Montana Hunter Fined, Faces Suspensions for Poaching Bighorn Sheep

by Samantha Whidden

A Montana resident has been fined more than $5,000 for illegally killing a bighorn sheep without a license and leaving the animal’s carcass in the Highland Mountains

According to a press release by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the resident is 45-year-old Harold Horine. He notably shot the bighorn sheep ram on November 22nd while on a trip in the Highland Mountains. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks were notified by a witness after they discovered the abandoned carcass. Horine told game wardens that he mistook the sheep for an elk at the time. 

Horine pleaded guilty in Madison County Justice Court on December 7th to hunting without a valid license. He also pleads guilty for unlawful possession of a game animal; failure to obtain landowner permission when hunting; and waste of a game animal. He will be playing $5,245 in fines and restitution. His hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges are inactive for the next two years. And his ability to apply for special permits is active for 12 years.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Park also revealed that game wardens rely on tips from people who observe crimes against wildlife. The organization offers a 24-hour hotline for reporting the rimes and callers are eligible to receive a cash reward of up to $1,000. 

Montana’s Role in Bighorn Sheep Conservation

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reveals there are approximately 80,000 wild bighorn sheep located in North America. The organization noted that bighorn sheep existed in “continuous and broadly” distributed populations and likely had millions prior to the colonization of western North America. Habitats for bighorn sheep include cliffs, mountain slopes, rolling foothills; sometimes cross intermountain valleys.

The Montana organization also noted that following colonization, bighorn sheep and other species experienced a drastic reduction in numbers. The number of bighorn sheep was also reduced due to the “extirpation” for their former range. During the 20th century, restoration efforts by wildlife management agencies began to help with the bighorn sheep population. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks also revealed that the state plays an important role in the conservation of bighorn sheep. This includes having “world-class” genetics on an island on Flathead Lake. There are also three of the top five Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from Wild Horse Island and Flathead Lake. Montana also has a 60-year history of successfully reestablishing bighorn populations across the state.

The organization also declares, “There are now 45 populations of bighorns across Montana with 36 sustaining limited hunting. Officials estimate that 5,700 bighorn sheep inhabit Montana, excluding Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.”

Other strategies to help tackle wildlife management concerns are occasional large-scale die-offs that are associated with contact of domestic sheep or goats; systemic long-term health monitoring; genetic integrity of native populations; hunting and other recreational opportunities; and establishing populations in new areas.