By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
An out-of-state hunter paid $115,000 at a charity event in Lander last weekend for the opportunity to hunt a bighorn sheep in Wyoming.
That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a bargain price according to the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation.
The foundation auctioned the tag at its 39th annual fundraiser on Saturday.
Foundation deputy director Dean DiJenno told Cowboy State Daily that the $115,000 raised from a single tag was actually not the largest number the group has ever seen. He said the tags usually go for around $120,000 when they are auctioned.
“We think the ‘lower’ number is related to the limited hunting opportunities that stemmed from COVID,” he said. “But those other four available sheep tags went for so high, in total, the five tags brought in about $980,000.”
Bill Brown, an avid hunter from Riverton who attended the event, said it’s never shocking to see tags like these go for six figures.
“The odds of you drawing a sheep tag in your lifetime in any given state are extremely low so those with no financial limitations will pay almost anything for the opportunity,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily.
“In this situation it’s great to see the money going to an organization that is devoted to keeping wild sheep populations healthy and thriving,” he said.
Governor’s Big Game License
The tags auctioned by the sheep foundation at its fundraiser were a part of the Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, which makes a number of big game licenses available to conservation organizations to be auctioned.
This coalition was created under Gov. Dave Freudenthal and has raised nearly $10 million in the years since.
The proceeds raised from the auctions are used to fund various wildlife/conservation projects across Wyoming, such as habitat improvements, research and migration.
There are a few reasons hunters will spend big dollars to obtain a particular big game license in Wyoming.
“Hunters are often conservationists and most of our conservation dollars come from hunters,” DiJenno said. “These guys care deeply about the species they’re pursuing and they want to make sure those animals remain up on the mountain for the next generation.”
Winning The Lottery
But getting a bighorn sheep hunting license is not unlike winning the lottery. For some hunters, it might be even more exciting than that. Drawing odds are typically less than 1%, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“We are so popular that it’s about a 25-year wait to draw a [bighorn sheep] tag through our lottery system” DiJenno said. “If they plunk down their money and they buy that license, they can go hunting without waiting 25 years.”
Wyoming is only one of about a dozen states that even offer bighorn sheep hunting to residents and non-residents. Most of these states have some type of lottery system for allocating tags.
Wyoming Game and Fish spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the Governor’s Big Game License Coalition licenses brought in thousands this year, with one bighorn sheep tag garnering $305,000 and one moose license bringing in $67,500.
DiRienzo echoed similar sentiments about why hunters spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunt in the state.
“These licenses are for some of the most highly sought-after species in Wyoming, like bighorn sheep and moose,” she said. “The hunters who invest in these licenses are passionate about hunting the species and also value their conservation deeply. Much of the revenue from these licenses go to support conservation organizations and on-the-ground projects for wildlife.”