For almost every one of the last 40 years I have applied somewhere for a bighorn sheep permit, and often in several states, and I have had a modest amount of luck in drawing.
For example, the very first year I applied—1976—I drew a Rocky Mountain bighorn permit in Wyoming and a desert bighorn permit in Arizona. (The odds of drawing both the same year were something like 1,500-to-1!)
Twenty years later I drew another bighorn permit in Wyoming, and in 2012 I was able to draw a desert bighorn permit in Nevada, which completed my second Grand Slam of North American wild sheep.
In between bighorn hunts I managed to hunt the northern “thinhorn” species too—the Dall and Stone. In 1979 I hunted Dall sheep in the Olgivie Mountains of the upper Yukon Territory, just south of the Arctic Circle. The next year I shot a fine Stone ram in the Muskwa-Kechika region of British Columbia, completing my first Grand Slam.
I hunted Dall sheep in Alaska twice—in 1984 and ’85—and passed up several rams while seeking a shot at a 40-inch-plus ram my partner and I saw but never could approach. I was able to hunt Dall sheep a fourth time in 1998, this time in the MacKenzie Range of Northwest Territories where I took a 10-1/2 year old ram. In 2002 I hunted Stone sheep in the Pelly Mountains of the Southeast Yukon and took a decent ram on a very tough hunt.
I should note that the only place in North America where a drawn permit is needed for thinhorn sheep is in Alaska where you must draw in the Euklutna and Tok regions. Everywhere else one can simply buy a license. Conversely, except for a few very tough, marginal areas in Montana, a drawn permit is required to hunt bighorn sheep everywhere they are found in western North America. (In Alberta and British Columbia, outfitters are issued a handful of permits, which they sell to hunters at exorbitant prices.)
Interestingly, after some 32 years of applying in Montana for a bighorn sheep permit, I never have drawn in this state. The odds always have been bad, but things got worse about 15 years ago when whining hunters demanded a preference system. This put a hunter’s name “in the hat” an extra time for every year that hunter applied for a permit. A few years later more whiners complained that the $150 fee was too much for them to come up with, so the FWP Commission lowered it to $75, mandating that any successful drawer of a permit would have to pay the extra $75 before being issued the permit. (Question: If you can’t come up with $150, what are you doing applying for a sheep permit?)
That still wasn’t good enough for the complainers, so a few years ago the FWP Commission instituted a non-refundable $10 sheep application fee, so the poor guys who drive around in $50,000 pickups wouldn’t have to send in their refundable $75 plus a few bucks for an application fee. The Commission also “squared” applicant’s years of application, so if you applied eight years (8×8=64) your name would go in the drawing 64 times. Of course, so would everyone else’s name who applied for eight years.
Well, of course that brought out hundreds of new applicants, grandma and grandpa and all their grandkids, some of whom couldn’t tell a bighorn sheep from a jackass. Now the odds are so overwhelming that drawing a Montana bighorn sheep permit is almost like winning the lottery.
Meanwhile, Dall sheep hunts that I used to enjoy for $3,000 to $6,000 now cost $20,000 and more due to greedy outfitters charging whatever the market will bear. Stone sheep hunts are even more outrageous, costing $30,000 to $50,000! (One could hunt for a month in Africa for that kind of money and shoot a dozen species of big game.)
I don’t apply for sheep permits anymore because I am old and decrepit. But it pains me to say that I did things a younger man will never do, unless that guy is earning $200,000 a year. And even then, that doesn’t improve the odds in drawing a bighorn permit.
I am glad I was not born any later.