Wildlife officials are increasing the number of hunting licenses in North Dakota this year due to an increase in bighorn sheep population and record demand.
The Game and Fish Department is issuing six bighorn licenses for the upcoming season. Accordingly, that is an increase by one from last year, but double the number issued two years ago.
The number of licenses that are allocated to hunters is based on a summer population survey. This year’s survey showed a 22% increase in rams, which are hunted for their large curled trophy horns.
According to Brett Wiedmann, a big game management biologist for Game and Fish, the increase in ram population is primarily due to a high lamb survival rate last year.
The positive news found a significant increase in the lamb count and recruitment rate following record lows in 2016 and 2017. Recruitment refers to how many lambs become a permanent part of the bighorn herd. The survey data revealed lessening effects of bacterial pneumonia that was prevalent in the bighorn population in 2014.
“Our objective this hunting season is to maximize hunter opportunity in the northern Badlands where ram numbers are strong while continuing to reduce the number of rams in the southern Badlands, to lessen the risk of transmitting disease to the northern population,” Wiedmann said.
Bighorn Sheep Population Bounces Back After Bacterial Pneumonia Scare
Six years ago, a deadly bacterial pneumonia outbreak killed around three dozen sheep. Therefore Game and Fish canceled the bighorn hunting season in 2015 for the first time in more than three decades. The agency restored hunting the following year with eight licenses. However, they reduced licenses to five in 2017 after a summer survey found a significant drop in the ram population. Licenses fell to three in 2018, but have risen the past two years.
The herd of more than 300 bighorn rams in the northern Badlands is showing no signs of pneumonia. Yet, the southern Badlands population has been ravaged by disease in recent years as its fallen below 20 rams.
Bacterial pneumonia can take up to 15 years to phase out of a herd. Hunters apply for a license early in the year, but the season is not guaranteed until after the summer survey. The application fee is only $5 for residents. But, the fee is $100 for nonresidents, and is non-refundable under state law, even when there is no season.
A record 16,935 hunters still applied this year, including 223 people from out of state. The odds are not good for the hopeful hunters. The licenses are awarded to only one in every 3,000 applicants. A lottery drawing chooses which lucky hunters will get one of the rare permits.
The bighorn season opens Oct. 30 and runs through the end of the year.
[H/T The Bismarck Tribune]