The State Game and Fish Department is allocating eight bighorn sheep licenses for the 2016 hunting season, based on data collected from a recently completed summer population survey.
Two licenses are available in Unit B1, two in B3 and three in B4. In addition, one license as authorized under North Dakota Century Code was auctioned in March by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, from which all proceeds are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota.
Game and Fish Department wildlife chief Jeb Williams said the bighorn population hasn’t had any recent setbacks this summer from bacterial pneumonia, which prompted Game and Fish to close the hunting season in 2015.
“There are currently good numbers of mature rams on the landscape, and we are going to take advantage of providing as much hunter opportunity as possible with the situation that we have,” Williams said. “We feel good that we are able to provide this opportunity as impacts from the die-off have lessened substantially since 2014, but it is also very unpredictable.”
Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann said license numbers are determined by assessing the age structure and total number of rams in the population. The July-August survey showed a minimum of 103 rams in the badlands, an increase of 18 percent from 2015.
“Overall, we are very encouraged by the results of the summer survey,” Wiedmann said. “In fact, the ram count was the highest on record.”
Wiedmann said the annual survey results for ewes and lambs would not be completed until next spring. Biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer, and then recount lambs the following March, as they approach one year of age, to determine recruitment.
Game and Fish announced in February that the status of the bighorn sheep hunting season would be determined after completion of the summer population survey. Now that the survey is complete and total licenses are determined for each unit, the bighorn lottery will run and successful applicants will be contacted to select a hunting unit by Sept. 6.
Prospective hunters were required to apply for a bighorn license earlier this year on the bighorn sheep, moose and elk application. A total of 10,380 people applied for a bighorn sheep license.