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Bighorn sheep hunters harvest big rams

Grant Smith
Grant Smith

GERING, Neb. – Nebraska’s bighorn sheep hunting season ended this week when a hunter harvested the second of two rams. Both of this year’s tag holders found success in the Wildcat Hills near Gering.

Todd Nordeen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission big game and disease research manager who supervises the hunting program, said each ram harvested this year was 8½ years old with a set of full-curl horns.

Grant Smith of Fishers, Indiana, who won his tag in an auction, harvested a ram Nov. 30, the first day of his hunt. Tait Knutson of Niobrara, the lucky hunter whose name was drawn from 3,664 applicants, was successful Dec. 8, his third day of hunting.

The sheep mark the 29th and 30th harvested in Nebraska since the Game and Parks Commission’s hunting program began in 1998.

Tait Knutson
Tait Knutson

The number of Nebraska bighorn sheep permits available each year is based on the state’s population of the species, especially mature rams, as determined during monitoring by Game and Parks staff. To date, permits have been limited to one or two hunters in most years, with several years not permitting any harvests. year.

Not only do the hunts provide a rare experience and uncommon table fare, they have been vital to bighorn sheep conservation in Nebraska. The more than $1.5 million raised through the lottery applications and auctions has been put into research and reintroduction efforts.

Permit winners are assisted by Game and Parks staff and treated to meals and lodging at Fort Robinson State Park.

Nebraska’s reintroduction efforts for bighorn sheep began in the 1980s, an attempt to reestablish thriving populations and remedy the unregulated hunting, habitat loss and disease that led to their extirpation from the state in the late 1800s. Nebraska’s population of bighorns stands at about 300 animals in both the Wildcat Hills and Pine Ridge.

More information about the hunting program and how to apply for the permit lottery may be found at outdoornebraska.org/bighornsheeplottery.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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