It’s been over a decade since Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana FWP) allowed bighorn sheep hunting in the Elkhorn Mountains, but that may change. Montana is considering a proposal to allow a single bighorn sheep hunting permit for the Elkhorn herd, The Independent Records reports.
After a die-off wiped out 90% of the herd in 2008, Montana ended limited hunting permits. However, now, the herd has a number of older rams and, while the herd hasn’t completely recovered from the 2008 bout of pneumonia, offering “a single hunting permit would not affect the overall population dynamics,” said Adam Grove, Montana FWP area biologist.
“Our thought process is that we might as well allow one hunter that opportunity than to let all the rams die of old age,” said Grove.
According to The Independent Record, the herd is currently comprised of about 50 bighorn sheep, but “lamb recruitment remains low.” Additionally, there are not any plans to relocation other bighorn sheep because of the herd’s proximity to domestic sheep and possibility of disease transmission between the two.
Instead, for now, Montana FWP will continue to keep tabs on the herd and on how many older rams are in it.
“We’ll keep doing surveys and visiting with hunters and if we get to the point where someone draws the tag and says they weren’t seeing any older aged sheep, we’d take that into consideration,” Grove said. “Hopefully as those older rams are harvested or die out there will be rams coming up to replace them, but that is something we’ll keep an eye on.”
The proposal has the support of the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation.
“A herd like the Elkhorns has come up a number of times – the Greenhorns, Anaconda, the Highlands (near Butte) – where the herd had died off yet inevitably there are older aged rams that survive,” said Executive Director Brian Solan. “A lot of times, and especially in the Highlands, they’re past their breeding age, so the idea of issuing one permit to harvest a ram has no impact on the herd dynamics. We’ve been supportive for that to allow for more hunter opportunity and to bring someone else into sheep hunting.”
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will approve this year’s big game seasons during its meeting Feb. 13.