AK Sheep, Population Observations

ColeyG

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2017
Messages
144
For the last two years I feel like I been having a lot more of the "hard winters," "too much predation," and "overharvest" type conversations when talking about the state of the Dall sheep population here in AK.

In years past it seems like these topics come up and after and are often thrown around when folks have had a hard hunt or didn't find rams in places where they have been found in the past etc.

From year to year for the last decade or two at least, sheep harvests statewide have been fairly static. The numbers aren't final for the 2021 season, but from what I have heard we are on track for the lowest # of sheep harvested since the 1960s at about half of what the rolling average has been. Hunting pressure or hunter effort on the other hand, seems to have remained about the same.

Personally, my partners and I are zero for the last three sheep hunts, two hunts in 2020 and one in 2021, with approximately 30 days spent in sheep country on those trips combined.

My primary concern is not that neither my partner nor I have killed a ram in the last two years, it is that we've only seen one legal ram on these trips combined. In each case, these hunts were in places where we have fairly long history and experience and so we have a good idea of what baseline "normal" is for both sheep populations and numbers of mature rams. Based on my observations from the last two years I'd say that the sheep populations in the four GMUs I frequent are down by at least 50% if not more.

Another, what I would consider unusual observation from the last two seasons is that I feel like I've been seeing quite a few immature rams on their own rather than hanging in bachelor groups like I'd expect. Lamb recruitment this years seems quite good so that is positive.

I've been hearing lots of other third party reports and complaints like the unusually high number of sub-legal sheep and very young rams taken this year, dismal populations surveys in places like the TMA, guides pulling clients out of one range and heading into another due to lack of sheep, people and planes everywhere, etc.


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So if anyone is interested, I'd be curious to hear what people's real-world observations were from the past year or two based on what you have seen in seasons past in the same or similar areas.

Congrats to those that succeeded this year and to those that didn't, hopefully your travels in the mountains made for some memorable experiences.

Cheers.
 

Stud Duck

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Joined
Apr 30, 2017
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142
Location
WV
I'm not a sheep hunter, but would give my left nut to be; so forgive my ignorance.

When you speak of predation, I assume you mean wolves or do they hunt at those elevations? Enlighten me.
 

VernAK

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Dec 24, 2012
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Delta Jct, Alaska
I'm not a sheep hunter, but would give my left nut to be; so forgive my ignorance.

When you speak of predation, I assume you mean wolves or do they hunt at those elevations? Enlighten me.
Wolves, coyotes, golden eagles, bears and wolverines are all guilty of sheep predation. I suspect goldenn eagles and coyotes probably are the major predators.
 

Nick Muche

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Joined
Mar 21, 2012
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3,635
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Alaska
Predator Control is one of the very few factors we as humans have any control over when it comes to sustaining a robust sheep population here in Alaska, and it's absolutely ridiculous that the AKWSF has not advocated for more of it. Ok, rant over...

I hunted a drainage in the Brooks Range this year, I saw a pile of rams and 18% were legal.
 

kaboku68

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Joined
Jun 14, 2012
Messages
306
Location
Alaska
$250 dollar bounty paid by the state for each wolf shot. $50 per coyote. Golden Eagle populations need to be studied and cropped a bit by predator control. There are some areas where hunting pairs of Golden Eagles have gotten too good at cropping ewes and lambs. They force bands of sheep into some more marginal feeding areas and that impacts winter survival. I am not going to say more about it but predator control is key. There are some areas of the state because of access and expenses of transportation that actually have numbers of mature "trophy" rams. The golden days of TMA and DCUA are over. Central and more western Alaska range are getting pummeled. Eventually the North Wrangells will start to fall because of hunting pressure. Those very effective Golden Eagle pairs need to be cropped in the Chugach, Kenai, Talkeetna and Central Alaska Ranges.
 

AlaskaMark

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Joined
Nov 27, 2020
Messages
42
In certain Alaska units, sheep are in trouble (19C is one example). So we need to look at the human component (human harvests) and deal with that, because we are not able to do predator control for non-human sheep predation (i.e. golden eagles, which are the main non-human predator). We also can't control avalanches and deep snows and winter rains etc that can lead to sheep mortalities).

Over the past two decades in 19C, nonresident sheep hunters (guided) have consistently taken 80% of the harvest. One guide who guided there for 20 years put in a proposal last year to cease all hunting for two years for everyone because of his concerns for the sheep population. He has since moved on to other areas in the state to guide sheep hunts.

This isn't rocket science. We need to limit the nonresident sheep hunters in areas like 19C to draw only with a limited allocation. We need to do the same elsewhere as well because if we don't the sheep will further decline and Alaskan residents are going to lose general sheep hunting opportunities.
 
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SaltySailor

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Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
160
Location
Palmer, Alaska
I hunted 20A the last two years, 83 combined miles on the boots , all of your observations I concur with for sure in that unit - or at least the two areas I was in. I have only seen two rams that were marginal to shoot and most likely seven years old by rings.
 

fatbacks

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Joined
Aug 26, 2017
Messages
845
Location
Interior AK
Two sheep hunts this year....

First hunt I saw an abundance of sheep and 8 rams came out of that drainage this year. Lots of up and comers. One observation this year which was interesting to me was that we saw lots of rams in groups of 1-3. In previous years rams have been grouped up with 5-10 other rams. Don't know what to make of it.

Second sheep hunt was in an area I have hunted 7 other times. In areas we typically see 100 sheep over a 2-3 period, we only saw roughly 30-40 and no legal rams and only 1-2 lambs. All the rams we saw were 4-5 year olds. It's an area known to have been hit hard over the past two years by spring weather. Sad to see that area in such decline.
 

kaboku68

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Jun 14, 2012
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306
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Alaska
Mark. I appreciate your efforts. When ravens learned how to kill chickens in Kenai the F and G worked to kill the Ravens who learned this overly effective predatory behavior. The predatory pairs in the areas that I mentioned could be culled new eagles would take 10-15 years to learn to be as effective.
 

BrooksRanger

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Feb 11, 2019
Messages
45
Location
Alaska
I hunted the Wrangells this year for my first sheep hunt and also came away with only great memories and lessons learned. After nine days of hunting and covering about 65 miles of country, I saw 15 rams with only one being legal. The majority of the rams that I saw were probably in the 4-5 year age range but I'm not even close to an expert. I did see over 25 ewes and many of them had lambs so that is a good sign for things to come in the future. I also saw A LOT of planes flying in tandem overhead. No-one got dropped on top of us, but I know if I went over one more ridge I would definitely have run into a guide and hunters. At that point, I was 25 miles in and had to make a realistic decision that the ridge was my hard stop for being able to pack an animal out. Some things are just not meant to be. Overall great experience, and I definitely learned some great lessons about what to do differently moving forward for next year's hunt.
 

Broomd

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Sep 29, 2014
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3,175
Location
North Idaho
Talked with my son this weekend, he's as hard core as they come in the sheep mountains. I obviously know his area, we hunted there together over many years.
He told me that on his August week-long hunt he didn't see one legal ram this year and that the current lamb crop was pitiful.
Last year was also scant with just two legal rams spotted...but with horrible weather, one seven-hour stalk is all he could attempt in over a week.
 

Fullcry

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
19
I don’t know if more non residents are hunting sheep now than ever.
But I know lots more residents are sheep hunting.More and more guys have their own planes.The sheep have more pressure than ever.
All non residents should be on a draw system.
At the same time, let residents hunt every year.
BUT YOU CAN ONLY KILL 1 RAM EVERY 4 YEARS!!
 

Bambistew

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Joined
Jan 5, 2013
Messages
289
Location
Alaska
I don’t know if more non residents are hunting sheep now than ever.
But I know lots more residents are sheep hunting.More and more guys have their own planes.The sheep have more pressure than ever.
All non residents should be on a draw system.
At the same time, let residents hunt every year.
BUT YOU CAN ONLY KILL 1 RAM EVERY 4 YEARS!!
Hunter number have been static for the last 10 years, there are actually fewer NR today than at any point in the past. Around 400, and about 65-75 of those are next of kin.

Fewer than 1% of resident sheep hunters kill more than one ram in 4 years. ~70% of all resident sheep hunters are on their first sheep hunt every year.

You guys can spin it anyway you want, there are just fewer sheep. Why, is the question. Shooting a few rams is not the reason. The average temperature in December and January along the central alaska range has increased over 10 degrees in the last 60 years. Are warmer winters hurting the sheep? Just a few years back the central AK range had the highest harvest of rams in the last 30 years, since going to FC...

Whining about who kills them doesn't do shit, they will still end up dead. The typical hunter mentality. Mine mine mine.
 

rickiesrevenge

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Joined
Oct 16, 2017
Messages
227
Location
Alaska
Hunter number have been static for the last 10 years, there are actually fewer NR today than at any point in the past. Around 400, and about 65-75 of those are next of kin.

Fewer than 1% of resident sheep hunters kill more than one ram in 4 years. ~70% of all resident sheep hunters are on their first sheep hunt every year.

You guys can spin it anyway you want, there are just fewer sheep. Why, is the question. Shooting a few rams is not the reason. The average temperature in December and January along the central alaska range has increased over 10 degrees in the last 60 years. Are warmer winters hurting the sheep? Just a few years back the central AK range had the highest harvest of rams in the last 30 years, since going to FC...

Whining about who kills them doesn't do shit, they will still end up dead. The typical hunter mentality. Mine mine mine.
Not debating your numbers, but where did you get them? I'd like to be able to look up that kind of info
 

Alaskan89

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
192
I was able to hunt sheep in the same area I hunt moose for the 3rd time in 12 years and this year was the first time I didn't see any rams at all. I usually always see them while traveling to different drainages to hunt but even the ewes and lambs were scarce this year. I did not see anyone come out of there with a ram either and there's usually always at least a couple. One drainage I hunted had 2 very long slides and I suspect that there were probably quite a few more that I did not see, should have examined them closer to see if there were any remains of sheep in them but I was too focused on finding a ram. My buddy and I did come across some sheep remains but they were small and probably a predatory kill as it's location was nowhere near any of those slide areas.
 

fatbacks

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Joined
Aug 26, 2017
Messages
845
Location
Interior AK
Not debating your numbers, but where did you get them? I'd like to be able to look up that kind of info

You can look up general numbers easily on adfg back to 2010. I think with the advanced stats you can go back further and parse out non resident vs resident. I think the number of hunters column adds up both res and non res along with both unsuccessful and successful.

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