Big price for Bighorn Sheep as hunter pays $312,000 for 2020 hunt

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A Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in South Dakota. Photo from the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — While there were more hunting and fishing licenses sold in South Dakota for 2020, none were bigger than the $312,000 spent by a South Dakota hunter on a Bighorn Sheep license.

John Kanta of the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department said the hunter bought the license on auction in 2019 for the 2020 season.

The state has auctioned off one bighorn sheep hunting license for the past eight years. The $312,000 price is the highest so far, Kanta said.

But, “it’s not a record for the U.S. and Canada,” Kanta said. “There are ones out west that go for $450,00.”

Two Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in South Dakota. South Dakota Game Fish and Parks photo.

The reason why a license can be sold at such a high price is that the bighorn sheep population is limited.

Populations have fluctuated in South Dakota and across the U.S. The Rocky Mountain National Park had 360 sheep in 2004, according to the National Park Service. The National Wildlife Federation said Colorado has less than 8,000 sheep in July of 2017.

South Dakota brought bighorn sheep back to the state in the 1920s but they were gone by the late 1950s, according to S.D. GFP. The state again started a herd in the 1960s. More recently it brought bighorn sheep from Alberta, Canada to the Deadwood area.

The sheep in South Dakota are Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep which is one of several species of bighorn sheep. Others include: Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep and the desert bighorn sheep, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

South Dakota draws several bighorn sheep hunting licenses through a lottery and sells one at auction. The state had seven lottery licenses for the 2020 season, Kanta said. The state only allows state residents in the lottery. The auction license is open to bidders outside of South Dakota.

The money from the auction goes toward bighorn sheep management, Kanta said.

Prior to the 2020 price, licenses sold for an average of $85,000, he said.

When the state planned for the 2020 (held in 2019) auction, it decided that any money raised over $85,000 would be contributed to Gov. Kristi Noem’s Second Generation Habitat fund, Kanta said. The fund is used for the preservation and development of wildlife habitat in the state.

The GFP had no idea the 2020 license would sell for $312,000, Kanta said.

In 2018, a hunter who received a license through the lottery, bagged a world record Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Kanta said.

“That helps with the 2020 price,” Kanta said.

The record-setting ram was shot in Pennington County on Oct. 20, 2018, by Clayton Miller, according to the Pope and Young Club.  The ram’s measurement was 209 1/8″.

The hunter who paid $312,000 for his license shot a ram that scored a 198¼.

Kanta said rams are scored on a Boone and Crocket scale. The ram is measured in several spots for length, circumference and other data. The measurements are added for a total score on the scale.

The state will again sell a license at auction for the 2021 season, Kanta said.

The auction is likely to happen in May.

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