(Files by Dione Wearmouth – My Prince George Now)
Hunting under-aged and under-sized Bighorn Sheep is an issue that has been on the radar of the Wild Sheep Society of BC.
Recently, the Conservation Office identified the remains of seven Rams that were found to be killed illegally due to their size or age in the Peace region.
Kyle Stelter, President of the BC Wild Sheep Society says that while this might not seem like a large amount, it will likely have a big impact on herds in the area.
He explains that Sheep hunting in BC is highly regulated by the government and every sheep that is harvested in the province must undergo an inspection by a government biologist or a representative on their behalf.
However, Selter says even with this policy in place, the illegal actions of sheep hunters can make a large dent in the animal’s population.
“The concern is that if you harvest underage rams, it can have an impact on the herd and the reasons for that is a mature ram is considered to be eight years old or greater, and as a general rule the younger rams aren’t breeding the youth so they never get to an age where they’re passing on those genetics and breeding so if those younger rams are harvested earlier on it could have an impact on wildlife population,” Stelter explained.
In order for a Bighorn Sheep to be hunted legally in BC, it must either have a full curl, which means its horn extends past its nose, or it must be at least eight years old.
Stelter says legal Bighorn Sheep can be quite difficult to identify compared to other wildlife, especially since provincial hunting courses don’t really dive into the specifics of Bighorn Sheep requirements.
“The issue is they don’t really give you individual training for animals, so they don’t give you a Sheep course. They do address it in the manual and they talk about how to age sheep but it’s a very challenging thing to do. To go out and age a sheep on the mountain, you’re counting the rings on the horn kind of like you’d do with a tree, but this animal is moving and hundreds of yards away and you’re looking through a scope.”
He adds the task of identifying a legal sheep is quite daunting even for an experienced hunter, and overall sheep hunting is one of the most difficult hunts to do in BC especially because they typically occur in high altitudes on BC’s mountains.
Stelter says that there have also been increasing amounts of new sheep hunters participating in the sport, which is also likely adding to the increase in illegal activity.
“It’s become very interesting for people and so we’ve seen an increase I think in people that are pursuing sheep. But I also think there’s a social part too where people are posting their stuff on social media and they like to come home with pictures from their hunt and I think that’s maybe impacting people where they’re making decisions that they normally shouldn’t and they’re pushing the boundaries there.”
He says he has spoken to many Bighorn Sheep hunters who fear that many people are now getting into the sport just to get some pictures for social media.
The Wild Sheep Society strongly discourages this and offers training programs that cater to Bighorn Sheep hunters.