Christmas is just around the corner, but it was Father’s Day that brought a southeast Nebraska man and his son to northwest Nebraska this month for an experience of a lifetime.
As a Father’s Day gift, Greg Hunter of Johnson has entered Nebraska’s bighorn sheep permit lottery each of the past four years for his father, Dave Hunter of Auburn. It proved a good investment as the elder Hunter’s name was the one drawn in the lottery this year.
The gift seemed especially sweet to Dave after he harvested a trophy ram at Fort Robinson State Park on Monday, Dec. 10, with Greg by his side.
Commission wildlife staff joined the Hunters as they set out hiking the Pine Ridge terrain of Fort Robinson just after sunrise Monday in search of a ram. The hunt ended successfully at mid-afternoon Monday when Dave Hunter pulled the trigger on his .270 caliber rifle to harvest a full-curl ram. It was a 360-yard shot over a steep ravine that drains into Spring Creek in the secluded northern part of the park.
Todd Nordeen, the big game manager who leads the sheep-hunting program for the Commission, said it was one of the tougher bighorn sheep hunts he has assisted, even though the weather was nice. With the terrain slick from melting snow over frozen soil, the trek up and down the slopes proved a challenge.
Because Nebraska’s bighorn sheep are monitored as part of conservation efforts, largely funded by proceeds from the hunting program, Commission staff members are familiar with many of the sheep. Nordeen said he had recited a little prayer the previous night that this ram would emerge during the hunt. He said the ram was not only an impressive animal, but was 8½ years old and reaching the end of its life.
The Hunters said they have been excited for the hunt since the drawing and that the experience even exceeded their expectations. They are looking forward to the meat the animal will provide, and encourage other Nebraskans to enter future permit drawings to help conserve the species and perhaps even win.
Hunter held one of just two permits awarded this year – the other permit was awarded by auction. Lottery permit winners in Nebraska are assisted by Commission staff and treated to meals and lodging at Fort Robinson State Park.
This was the 25th bighorn sheep harvested in Nebraska since the Commission’s hunting program began in 1998. It’s an opportunity made possible because of reintroduction efforts for the species that began in the 1980s.