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Hunting bighorn ewes may boost ram potential

 

Wyoming Bighorn Sheep
Photo credit: Dreamstime

A new University of Wyoming (UW) study suggests that bighorn sheep rams could grow bigger horns if more ewes were hunted. The research, which analyzed hunting data from 12 states and Canada, was recently published in The Journal of Wildlife Management. Few states, including Wyoming, permit female bighorn sheep hunting; however, researchers say that harvesting ewes may actually “be one of the most effective ways to increase the number of trophy rams in North American bighorn sheep populations.”

Lead author Kevin Monteith, assistant professor in UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and co-author Tayler LaSharr, a UW master’s degree student, writes, “Given the hyperbole surrounding trophy management and big horns, we suggest the importance of females in the management of mountain sheep has been largely forgotten.”

They go on to suggest that harvesting female bighorn sheep would create beneficial nutritional conditions for the remaining members of the population. Forage would be plentiful for rams and their mothers, which researchers found “to be more important than genetics in producing rams with large horns,” according to a press release.

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“If mom is in poor nutritional condition and she can barely pull off provisioning her young male, that’s going to set the trajectory of growth of that male through his lifetime,” Monteith told Wyoming Public Media. “And even if things get much better for him thereafter, he won’t necessarily experience those benefits thereafter. It’s termed a negative maternal effect that can be life lasting for that individual ram.”

Traditionally, bighorn sheep tags target rams. Switching tactics to include female bighorn sheep may receive negative attention because, according to Wyoming Public Media, many hunters “believe horn size is genetic” and the size of the bighorn population is dependent upon the number of females within it. This recent study contradicts that long-held opinion.

“It’s an important step forward in understanding that it’s not just genetics that is influencing horn size,” LaSharr, co-author of the paper, told Wyoming Public Media. “And so we’re working on some other analyses now that looks at how harvest is influencing that and how nutrition during those different stages of life, particularly the year before an individual is born, can influence the lifetime horn size of the ram.”

Researchers from the University of Idaho, the University of Nevada-Reno, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also assisted with the study.

4 Comments

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Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 07-09-2018 09:16:41 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Congrats, Michael! You're in for a phenomenal hunt. I've been on a few ewe hunts with friends and it's a great time. Any day watching or hunting sheep is a good day.

Michael H. - posted 1 year ago on 07-06-2018 01:43:39 pm
Phoenix, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

I drew a Ewe Tag in Nevada. First sheep hunt looking forward to learning an observing this new species to me. Awesome way to experience sheep.

Nfitzhugh
Nathan F. - posted 1 year ago on 01-25-2018 10:52:28 am
Midland, TX
goHUNT INSIDER

According to the new draw odds they have posted, you could draw a RM Bighorn ewe tag in CO every year. Not really liking the season dates for them this year with other hunts I have planned, but right there with you, that it would be nice to get some sheep hunting in before I die. The ewe tags are the same price as the ram tags, so that's what would keep most people out of it ($2460 for a ewe in CO, $1200 for a desert ewe in Nevada). I saw my first wild sheep just a few weekends ago southeast of Salida, CO. Definitely got me thinking about it.

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 01-22-2018 10:02:31 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

I hope they do it, at 6 points being 43 I doubt I am far enough along in the game to ever get a tag while I can still hunt. I could draw multiple ewe tags in that time.