Sheep show raises over $6.5 million

Sheep Show Shines: WSF Raises Record-Breaking $6.5 Million

Who really funds wildlife conservation? Any social media post that ends with “#conservation” stakes its own claim, often serving as a rallying cry for hunters to showcase their role in widespread efforts. But the logistics of how funds are really generated and where they are allocated aren’t so black and white. However, amidst restless discussions and debates, one organization stands out for its remarkable contributions and speaks as a testament to hunting’s importance in wildlife conservation: the Wild Sheep Foundation, which just broke all-time records with the 2024 Sheep Show.

To the untrained eye, it might seem contradictory to assert that hunting is conservation, and understandably so. Yet, a closer look shows that hunting gives itself to conservation in ways beyond targeting an invasive or overpopulated species. You won’t find the answer in the animals harvested, but rather in the money spent. Every hunter contributes when they purchase a license, permit, or tag. But these expenses vary greatly by state and species, and the far end of that spectrum was on display at the Sheep Show back in January.

Sheep Show raises over $6.5 million
Photo: Wild Sheep Foundation

Over the course of three nights at the Sheep Show, the Wild Sheep Foundation auctioned off 29 tags for over $6.5 million, $5.7 million of which went directly back into state wildlife agencies. We have a table to break down the numbers of the auction, but at first glance, a few stand out. Colorado auctioned off a bighorn sheep permit for a record $600,000 — $540,000 went directly to the state for its sheep program. New Mexico auctioned off a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep permit for another $600,000 and injected the same $540,000 back into its sheep program.

Sheep Show Auction

TH10Nevada Dept of Wildlife – Antelope$55,000.00100.00%$55,000.00$0.00
TH20NE Game & Parks Commission – Elk Tag$140,000.0085.00%$119,000.00$21,000.00
TH28WSF-Wyoming – Commissioner Tag$37,500.0090.00%$33,750.00$3,750.00
TH34RMGA – CO Goat Tag$47,500.0090.00%$42,750.00$4,750.00
TH49WSF-Wyoming – Shiras Moose$85,000.0090.00%$76,500.00$8,500.00
TH59Arizona Antelope Foundation$90,000.00100.00%$90,000.00$0.00
FR07Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife – Antelope$32,500.0090.00%$29,250.00$3,250.00
FR12Navajo Department of Fish & Game – Bighorn$75,000.0090.00%$67,500.00$7,500.00
FR18Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife – CA Bighorn$270,000.0090.00%$243,000.00$27,000.00
FR24WSF-Wyoming – Shiras Moose$90,000.0090.00%$81,000.00$9,000.00
FR30CA Department Game & Fish – Desert Tag$180,000.0095.00%$171,000.00$9,000.00
FR36NM Dept Game, Fish & Wildlife – Enhancement$380,000.0090.00%$342,000.00$38,000.00
FR41Texas Parks & Wildlife – Desert Tag$145,000.0090.00%$130,500.00$14,500.00
FR48NM Dept Game, Fish & Wildlife – Desert Bighorn$185,000.0090.00%$166,500.00$18,500.00
FR52AK Dept of Fish and Game – Chugach Dall’s$235,000.00100.00%$235,000.00$0.00
FR57MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Bighorn MT$380,000.0090.00%$342,000.00$38,000.00
SA06Idaho Chief, Wildlife Bureau – Non Hells Canyon Bighorn$230,000.0095.00%$218,500.00$11,500.00
SA10Nevada Dept of Wildlife – Desert Tag$175,000.00100.00%$175,000.00$0.00
SA14RMBS – Colorado Rocky Mtn Bighorn$600,000.0090.00%$540,000.00$60,000.00
SA19Wyoming Game & Fish Department – Bighorn Tag$190,000.0090.00%$171,000.00$19,000.00
SA23Navajo Department of Fish & Game – Desert Bighorn$60,000.0090.00%$54,000.00$6,000.00
SA27Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife – Bighorn$450,000.0090.00%$405,000.00$45,000.00
SA32Mongolian Outfitters Consortium – Altai Argali$120,000.0085.00%$102,000.00$18,000.00
SA36BC Specialty Tag – Stones or Bighorn, or Dall’s$430,000.0085.00%$365,500.00$64,500.00
SA40Taos Pueblo – Rocky Mtn Bighorn$260,000.0090.00%$234,000.00$26,000.00
SA45NM Dept Game, Fish & Wildlife – Rocky Mtn Bighorn$600,000.0090.00%$540,000.00$60,000.00
SA49Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs – CA Bighorn$230,000.000.00%$0.00$230,000.00
SA53Arizona Game & Fish Department – Desert Sheep$430,000.00100.00%$430,000.00$0.00
SA58APOS – Alberta Bighorn Permit$320,000.0090.00%$288,000.00$32,000.00
Source: Wild Sheep Foundation

What sets the Wild Sheep Foundation apart is its ability to directly contribute substantial funds to state agencies for species conservation. While other organizations and foundations also raise funds for conservation efforts, the Wild Sheep Foundation’s model ensures that a significant portion of the proceeds comes from hunters themselves, demonstrating their commitment to conservation

For instance, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Foundation raised $3 million this year for non-game species conservation, primarily through the contributions of hunters. Similarly, the SFW – Western Hunt Expo Antelope Island tag and Arizona Strip tag also raised over $650,000, all of which will be used for restoration and conservation efforts in mule deer and elk programs in Arizona.

“It’s amazing the number of records that keep getting surpassed each year,” said Gray N.  Thornton, president and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “The fact that a handful of  individuals stepped up at these levels to put and keep more wild sheep on the mountain for  everyone, and one day put more sheep permits into the public draws, is the definition of paying it forward. That’s the backbone of conservation.

“While some may find this type of conservation funding contrary to the North American  Conservation Model, the Model’s renowned spokesman, Shane Mahoney, disagrees, noting that  the Model encourages states, provinces, and tribal/First Nations to fund wildlife agencies in the  most effective manner. Allowing a few individuals passionate about a wildlife species to fund  the majority of an agency’s budget for that species with very limited auction and raffle permits is the most effective, keeping pace with the increasing management costs for that species.”

Sheep Show raises over $6.5 million
Photo: Wild Sheep Foundation

Such staggering figures underscore the immense impact hunters have on wildlife conservation efforts, and it’s upon hunters to share them when countering misconceptions about their contributions. It’s never easy to sway the opinions of skeptics, but engaging in respectful, fact-based discussions can help sow the seeds of understanding among a broader audience.

“Sheep hunting is tightly controlled, and rightfully so,” Thornton explained. “Wild sheep do not exist in the numbers we have for other big game species like deer and elk where revenue generated from license sales pays for their management programs. Even if everyone who drew a sheep tag were willing to pay $10,000, it wouldn’t be enough. Without auctioning a few special permits each year, some agencies would have no wild sheep programs, and others would be severely limited as to what they could do.”

The individuals who purchased sheep tags at the the Sheep Show’s auction deserve recognition and gratitude for their contributions. It’s imperative that hunters, observers, and critics are able to acknowledge the role ethical hunting plays in safeguarding our planet’s natural heritage.