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Bighorn sheep

Potential applicants for pursuing bighorn sheep need to be willing to prepare for a long and difficult hunt.

Ty Stockton

Even though the odds of drawing a moose, elk, or bighorn sheep license in North Dakota are not high, you can’t get one if you don’t apply.

Year in and year out, I field many calls and emails from prospective hunters about how they might improve those odds, such as applying for a cow license vs. a bull or “any,” license in a particular unit. This information from the previous year is also available on the state Game and Fish website at when applying for a moose, elk or sheep license.

Regardless of the odds, I try to make sure that interested hunters are aware of the time and resources that are usually necessary for a successful hunt.

Too often, I hear stories about people whose thrill of beating the odds and receiving one of these once-in-a-lifetime licenses turned to disappointment the following fall when the effort required for success was more than they expected.

Many hunters tend to equate these special big game hunts with deer hunting, because that’s what we know. With the exception of some landowners who live within certain moose and elk units, these licenses are once-in-a-llifetime. We don’t get to go the first time, learn on the go, then come back much better prepared the next time we get the same license.

Here’s some more details for this year:

• The first point of emphasis is that applications must be entered online. Paper applications are no longer available for any lottery licenses. Game and Fish put this into place last summer for swan and fall turkey, and this year it also will apply to spring turkey, moose, elk and sheep and deer gun and muzzleloader.

Lottery applicants can use the toll-free licensing phone number at 800-406-6409, but preferential landowner and gratis applications are not available over the phone.

• A total of 408 elk licenses are available to hunters this fall, an increase of 19 from last year.

• A record 334 moose licenses are available in 2018, an increase of 89 from last year. Most of the increase is antlerless licenses in units M10 and M11, due to an increasing moose population in these units.

• A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2018. The status of the bighorn sheep season will be determined Sept. 1, after summer population surveys are completed.

Bighorn sheep applicants must apply for a license at the same time as moose and elk. Once total licenses are determined for each unit in late summer, the bighorn lottery will be held and successful applicants will be contacted to select a hunting unit.

My point in all of this is to help potential applicants understand they need to be willing to prepare for a long and difficult hunt. Success is not just measured in filling a tag. As with most things in life, you'll get out of it what you put into it.

The deadline for applying is March 28.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish.