North Dakota soon will have new record bighorn sheep.
I first got wind of a possible new state record on social media, and Brett Wiedmann, big game management biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Dickinson, N.D., confirmed the news Wednesday.
One of the state’s eight licensed bighorn sheep hunters took the ram Oct. 30 west of Grassy Butte, N.D., in McKenzie County, the biologist said.
Wiedmann measured the big ram’s horns and said it had a green score of 175 ⅞ inches. The measurement won’t be official until after the 60-day mandatory drying period, but it will top the existing record of about 173 inches set in 2014, he said.
“It will definitely be the new state record and is close to making the awards book for Boone and Crockett,” Wiedmann said. The conservation organization, which keeps records for big game taken by a firearm, requires a minimum score of 180 inches for the all-time records book and 175 inches for the awards book, he said.
“The good news for future hunters is there are several rams out there right now that are bigger than this one,” Wiedmann said.
Game and Fish offered eight bighorn sheep licenses this year. A pneumonia die-off in 2015 that killed more than 30 sheep prompted the agency to not hold a season last year.
As of midweek, six of the eight hunters had filled their once-in-a-lifetime tags, Wiedmann said. Game and Fish issued seven tags by lottery from a pool of more than 10,000 applicants, and an eighth tag was auctioned in March by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation.
Proceeds from the auction enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota.
“The peak of the rut is right now, so I’m thinking (the other two) will be taken pretty quickly,” Wiedmann said.
Season continues through Dec. 31.
Wiedmann, who meets with the hunters before season, said the ram was 7½ years old. The successful hunter had passed on several rams and watched this particular ram for more than an hour before shooting, he said.
Hunters who shoot a ram in North Dakota contact Wiedmann, who then goes out to collect several biological samples, age and score the ram and insert a plug with a unique number into the horns.
The horn plugs are part of a continent-wide effort to discourage poaching, Wiedmann said.
“He was like, ‘We could have gotten a bigger one,’ but you can’t pass up a state record,” Wiedmann said. “It really fooled me when I looked at it, too. I thought it was going to be in the mid-160s (green score). Everything is mass, and this ram carried its mass so well.
“Rams comparable to this are 9½ years old.”
Wiedmann said he’s seen harvested rams that were 14½ years old, and rams that died of old age live to be 15 or 16 years old. Ewes can live to be more than 20 years old.
“They’re a long-lived animal,” he said. “By the time rams get to 10, we wanted them harvested.”
The oldest ram shot this fall was 10 years old, Wiedmann said; another hunter used a bow to take his ram, one of only three ever taken by archery in North Dakota.
He said the new pending state record ram was the 234th animal to be taken in the state’s history.
North Dakota has about 330 bighorn sheep, including about 30 in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wiedmann said. During his annual summer survey, he counted 103 rams in the Badlands, an 18 percent increase from 2015 and the highest ram count on record.
The population increase and the new state record are welcome news after last summer’s pneumonia die-off, he said, adding most of the mature rams survived the disease.
“We’re a pro-hunting agency, and we do this so people can have that rare opportunity to hunt bighorns,” Wiedmann said. “So, this is kind of the culmination of all the work we do.”
The hunter who shot the ram hasn’t responded to Wiedmann’s request to call me, but I hope to talk to him once the ram’s score becomes official, if not before.
Providing, of course, the record isn’t broken yet again this fall.
“We’ve got some nice sheep out there for sure,” Wiedmann said.