Bighorn Sheep Hunting in the Texas Desert

by Roger DelVenado
Permits for guided bighorn sheep hunts are awarded by lottery each year in Texas.

Permits for guided bighorn sheep hunts are awarded by lottery each year in Texas.

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Bighorn sheep have made a remarkable comeback in the Trans-Pecos desert regions of West Texas since the 1960s, when they disappeared from the region. An estimated 1,500 desert bighorns now roam the mountains and deserts of West Texas, and each year, a few lucky hunters get the opportunity to go on hunts to try and bag one of these wily sheep.

Permits

Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine reports that out of an estimated population of approximately 1,500, only about 16 bighorn sheep are legally taken by hunters in Texas each year. Permits to hunt bighorn sheep are issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to some private landowners. Some conservation organizations often receive one or two permits to be auctioned off, with proceeds going back to bighorn conservation efforts. Additionally, a few (the exact number varies by year) permits are issued to individual hunters via lottery. One of these permits goes to hunters winning the Texas Grand Slam drawing, which provides the winner with guided hunts for four Texas trophy species, including the bighorn sheep.

Texas Bighorn Populations

Texas bighorn sheep are found in eight mountain ranges in the western part of the state, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. The ranges include the Bofescillo, Van Horn, Sierra Diablo, Beach, Baylor, Eagle and Black Gap-Del Carmen ranges, as well as Elephant Mountain. In the 1800s, according to TPWD, around 1,500 sheep lived in the those same ranges. But the sheep were eradicated in Texas through hunting and disease by the 1960s. Since then, through conservation and efforts to reintroduce and protect the species, bighorn sheep populations rebounded back to around 1,500 sheep in these mountain ranges.

Harvestable Rams

Hunters with a bighorn sheep hunting permit are only allowed to take a "harvestable ram." The definition of a harvestable ram, according to TPWD, is an older male between 7 and 12 years old who has already mated and is considered to be surplus to the population. Kids and ewes are off-limits.

Hunting Bighorns

Hunting bighorn sheep isn't for the faint of heart or the out-of-shape. Bighorns live in the high places of mountains rising from the desert floor, and hunting them requires going where they live. Expect long days of hiking in steep, inhospitable terrain. It is probably a good idea to begin training for your hunt months (if not years) before you set out. Also, bighorns have incredible eyesight -- wear camouflage, take a pair of good binoculars and spend lots of time glassing faraway ridge lines, mountainsides and cliffs.

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