One lucky person will get the chance to hunt bighorn sheep in the Black Hills after paying $89,000 during an auction by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation earlier this month in Minneapolis.
This is the seventh year Game, Fish & Parks has auctioned off the tag to help raise funds for bighorn sheep research and development. The tag has raised $83,000 on average each year, according to Game, Fish & Parks regional supervisor John Kanta. The first year the tag was offered in 2013, it was sold to a Watertown businessman for $103,000.
Officials aren't releasing the name of the auction winner until the license is issued. Kanta said the person who wins the auction can select who the tag is issued to. In this case, Kanta said, the auction winner may issue it to his son. That process should happen in May, once the regular tag lottery for bighorns takes place.
This year's bighorn auction tag started with a bit of controversy.
During the February meeting of GF&P Commission, an administrative action to expand the hunting area to the Badlands unit for the auctioned bighorn sheep tag was placed on the agenda. In October 2018, Clayton Miller shot the world record ram in the Pennington County unit with a Pope and Young score of 209 1/8 inches. GF&P officials said they wanted to capitalize on that world record ram and sell a tag that could have brought upwards of $500,000 for wildlife habitat.
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Some in the hunting community were upset and said the change was moving too fast without public comment. They also argued that money from the tag currently earmarked exclusively for bighorn sheep would go toward pheasant habitat under the proposed change.
GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler asked the commission to remove that item from the agenda after the backlash. He did note that the proposal would be back next year, but it would go through a longer public comment process.
The tag auction this year is only valid in Custer County west of SD Highway 79 except Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Park.
Despite the controversy surrounding this year's tag, Kanta said the auction is "absolutely a great thing," that will "support important bighorn research in our state."
He said the money raised for this year's tag will primarily go to pneumonia research. GF&P officials have been conducting research on the Custer State Park herd and they plan to apply those methods to the Rapid City herd with some of this year's money, according to Kanta. He also said research of penned bighorns happening at South Dakota State University will get a portion of the money.