The winners of this year’s Nebraska bighorn sheep hunting permits had success, continuing the state’s perfect record of every hunter who has received a bighorn tag getting an animal.
There were 2 permits this year. Grant Smith of Fishers, IN, won his in an auction while Tait Knutson of Niobrara was the the lucky Nebraska hunter drawn in a lottery limited to residents of the state.
Nebraska Game and Parks big game and disease research manager Todd Nordeen says Smith and Knutson got their rams just over a week apart with both animals 8-½ years old and with full-curl horns.
Although both Smith and Knutson took their rams in the Wildcat Hills, Nordeen says that’s not where all the hunting started.
Nebraska’s bighorn permits, with a hunter allowed just 1 in their life, remain popular. The lottery for the resident permit, which has a $25 application fee, drew 3,664 entries. All together, the permits have raised more than $1.5-million for bighorn management.
Bighorns were native to Nebraska, but died out by 1900 through overhunting and loss of habitat. The state reintroduced them in the early 1980s with animals from South Dakota that were held in fenced areas before being released nearly a decade later.
Additional animals from other states have followed over the years, resulting in 4 management units – 2 in the Pine Ridge and 2 in the Wildcat Hills. The hunting program began in 1998 with 30 permits issued so far.
The number each year varies from none to 2 depending on the number of bighorn, especially rams, counted by biologists. Nordeen says the population has had major swings because of disease with the Pine Ridge currently down.
Bighorn permit winners are treated to meals and lodging at Fort Robinson State Park with Game and Parks staffers acting as hunting guides