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Licensed Hunters Have Shots at Free Bighorn Sheep Hunts
AUSTIN, Texas — Without the support of Texas sportsmen through their purchase of hunting licenses, one of the state’s premier wildlife restoration efforts could not have happened. As a way of saying, "thanks for helping" the recovery of the desert bighorn sheep, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is giving away two prized guided permit hunts in a drawing among hunters who purchase their license on or before Oct. 17.
"By purchasing hunting licenses, the hunters of Texas have stepped up to the plate over the years to help pay for conservation programs like desert bighorn sheep restoration," said Robert L. Cook, TPWD Executive Director. "Without their support, this initiative would never have happened. Now that we’ve surpassed our goal of returning the bighorn sheep to historic levels, it’s time to give something back to the hunters."
Anyone who buys a resident hunting type license (excluding TPWD employees) by midnight on Oct. 17 will automatically be entered into a drawing for one of two Texas bighorn sheep hunting permits. If you already have purchased your resident license, you are already entered in the drawing. A random drawing among license holders will be held in mid-October, with winners notified immediately following the drawing. One non-hunting companion may accompany each winner on the hunt and meals and lodging during the hunt are included in the package. The guided hunts will take place by the end of the year.
Because the hunts are physically demanding, TPWD has included a provision whereby the winners may transfer, but not sell, with permission, the permit to an immediate family member or youth 8 to 16 years of age. Hunters must be able to negotiate rugged terrain at high elevations and in extreme temperatures.
Additional information, including complete rules and restrictions, can be found on the TPWD Web site (http://tpwd.texas.gov/) or by calling the TPWD Wildlife Information Hotline at (512) 389-4505 or toll free (800) 792-1112.
Cook said the decision to offer the hunts was based on evidence of additional surplus bighorn sheep observed during recent aerial census surveys. By conducting annual helicopter survey counts, TPWD biologists can ascertain not only how many animals are present, but also if there are surplus bighorn rams. This year’s survey documented 104 more sheep than last year, a 22 percent increase.
More than a century ago, wildlife biologists estimated there were about 500 desert bighorn sheep in Texas. About fifty years later, there were none. Today there are nearly 700 of these majestic animals in the state.
Coincidentally, one of the guided permit hunts will take place on the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area (WMA), where the last sighting of a native Texas bighorn sheep occurred in 1958 and where restoration efforts began. The other hunt will be held on the Black Gap WMA, where a major transplanting effort in 2001 brought in 43 bighorns from the Elephant Mountain WMA; that population of sheep has nearly doubled in size.
Since 1988, when TPWD reinstated hunting for desert bighorns on an extremely conservative basis, 53 permits have been issued. More than half of the rams harvested in Texas have qualified for the Boone and Crockett Club’s big game record book, including the new state record taken earlier this year by Glenn Thurman of Mesquite.
Bighorn sheep program director Clay Brewer points to the impressive increase in population as well as the record-book quality of Texas’ bighorns as indicators of the success the restoration effort is having.
In addition to the permits being offered in the drawing among Texas hunting license buyers, TPWD offers the chance to hunt a bighorn through the Big Time Texas Hunts Grand Slam hunting package. For a $10 fee, hunters can enter in a drawing for the opportunity to hunt all four of Texas prized big game animals: the desert bighorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer and pronghorn antelope. Permit applications are available wherever hunting licenses are sold. Permits may also be purchased using a major credit card through the TPWD Web site or by calling (800) 895-4248.
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