Hey Bison…It’s North Dakota’s New Thundering Herd!
I was hopeful in April of last year that the population would weather in the years to come. KFYR-TV reported good news from NDGF in November 2021
“Right now between the population managed by the Game and Fish Department, which totals about 330, and the Park Service about 40, then Three Affiliated Tribes have around 50 to 60, so we’re closing in now on, after this year, maybe potentially 500 bighorns. So it’s probably the most bighorns in North Dakota in 150 years, at least, so it’s been a real success story and restoration of a big game species,” said Brett Wiedmann, North Dakota Game and Fish big game biologist.
I've been wanting to poke around this story ever since the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation made such an impressive step forward in February 2020, establishing a young herd of bighorn sheep that can hopefully develop over years into a healthy bighorn community that can flourish in prairie areas that have not been their "stomping" grounds for hundreds of years.
Hunting license application deadline is 3/23/2022.
Long seen as only denizens of rocky tops and steep cliff faces, can bighorn sheep with controllable harvests thrive on the prairie? Time will tell. Back in February of 2020, The Three Affiliated Tribes teamed with North Dakota Game and Fish, with support from sports outfitter KUIU, they all brought 30 "sheep" to North Dakota.
In all, 30 bighorn sheep were released. The sheep were captured on the Rocky Boy Reservation located in north-central Montana and transported by trailers back to North Dakota.
“It went great and all the sheep were in good health,” said Jeb Williams, NDGF Wildlife Division chief. “It couldn’t have gone any better. It was wonderful working with the tribe and anytime we can add to that resource is great.”
NDGF provided staff and trailers to transport the bighorns that were captured by helicopter net gunning. A unique aspect of the project is that it was privately funded by KUIU, a hunting and apparel company that is interested in the preservation of bighorn sheep. The release was the culmination of many months of planning.
Now, we wait to see if the herd established over the next ten years or so...from the enthusiasm of those involved in the relocation process- it's easy to get caught up in their optimism.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state of North Dakota, a family would harvest the Biggest Bighorn bull of them all. It's a fantastic story of putting in the work to capture "The One". While my girl Brenda may not appreciate what she see's when clicking that link, you'd have to say that is one of the most impressive trophy animals a hunter could ever claim.
Bighorns are majestic animals and if their hunting limits are seriously curtailed, we can hope to have a resident population, that you could truly be thankful to experience in the wild.
Decades ago, in a camping trip deep in the Black Hills, my friend and I awoke to a bighorn on a crest across from our campsite. I won't forget it. I hope to be able to experience the same here in North Dakota.