Nebraska’s bighorn sheep hunting season ended Dec. 6 when a hunter from the eastern end of the state punched his tag, one of the two permits issued for the season.
Todd Nordeen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission big game and disease research manager who supervises the hunting program, said each of the two rams harvested this year was a mature adult with full-curl horns. Both were harvested in the Wildcat Hills of the Panhandle.
Jerry Fischer of Denton bagged his ram on a 6-mile trek Dec. 6, his second day of hunting. He won his permit from a drawing 3,904 applicants.
The other hunter, Kevin Small, harvested his ram on his fourth day of pursuit, Dec. 2. He won his permit by auction in February during the annual banquet for the Iowa Chapter of the Foundation of North American Wild Sheep.
The sheep mark the 31st and 32nd harvested in Nebraska since the Game and Parks’ hunting program began in 1998.
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.
Nebraska has developed a reputation for producing trophy-caliber rams for those fortunate to win a permit. Not only do the hunts provide a rare experience and uncommon table fare, they have been vital to bighorn sheep conservation in Nebraska. About $2 million has been raised through the lottery applications and auctions to fund research and reintroduction efforts of the species.
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 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 approximately more than 300 rams, ewes and lambs 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.