The Nebraska bighorn sheep hunting season ended Dec. 6 when a hunter from the far east of the state tagged his tag, one of two permits issued for the season.
Todd Nordeen, manager of big game and disease research for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission that oversees the hunting program, said each of the two rams caught this year was a mature adult with fully curled antlers. Both were harvested in the Wildcat Hills of the Panhandle.
Denton’s Jerry Fischer bagged his ram on a 6-mile hike on December 6, his second day of hunting. He got his permit from a lottery of 3,904 applicants.
The other hunter, Kevin Small, caught his ram on his fourth day of the chase, December 2. He won the permit for it at an auction in February at the annual banquet for the Iowa Chapter of the North American Wild Sheep Foundation.
The sheep mark the 31st and 32nd harvest in Nebraska since the Game and Parks hunting program began in 1998.
The number of Nebraska bighorn sheep permits available each year is based on the state population of the species, especially mature rams, as determined during monitoring by Game and Parks staff. To date, permits have been limited to one or two hunters most years, with several years allowing no harvest at all.
Nebraska has built a reputation for producing trophy-size rams for those lucky enough to get a permit. The hunts not only provide a rare experience and rare table fare, but have been vital to bighorn sheep conservation in Nebraska. About $2 million has been raised through lottery applications and auctions to fund research and reintroduction efforts for the species.
Permit winners are assisted by Game and Parks staff and receive meals and lodging at Fort Robinson State Park.
Bighorn sheep reintroduction efforts in Nebraska began in the 1980s, an attempt to remedy the unregulated hunting, habitat loss, and disease that led to their extirpation from the state in the late 19th century. The Nebraska bighorn sheep population is approximately over 300 rams, ewes, and lambs on both Wildcat Hills and Pine Ridge.
More information about the hunting program and how to apply for the permit lottery can be found at Outdoornebraska.org/bighornsheeplottery.