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Nez Perce Tribe bighorn sheep not recognized as state record

Record bighorn sheep

B&C record Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Photo credit: Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium

In 2016, Nez Perce tribal member Gary Sublett killed a massive bighorn sheep. The Rocky Mountain ram was so big that it currently ranks No. 1 for Idaho and No. 26 for the U.S. and Canada in Boone & Crockett’s (B&C) record book. Yet, because of a discrepancy, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) doesn’t recognize this ram as a state record. Why? Because, according to IDFG, that “ram was shot in violation of state hunting regulations” regardless of the fact that those actual regulations don’t “apply to tribe members hunting on ancestral lands,” the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.

However, B&C has opted to go against IDFG’s decision. The organization fully supports Sublett’s kill and the fact that the ram was harvested within the tribe’s 1855 treaty. B&C isn’t letting IDFG stand in the way of celebrating Sublett and his amazing bighorn sheep. This summer, B&C has invited Sublett to its Big Game Awards banquet, which will be held in August in Springfield, MO, and will display the ram’s head during the event.

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“It is the largest that we have recorded from Idaho,” said Justin Spring, director of B&C Big Game Records. “From what we’ve seen, there were no reasons why we wouldn’t accept that entry.”

The location where Sublett killed the bighorn sheep is the issue. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, IDFG had closed the area where Sublett hunted to bighorn sheep hunting. That area is called Hells Canyon and it is part of the Idaho-Oregon border. Sublett killed the ram about 40 miles west of the Nez Perce Tribe’s reservation in northern Idaho, which still fell within tribal lands. Regardless, because of where he killed the bighorn sheep, he received plenty of backlash.

“There were people calling me everything but a human being,” said Sublett. “In this canyon there are petroglyphs and arrowheads. My tribe has lived in that canyon for over 10,000 years.”

While the kill may be within the treaty parameters, IDFG is holding firm on not recognizing it as a state record.

“We’re not going to call it an illegal kill,” said IDFG spokesman Roger Phillips. “But for our state records, they have to be in accordance with our fish and game laws.”


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Brandon H. - posted 10 months ago on 07-22-2019 11:30:48 pm
Oakland, California

Thanks for writing this article Kristen! I really appreciate all of the coverage of indigenous hunting and land rights issues. Indigenous people are still here and we need to be talked to and recognized as humans who have stewarded this land for thousands of years - nothing less. There are many so-called "Americans" (we call them "newcomers") in this thread who fail to recognize this.

Nathan M. - posted 10 months ago on 07-10-2019 05:57:41 am
Billings MO

@ Pat. F I completely agree with you. Maybe in the future they will have management and fair regulations for the species harvested on tribal lands. I am not sure how you would even get that started and it would be like walking on egg shells due to how soft our country is becoming. Regardless of how most of us feel about the situation it is still an amazing animal and I understand both views. I think Idaho is doing the correct thing as well as B&C. I will be lucky enough to see it on display here in Springfield, MO.

Pat F. - posted 10 months ago on 07-07-2019 03:55:21 pm

Having lived and managed wildlife in the Blue Mtns. of Washington (36 yrs), I have seen the problems with unregulated tribal hunting. The tribe has no season or bag limits, and branched bulls are managed on a permit basis. The tribe does not adhere to permits or bag limits, and in the area they hunt, bull ratios have never reached management objective because some tribal members focus on big bulls, some taking multiple big bulls per year. This is not subsistence hunting, even tribal elders have complained about young hunters killing big bulls. Another problem is, what is a tribal member? Is it 1/4, 1/8 tribal blood. Some tribes have blood requirements lower than 1/8. If they are not 50% tribal blood, they should not be eligible for tribal hunting rights. Allowing tribes unrestricted hunting takes away the states rights to manage wildlife, and causes many problems for wildlife managers because there is no accountability for tribal hunters!

Warren B. - posted 10 months ago on 07-07-2019 05:35:04 am

I would definitely take advantage of being able to hunt where and when the general population cant. However, I would not broadcast it by trying to enter a trophy into B&C. All of the Natives I know are pretty quiet about their hunts.

Sean C. - posted 11 months ago on 06-25-2019 03:16:37 pm

Just curious as to what everyone thinks: If you had the ability to hunt under the same treaty rights as the Nez Perce would you? Or would you still follow the exact seasons set forth in the game regulations?

If you would hunt under treaty rights would you ever kill a trophy animal if the opportunity presented itself?

Mike R. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 08:02:21 pm

And B&C is giving this guy a record...

• Measures success not in the quantity of game taken, but by the quality of the chase

Hunting in a unit closed to the public, not in the interest of conservation or science. How does that rank on "quality of the chase"?

Mike R. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 07:56:59 pm

According to Boone and Crockett

THE FAIR CHASE HUNTER: • Understands that it is not only about just what is legal, but also what is honorable and ethical

• Knows and obeys the law, and insists others do as well
• Understands that it is not only about just what is legal, but also what is honorable and ethical
• Defines "unfair advantage" as when the game does not have reasonable chance of escape
• Cares about and respects all wildlife and the ecosystems that support them, which includes making full use of game animals taken
• Measures success not in the quantity of game taken, but by the quality of the chase
• Embraces the "no guarantees" nature of hunting
• Uses technology in a way that does not diminish the importance of developing skills as a hunter or reduces hunting to just shooting
• Knows his or her limitations, and stretches the stalk not the shot
• Takes pride in the decisions he or she makes in the field and takes full responsibility for his or her actions

Jeff C. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 07:17:18 pm

Two things:
1-I suspect this animal was not hunted with traditional 1855 technics and equipment. How could the parties involved ever imagined how it is being used today.
2-Read all the treaty, if some applies, all should apply and be enforced. Maybe its time for a revisit.

Josh S. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 05:32:18 pm
S.E. Idaho

I’m with IDFG and Matthew S on this one. I think B&C should document the animal but not give it official record status. This guy has killed way more than his fair share of sheep which is once in a lifetime for the rest of us Native Idahoans.
This was not a level playing field by any definition.

Matthew S. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 04:39:41 pm

...also, get the hell outta here with the "how many people he fed" BS. That's such a cop-out argument and you know it. This guy knew what he shot was record-worthy, and also knew where he shot it at he'd have access to it when no one else would be able to. This animal was tagged and tracked, and considering this guy has shot more sheep than anyone else in the state would ever be ALLOWED to shoot; AND he's killed record animals before! It seems to me he was in it for record, first and foremost. If he really cared about conservation he would've hunted in another area, just like everyone else has to. That area was deemed off-limits by the state for a reason; the sustainability of the herd is in jeopardy.

matthew a. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 04:28:53 pm
Sheridan, WY

Lets ban together and create a statue of limitations Bill , that applies common law above a 1855 treaty. Its time to stop the BS , and im a native American too. Born right here in America

Matthew S. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 06:03:13 am

The issue is not that it shouldn't be record worthy dude. And regardless of how many people he fed, it doesn't matter much later on when that herd is hunted down to the last animal, completely ignoring the state's conservation efforts. Do you care about conservation or do you care about having a name in a record book?

Gary H. - posted 11 months ago on 06-24-2019 05:27:06 am

I wonder how many people he fed in his tribe with the meat??

Oh ya....white man, just for shits and giggles, look at these horns and see if they are a record.

Matthew S. - posted 11 months ago on 06-22-2019 06:26:18 pm

Not really fair when he harvested the animal from an area no one else is allowed to hunt due to thinning herds. The only reason this isn't just another classic case of poaching is because of that treaty.

Mike R. - posted 11 months ago on 06-21-2019 05:08:48 pm

Guy hunts where no one else can, where biologists say that the population cannot withstand hunting and it's a record? yep those natives really care about the land.

John V. - posted 11 months ago on 06-21-2019 03:40:22 pm
Owensboro, Kentucky

Given that the majority of his tribe were sadly hunted down by the US army 150 years ago I want to say give him a pass....... However, given that his tribe helped to hunt the woolly mammoth, and various other mega fauna, to extinction 10,000 years prior to a modern state conservation system kinda makes me wish he would have followed the common rules.

Tyson C. - posted 11 months ago on 06-21-2019 11:40:43 am
Lincoln, NH

He must truly care about wildlife like herrara.