Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
A Guide to Judging Sheep Horns
Under the Full-Curl Regulation
Sheep Hunters, listen up! Determining a legal sheep by the full-curl regulation is not an easy task and it requires knowledge, experience and practice.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, has recently produced a staff guide for determining legal sheep under the full- curl regulation. The purpose of this guide is to provide consistency across the state in staff methods/knowledge of aging Dall sheep using horn annuli and/or determining curl legality during the sealing process. The methods within the guide for determining age and curl size of Dall sheep have been standardized and approved by the Department of Fish and Game.
A Two-Part Process
The initial plan of the Division was to create a manual for sheep hunters to improve their success in the field and to reduce the number of sub-legal sheep that are shot each year. A group of sheep biologists and sheep sealers from around the state worked with Wildlife Education and Outreach staff to develop a hunter guide.
The Education and Outreach program has produced identification guides for hunters about most of Alaska’s big game species that may be restricted to a specific sex and/or size of animal. This includes bison, mountain goats, muskoxen, moose and brow bear. Dall sheep is the last big game species to tackle and it is the most difficult. For the other big game species there are fairly simple characteristics for determining sex or age of an animal. The full-curl horn regulation is more complex and encompasses several options for determining legality.
Because of this, it was determined that the sheep group should first create a guide/ training manual for staff before the hunter guide was completed. Part one - the staff guide - is now complete. Part two is a work in progress.
What’s Coming Up?
Now that the staff guide is complete, we have started to develop a hunting guide to judging Dall sheep in the field and a Dall sheep hunting website with an online quiz (similar to the mountain goat pages). This hunter guide and website will include a lot of information that is in the staff guide, but will also include more information about viewing sheep and judging full-curl horns in the field. The hunter guide will be available next season.
What Can You Do Now?
Although this document is designed for staff to use in the lab during the sealing process, the information within it describes, in detail, how the full-curl regulation is interpreted. It also contains very specific information about how to look at sheep horns to determine whether they meet the full curl regulation- including an in-depth description of aging Dall sheep by counting the annuli.
A look at the Regulation: information covered in the staff guide in detail
A sheep is determined to be legal under the full-curl definition if:
(A) the tip of at least one horn has grown through 360 degrees of a circle described by the outer surface of the horn, as viewed from the side.
There are 3 ways to view the horns to know if they complete 360 degrees of a circle. If the horns are full-curl based on any one of these tests, it is legal:
- The perfect circle test
- The stick test
- The horn base/tip angle test
(B) both horn tips are broken:
The terms broken and broomed have been used synonymously by sheep hunters for years. Broken is the only term used in regulation. We do not use the term "broomed."
Broken, as it applies to the horn tips of male (rams) Dall sheep, means:
The lamb tip is completely absent; horn tips that are chipped or cracked are not broken if any portion of the lamb tip is present;
Characteristics of the lamb tip include:
1. a length of less than four inches,
2. the inside surface of the lamb tip is often distinctly concave when compared to
the remainder of the horn, and
3. the lamb tip is the section of horn that is grown during the first 6 months of a
sheep's life and is the section of horn distal of the first annulus, which is the
swelling of the horn that forms during the first winter of life.
(C) the sheep is a least eight years of age as determined by horn growth annuli;
This is a risky method. Sheep annuli are difficult to view at any distance, never mind at hundreds of yards through a scope. In addition, sheep horns have false annuli that a hunter may unwittingly count.
Dall Sheep- Guide to Judging Sheep Horns Under the Full-Curl Regulation is available for viewing and printing online. More sheep hunting resources can be found as well.
You can find it on the ADF&G website under Hunting - Game Species - Dall Sheep - More Resources - Evaluating a Full-Curl Ram.
Mike Taras is a hunter, tracker and naturalist, and serves as an Education and Outreach Specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
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