non-resident ratio statewide every year, we didn’t have to have those four licenses in one hunt area as a minimum,” says Hurley.
It used to be that the small herds of bighorns either weren’t hunted or that at least four licenses had to be issued to cover the three-to-one ratio. “If we had a small population that could withstand the harvest of one or two rams – we had no way to get them,” he notes.
For the last two years the agency has employed their new ability in several hunt areas, providing limited opportunity and restricted harvest. “Hunters have been able to take nice rams that would have otherwise died of old age,” says Hurley. “We’re excited about that, and it’s made some opportunity that wasn’t there before.”