The following information details general information about Alaska's Dall sheep as well as information on sheep hunting in Alaska. The currently listed information is taken from the Alaska Fish and Game website. While Dall sheep conservation is the heart of the AK WSF, the organization also supports conservation of Alaska's Mountain Goat population. As such, the information below also highlights Mountain Goat species information and hunting opportunities.
Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) are one of two species of all-white, hoofed large mammals found in Alaska. They are stocky, with amber horns, yellow eyes, and black noses and feet. Only in very few places in Alaska (i.e., Southcentral) does their geographic range overlap with that of the other all-white species, the mountain goat. However, sheep prefer drier habitats than those used by goats.
Rams are distinguished by their massive curling horns. Ewes have shorter, more slender, slightly curved horns. Rams resemble ewes in appearance until they are about 3 years old. After that, continued horn growth makes males easily recognizable. As rams mature, their horns form a circle when seen from the side. Ram horns reach half a circle in about two or three years, three-quarters of a circle in four to five years, and a full circle or "curl" in seven to eight years. In most cases, hunters are restricted to taking only full-curl rams.
Sheep have well-developed social systems. Adult rams live in bands which seldom associate with ewe groups except during the mating season in late November and early December. The horn clashing for which rams are so well known does not result from fights over possession of ewes. Instead, it is a means of establishing the social order. These clashes occur throughout the year (among females, as well) on an occasional basis.
Dall sheep inhabit the mountain ranges of Alaska. Dall sheep are found in relatively dry country and they frequent a special combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged "escape terrain" in the immediate vicinity. They use the ridges, meadows, and steep slopes for feeding and resting. When danger approaches they flee to the rocks and crags to elude pursuers. They are generally high country animals but sometimes occur in rocky gorges below timberline in Alaska. They do not occur in the southeastern portion of the state.
The diets of Dall sheep vary seasonally from range to range. During summer, food is abundant, and the sheep consume a wide variety of plants. Their winter diet is much more limited and consists primarily of dry, frozen grass and sedge stems available when snow is blown off the winter ranges. Some populations eat significant amounts of lichen and moss during winter. Many Dall sheep populations visit mineral licks during the spring.
Find out more about Alaska's Dall sheep on the Alaska Fish and Game Website.
Like goat hunting, sheep hunting tends to be practiced primarily by a few, hardy individuals whose interest is more in the challenge and satisfaction of mountain hunting and the alpine experience than in getting food for the freezer. Dall sheep produce excellent meat but they are relatively small in size and the effort required to retrieve meat from the rugged alpine areas they inhabit can be daunting. Male sheep, or rams, usually weigh less than 300 lbs (136 kg), and females (ewes) weigh less than 150 lbs (68 kg). The dressed weight of a 230-lb sheep is about 140 lbs (64 kg), and a sheep that size will yield about 80 lbs (36 kg) of meat.
Recreational hunting is typically limited to the taking of mature rams during August and September. Nonresident sheep hunters are required to have a guide or be accompanied by relative who is an Alaska resident. Alaska’s Dall sheep are popular with nonresident hunters, and the harvest is split fairly evenly between residents and nonresidents. In 2007, for example, nonresidents took 403 sheep, while resident hunters took 513, or about 57 percent.
Click here to find out more about Dall sheep hunting opportunities in Alaska.
The range of the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is restricted to the steep and broken mountain ranges of northwestern North America, from Idaho and Washington to Southcentral Alaska. Mountain goats also occur in Southeast Alaska, where their range extends north and west along the coastal mountains to Cook Inlet. In Southcentral Alaska, goats are found in the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains, and a few occur in the Talkeetna Mountains. Goats have been introduced to Kodiak Island as well as to Southeast Alaska’s Revillagigedo and Baranof Islands.
Mountain goats are both grazing and browsing animals, depending on the particular habitat and season of the year. They normally summer in high alpine meadows where they graze on grasses, herbs, and low-growing shrubs. Most goats migrate from alpine summer ranges to winter ranges located at or below tree line. However, some may remain on windswept ridges throughout the year. As winter advances and the more succulent plant species die back, a goat’s feeding habits shift to browsing. Hemlock is an important winter diet item but largely out of necessity; feeding habits in winter are mainly a matter of availability.
Mountain goats rely on the security of their cliffy territory for protection. Approaching within shooting range is not difficult if the hunter is able to negotiate the terrain. When possible, it is usually best to approach from above as goats are more alert to possible danger from below. Both billies (males) and nannies (females) have horns. Billies and nannies look similar. It is legal to shoot nannies; however, wildlife managers encourage hunters to target billies instead and tools have been created to help hunters to tell the difference. See the Mountain Goat Identification Quiz for more information.
Billies are about 40 percent larger than nannies and average 260 and 180 lbs (118 and 82 kg), respectively. An adult goat may lose 50 lbs (23 kg) on its meager winter diet and gain the weight back during the lush summer months. The dressed weight of a 250-lb (113-kg) goat is about 150 lbs (68 kg); about 85 lbs (39 kg) of this is usable meat.
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