Greetings from the 2018 Sheep Show in Reno, Nev., Jan. 18-20, where the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) is welcoming thousands of attendees to the Reno Sparks Convention Center over the next three days. What American hunter doesn’t enjoy perusing an exhibit hall packed with hunting guides and outfitters, makers of guns and hunting gear and wildlife artists and designers of outdoor-themed collectibles? Throw in special events such as hunter skills seminars, the Youth Wildlife Conservation Experience sponsored by the MidwayUSA Foundation, hunting raffles, and fundraising auctions and banquets headlined by keynote speakers including my friend and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan and there is much to see and do—and much money to be raised in the name of wild sheep conservation.
Of course, despite the good cause, most of us don’t have the budget to bid on the Sheep Show’s sheep hunts known to bring sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars for sheep habitat, relocation and other WSF special projects. But we hunters don’t need deep pockets to care about wild sheep—or any other wildlife species. Everyone contributes in their own way. Most of us hold out for Plan B—drawing a coveted wild sheep tag in one of the show’s raffles or through a state game agency’s annual lottery. Will I ever draw a tag? Perhaps not. But I want to know wild sheep will be there if I do. More importantly, I want to continue enjoying the occasional glimpse of them in the mountains, and I want to know they’ll be there for future generations to enjoy simply because they are unique and beautiful wild animals. And if I ever draw a tag and get lucky enough to fill it, I will give thanks for many a fine meal. (I had no idea how tasty wild sheep meat is until my husband filled a tag. It is some of the best meat I have ever eaten—which, in case you are wondering, tastes nothing like domestic sheep.)
So as a hunter and someone who respects and appreciates wild animals, I’m proud to say the WSF’s purpose is quite simple: to put and keep wild sheep on the mountain. And that is really why I’m here—to support the WSF, to tap into the synergy we hunters feel in doing right by conservation —and, of course, to dream of hunting a wild sheep considering someone’s name has to get drawn in these raffles.
Like its purpose, the WSF’s mission also is simple: to enhance wild sheep populations and, as in the case of the NRA, to promote scientific wildlife management and public education on sustainable use and hunting’s conservation benefits while promoting the interests of the hunter. If you’re a hunter, then this is your kind of crowd considering we are all united through the principles of hunter safety and ethics, respect for others, respect for wildlife and stewardship. Attend the Sheep Show and you’re just trading in the camaraderie around the hunting camp campfire for a much bigger gathering on the show floor.
WSF History: Hunters’ Hearts Turn the Tide The story of the WSF is not so unusual in that it marks yet another example of American hunters organizing to bring a wildlife species back from the brink. In the 1960s, North America’s bighorn sheep populations had plummeted across their historic ranges, prompting a handful of concerned wild sheep enthusiasts to join together in 1974 and launch the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS). Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1977, FNAWS began building its membership and raising money to finance the comeback of wild sheep. In 2008, it changed its name to the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) to promote an expanded mission: to ensure these wild mountain ungulates and their habitats worldwide are managed, sustainably used and accessible for future generations.