If you hunt the West long enough, there’s an extremely good chance that you’ll find yourself daydreaming about wild sheep. Maybe this is because these nimble cliff dwellers epitomize everything we love about the West. They live in rugged terrain that is typically unmolested by mankind, and their domain is virtually uninhabitable by human standards. When you couple this with heavy-horned critters that smash into each other at full speed on terrifying terrain, you have an animal that is going to inspire every adventuresome hunter to want to spend time in sheep country, preferably with a tag in hand.
At Huntin’ Fool, we take dozens of calls each year from hunters who are new to what we call the “sheep game.” The conversation usually starts with a statement that goes something like this, “I’d like to hunt sheep at some point in time. What are my options for making that happen?” At that point, we pride ourselves on telling them the “sheepish” truth. The fact is that there are very few sheep tags issued through the draw system every year. As the table in this article indicates, there are less than 200 non-resident bighorn sheep tags issued through state draws on an annual basis. In the states that have point systems for bighorn sheep, diehard applicants are measured in decades instead of years. In states that don’t have point systems, draw odds range from single digit percentages of chances to one in thousands of chances. With this admittedly depressing news, you might ask yourself the question, “Why should I even apply?” I’ve asked that question myself, and perhaps my own conclusions might help you decide if you want to chase the long draw odds.
A good friend of mine who has hunted and guided for sheep all over once said, “The only thing that sheep are good at is dying!” Unfortunately, his statement has a fair amount of truth in it. Perhaps more than any other species, bighorn sheep are very prone to disease and die-offs that all too often leave wildlife managers scratching their heads trying to understand why. As a result, sheep are expensive to manage. Trapping and relocating efforts are both difficult and necessary to keep starting and restoring herds. Furthermore, there is no question that we need more education on these unique animals. Unlike deer and elk, the revenue from actual sheep hunting licenses will never come close to providing bighorn sheep what they need from us as hunters and conservationists. With that in mind, I happily submit my sheep applications every year and consider it a contribution to keeping these critters alive. I, for one, could not imagine a world that did not have wild sheep in it.
In addition to changing the way I look at my sheep application dollars, I’ve also changed the way I look at sheep hunting opportunities. I’ve come to the realization that I may never have a coveted tag of my own in my pocket, but that doesn’t stop me from tagging along when other people are lucky enough to draw. I’ve joined hunters that range from great friends to complete strangers on their sheep hunts over the last decade. I can honestly tell you that these hunts are some of the greatest memories I’ve ever made in the mountains. There is something really special about the opportunity to be a part of any sheep hunt, and I encourage every budding wild sheep enthusiast to figure out a way to tag along on one of these hunts.
The hunts that I’ve shared with others also served to change the way I looked at Montana’s unlimited sheep hunts. After years of avoiding this opportunity due to the competitive nature of the hunt and the low harvest success for the vast majority of permit holders, I finally bought a tag of my own. It was surreal to have a valid bighorn sheep tag in my pocket. Not surprisingly, I ate that tag, but the experience reinforced my ever-changing view on sheep hunting and reminded me that every minute spent in sheep country is a minute I’ll never regret. These hunts are extremely physical and the opportunity is so unique and rare that we dedicate an entire article to it every year. If you’re interested, be sure to read Hunt Advisor Robert Hanneman’s article from the April 2019 issue or stay tuned for the updated version that will accompany Montana’s bighorn sheep write-up here in the spring of 2020.
Whether you’re already applying for sheep or just thinking of getting started, I encourage you to stick with it. Wild sheep need our support now more than ever, and I’ve found that when I look at my applications from that point of view, I can take those annual rejections a lot better. I also encourage you to get on a sheep hunt with someone who has a tag. With today’s technology and information, all it takes is tenacity and determination to find someone who’s drawn a tag. In my experience, once one of those precious pieces of paper finds its way into the sweaty palm of the lucky recipient, they are more than willing to accept all the help they can to make the hunt a true once-in-a-lifetime experience!
|2019 State Draw Tag Overview|
|Desert Bighorn Sheep Permits Potentially Available to Non-Residents||Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Permits Potentially Available to Non-Residents||California Bighorn Sheep Permits Potentially Available to Non-Residents||Total Permits Potentially Available to Non-Residents||Reserved Non-Resident Quota?||The comments below are for 2019 permits issued through the state draws that provide an opportunity for mature rams. Opportunities for ewes and juvenile rams have been omitted from this table and the comments.|
|Arizona||Up to 11||Up to 6||0||11||No||A combined species maximum of 11 sheep permits were potentially available to non-residents. Based on Arizona's allocation system, no more than 6 of those permits could have been Rocky bighorns. Also, two of those 11 permits were issued in the "Bonus Pass" to non-resident applicants that had 30 bonus points going into the 2019 draw. Arizona does not reserve permits for non-residents.|
|California||2||0||0||2||No||Up to 2 Desert sheep permits were potentially available to non-residents (up to 10% of the statewide Desert sheep permit quota). California does not reserve permits for non-residents.|
|Colorado||1||21||0||22||Yes||Applicants must build 3 preference points for Rocky sheep before they are eligible to draw a permit. The Desert sheep permit does not have a point system, so applicants are eligible to draw the permit the first year they apply. Colorado reserves the permits for both species for non-residents.|
|Idaho||0||Up to 9||Up to 7||9||No||There is no point system for Idaho sheep, so all permits are issued through a random draw. A combined species maximum of 9 sheep permits were potentially available to non-residents. Based on Idaho's allocation system, no more than 7 of those permits could have been California bighorns. Idaho does not reserve permits for non-residents.|
|Montana||0||10||0||10||No||In 2019, up to 10 Rocky sheep permits were potentially available to non-residents (up to 10% of the statewide limited-entry quota). Montana does not reserve permits for non-residents. This total does NOT include the unlimited sheep hunt that Montana offers. See the note below the table for more information on this unique opportunity.|
|Nevada||30||0||6||36||Yes||Nevada squares the bonus points for applicants in the draw but does not set aside any permits for maximum point holders. Nevada's non-resident permit quotas are reserved for non-residents.|
|New Mexico||2||1||0||3||Yes||There is no point system for New Mexico sheep, so all permits are issued through a random draw. New Mexico's non-resident permit quotas are reserved for non-residents.|
|Oregon||0||1||5||6||Yes||There is no point system for Oregon sheep, so all permits are issued through a random draw. Oregon's non-resident permit quotas are reserved for non-residents.|
|Texas||1||0||0||1||No||This permit is available to either a resident or a non-resident. There are no reserved non-resident sheep permits in Texas.|
|Utah||4||2||1||7||Yes||Utah's non-resident permit quotas are reserved for non-residents.|
|Washington||0||0||28||28||No||Washington does not distinguish between residents and non-residents in the sheep draw. This puts all applicants in the same pool, which results in residents drawing the vast majority of these tags. This is because resident applications far outweigh non-resident applications due to cost. Resident applications are $7.10, while non-resident applications are $110.50.|
|Wyoming||0||44||0||44||Yes||Of the 44 tags issued, only 4 were available in the random draw. This means that unless you had at least 17 points in the 2019 draw, you had no chance to draw any of the 40 tags that were reserved for the highest preference point holders.|
|Total||Up to 53||Up to 104||Up to 49||179|