Wyoming Bighorn Ram Hunts Will Remain ‘Once-In-A-Lifetime’ Opportunity

Hunters who are lucky enough to draw a tag for a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram in Wyoming, but are unsuccessful in shooting one, will die never getting that chance again. A bill that would have allowed hunters to qualify for tags again died on Wednesday.

Mark Heinz

February 16, 20237 min read

Bighorn sheep 2 15 23
(Getty Images)

Hunters who have the good fortune to draw a tag for a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram in Wyoming, but aren’t lucky enough to shoot one, will die never getting that chance again. 

That was the ruling of the Wyoming House on Wednesday, as it rejected an amendment to Senate File 88, which would have allowed unsuccessful bighorn hunters to enter subsequent drawings for tags. 

The bill, which would implement a “weighted bonus point” system for drawing coveted bighorn and moose tags, passed its second reading before the House. The Wyoming Senate passed it with a 28-3 vote on January 19. 

Rare Tags, Lively Discussion 

Drawing a bighorn tag is rare – there are usually thousands of applicants for the scant few tags issued each year – and many hunters will accumulate points and try for decades before finally drawing one. 

As hunting regulations stand, and as the House decided they will stay, those who draw a bighorn tag may never enter another drawing. So, if they fail to kill a Wyoming ram on their hunt, the opportunity is gone forever. 

The matter led to a lively discussion on the House Floor. 

Some legislators said it would only be fair to let unsuccessful bighorn hunters enter more drawings. But others argued that would set a bad precedent, and the one lifetime, one opportunity standard is just part of the mystique of hunting rams in Wyoming’s rugged mountains. 

Those who have the time and money still have the opportunity to hunt bighorns or other species of wild sheep in other states, including Alaska, or in Canada 

‘Oh Man, That Burns Me Up’ 

Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, said people accept that failure and disappointment are part of hunting, but asking them to accept failure on the hunt of a lifetime could be too much. 

“That feeling when I didn’t fill that elk tag or didn’t fill that deer tag … oh man, that burns me up,” Western said. “But I get to come back next year and go after that buck, or go after that bull. With this ram tag, that’s it.” 

He added that perhaps more chances should be given to “those folks who put on hundreds of miles, who slept in sub-zero temperatures, in rain snow and all of that stuff – chasing that ram. Who by sheer bad luck just didn’t get a safe and responsible shot at that ram.” 

Rep. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, echoed those sentiments. 

“When you don’t get something, yeah, it sucks – pardon me, it’s not what it could have been — but you always get another opportunity (with other species),” he said. 

So, it would be fair to “open the door just a little bit” for the chances at future bighorn tag drawings, Banks added. 

‘Why It’s Called Hunting’ 

However, other lawmakers balked at the idea. They said the mission of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is to offer hunters the opportunity to bag game, not to guarantee that they’ll make kills. 

“I don’t know of anywhere else where that precedent (of a guaranteed kill) is set that the drawing of a license is a guarantee of the taking of an animal,” said Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody. 

Rep. Abby Angelos, R-Gillette, said accepting disappointment is part of outdoor ethics. 

“I used to hunt and fish with my dad. And one thing he would say if we didn’t harvest or catch anything was, ‘that’s why it’s called fishing and hunting, and not catching,’” she said. 

But … My Grand Slam! 

Others argued that letting unsuccessful hunters keep entering the drawing could be abused for nefarious purposes. 

People who don’t want bighorn sheep killed could potentially just keep drawing tags they never intended to fill, said House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson. 

Rep. Jeremey Haroldson, R-Wheatland, said allowing for multiple drawings could play into the plans of finicky hunters. 

“(What if) I didn’t see that book ram? I’m going for my Grand Slam, and didn’t see that book ram, so I’m just going to wait. I’m going to pass,” he said. 

He was referring to a trophy ram large enough to be listed in the Boone & Crocket big game record books. That’s considered to be one of the most prestigious honors hunters can achieve. 

A “Grand Slam” consists of killing record book rams of all four of the prominent species of North American wild sheep: Rocky Mountain bighorn, desert bighorn, Dall sheep and Stone’s sheep. Expanded iterations of the Grand Slam include other subspecies, such as California bighorns. 

How About The Lottery? 

With a bit of snark, Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, criticized the idea of multiple chances at extremely rare opportunities. 

“I kind of like this, and I’m thinking we should morph this into something with the lottery status as well,” he said. 

That prompted a mild reprimand from Speaker of the House Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. 

“Chairman Brown, I don’t know about that,” he said. 

Brown is chairman of the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee. 

Don’t Keep It In The Family 

The House also killed other proposed amendments to the bill. One included a provision to let hunters who had drawn a bighorn tag, but had to cancel their hunts, the opportunity to re-enter the drawing, or use their tags later. 

The Game and Fish already has similar provisions for extreme unforeseen circumstances, Western said. 

“They might say ‘let’s get on the phone with your orthopedic surgeon and verify that you broke your femur, and that rendered you unable to perform this hunt, and it’s not a stubbed toe or something like that,’” he said. 

An amendment that would allow preference points or bonus points to be shared among family members was also rejected. 

Harold said that points for rare Wyoming hunting tags such as moose and bighorns are worth more than gold to some people. However, it might take some hunters so long to accumulate enough points to have decent odds of drawing a tag, they’re too old to go on those hunts. 

If points could be “gifted” to family members, elderly hunters could pass them along to their children or grandchildren, he said. 

Others argued that could lead to people with large families abusing the system. 

Somebody could start hoarding all of their relatives’ points, Newsome said. 

“Instead of 20 points, do I need 80, or 100?” she said. “Do I get my dad’s, my sister’s, my brother’s, my step-daughter’s? Where does this end?” 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter