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Pair of Firefighters Claim Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunts
AUSTIN, Texas — There may not be “fire on the mountain” in the Trans Pecos this winter, but there will be two firefighters there anyway. Instead of fighting fires and smoke and rescuing folks, they’ll be hunting desert bighorn sheep after being selected for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hunt giveaway in a random computer drawing among licensed hunters in Texas.
Flower Mound firefighter Kelley Cato and Kerrville firefighter Jerremy Hughes were picked from among more than 668,000 hunters who purchased a hunting type license by the Oct. 17 deadline for the bighorn sheep drawing. One non-hunting companion may accompany each winner on the hunt with meals and lodging included in the package. The fully guided package hunts will take place by the end of the year.
TPWD officials had difficulty contacting Hughes to let him know he was selected. “He was actually out hunting on one of our special drawing archery hunts at Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area near Rocksprings,” said Kelly Edmiston, TPWD Wildlife Division information specialist. “It took awhile for our personnel on the area to locate him for us.”
“Me and a bunch of other firefighters were drawn on an archery hunt at Devil’s Sinkhole,” recalled Hughes. “It was kind of funny; I was already on a hunt one minute and looking forward to an even bigger hunt the next. I couldn’t believe I got selected, especially after seeing that everybody that bought a hunting license was eligible.”
The coincidence that both hunters happen to be firefighters didn’t escape Cato. “That’s exciting that we’re both firefighters,” he beamed. “I really didn’t appreciate the rarity of the bighorn, but I know a whole lot more about them now. Just winning a drawing of this size, it’s just incredible. I am very excited about this opportunity.”
TPWD Wildlife Division director Mike Berger noted that without the support of Texas sportsmen like Hughes and Cato through their purchase of hunting licenses, one of the state’s premier wildlife restoration efforts could not have happened.
“Going from no sheep in the 1950s to a very strong, sound, expanding population over several mountain ranges now gives us the opportunity to give something back to the sportsmen who have supported this program since the beginning,” Berger said. “This is our way of saying, ‘thanks for helping’ the recovery of the desert bighorn sheep.”
Berger 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 50 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. Deadline to apply for the Big Time Texas Hunts is Nov. 6.
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