Sheep Hunt Area 24 in Wyoming Range reopens
Greg Fischer with his Wyoming Range ram. Photo courtesy Gary Amerine.
by Wyoming Game & Fish Department
October 6, 2008
After a ten-year hiatus, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department decided bighorn sheep populations were once again sufficient to reopen sheep Hunt Area 24 in the Wyoming Range west of Big Piney.
To be conservative, they issued just one license. Greg Fischer, of Alpine, was the fortunate one who drew the single license and on the second day of the season he found himself a dandy Wyoming ram.
The last native bighorn sheep are believed to have disappeared from the Wyoming Range in the early 1960s. It is not known specifically what caused their extirpation, but it was likely a combination of factors.
However, soon after their disappearance, wildlife managers began making preparations to bring them back. Fish Creek and Darby Mountain winter ranges provided the best bighorn sheep habitat in the range. Grazing by domestic sheep was discontinued in these areas and forage production studies suggested a capacity of 150 to 175 bighorn sheep in most winters.
In 1981, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS), made the first reintroduction of 35 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep into the Wyoming Range. The sheep were trapped and transplanted from the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area near Dubois, Wyoming, to Fish Creek Mountain. Similarly, in January of 1987, another 25 bighorn sheep were transplanted from Whiskey Basin to the Fish Creek Mountain site.
A comprehensive ground and aerial survey conducted in the summer of 1988 revealed a minimum of 124 sheep. Based on this information, in the fall of 1988, the first bighorn sheep hunting season was conducted in the Wyoming Range, Hunt Area 24. Four permits were issued for rams with a minimum of 3/4 curl horn and four rams were harvested. By 1994, the population was estimated at approximately 150 sheep, but it is believed that soon after that they began to decline. The department issued four permits for 3/4 curl rams from 1988 through 1997, but fewer sheep were being seen by Game and Fish biologists and hunters were having a harder time finding rams in the latter years. In 1997, there were no rams harvested and the Game and Fish decided to close the season.
"Sheep are a sensitive species to manage, especially a small population such as the Darby Mountain herd," said Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist, Gary Fralick. "But with some habitat improvements and restrictions on motorized travel in important sheep habitat along the spine of the Wyoming Range, we hope to bring the number in the Darby Mountain herd back to historical highs."
Historically, the Game and Fish has been obligated to offer a minimum of four sheep licenses, three resident and 1 nonresident, in any given Hunt Area. In 2008, changes were made to allow those four licenses to be allocated across different Hunt Areas. This change allowed biologists to offer a single sheep license in Hunt Area 24. While wildlife managers believe the Darby Mountain sheep herd has rebounded enough to offer some hunting opportunity, they wanted to start conservatively.
The handsome set of horns measured 36" long and were "broomed" off nicely at the end. The annual rings said it was ten years old, indicating it was born the year the season was first closed.
"This area has a history of producing quality rams, and with the change in the regulation we can once again provide the opportunity to hunt," said Fralick. "We will continue to be conservative with hunting this population, but this is a good sign for this sheep herd and people who value bighorn sheep."
Photo courtesy Gary Amerine