A Spokane hunter has bid the highest amount ever for the Idaho bighorn sheep tag offered each year during an annual fund-raising auction.
John Amistoso made the record $180,000 bid during the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep convention March 2-5 in San Antonio.
During the show, 167 trophy hunts for 50 species, including some from various parts of the world including Africa, were given away, raffled or auctioned for a total of nearly $3.5 million.
The convention is proof again that some hunters are willing to part with big bucks for programs that combine a contribution to wildlife conservation and rare opportunities for bagging a big-game trophy.
The money goes to wildlife conservation, with FNAWS taking a percentage for its expenses and programs and the rest going to the sponsoring government agencies, said Donny Martorello, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department big-game manager in Olympia.
The auction featured 30 special tags issued by various states and provinces in order to raise money for their big-game management programs. Of the various species, the bighorn sheep draw the highest bids by hunters willing to pay in order to overcome the high odds of drawing one of the few tags offered in state drawings each year.
Arizona’s bighorn sheep tag attracted a bid of $199,000 this year, followed by $180,000 for Idaho’s, $160,000 for Montana’s and $130,000 for Oregon’s.
British Columbia’s bighorn tag sold for $150,000 and British Columbia’s for $130,000.
Washington’s tag for California bighorn sheep was purchased for $45,000, still down dramatically since disease ravaged the bighorns in southeastern Washington in 1996.
Previous to that virulent outbreak of bacterial pneumonia, the Blackbutte herd near Joseph Creek was known for producing record-book rams that attracted a bid of $100,000 when Washington first started offering a permit for auction in 1993.
The lowest bid for a Washington bighorn tag was $27,500 in 1998 as the Blackbutte Unit remained closed and word got out that Washington still had little in the realm of trophy bighorns.
But as biologists were dealing with the epidemic that hit the Snake River herd, the FNAWS immediately responded with $20,000 to help evacuate and treat surviving sheep.
Subsequently the foundation pledged to spend $10 million over 20 years to restore and expand herds in the Hells Canyon region, a project that’s continuing.
Public demand for the bighorn hunting permits far exceeds supply. In the 2003 public lottery drawings, 23,861 applications were filed for 22 Washington permits in nine units.
This demand throughout North America drives up prices especially when a region is reputed to have rams of world-record status. The most paid for a big-game tag at a FNAWS auction was $405,000 for the Alberta bighorn tag in 1998.
The $180,000 paid for Idaho’s tag this year tops the previous Idaho record of $101,000 in 1996.
The value of the tag corresponds to the trophy potential. Last year, the Idaho bighorn tag went for only $46,000 when the hunt excluded Hells Canyon’s Unit 11, which has a reputation for producing the state’s biggest rams.
Meanwhile, the 2004 bighorn tag for Unit 11 was offered in a state-sponsored raffle that raised $100,000 for bighorn management. Idaho Fish and Game officials said they alternate the Unit 11 tag between the raffle and the auction so everybody has a shot at it.
Other high-profile tag bids at this month’s FNAWS auction included $41,000 for a British Columbia Roosevelt elk tag, $22,000 for a Colorado moose tag, $22,000 for an Eastern Washington elk tag, $17,000 for a Wyoming moose tag, $16,000 for a Washington Roosevelt elk tag and $13,000 for a Colorado mountain goat tag.
Washington’s East Side deer tag went for $15,000 and hunters paid $8,500 for the West Side deer tag and $5,900 for the mountain goat tag.
“These auctions provide the funding base for the entire management program for bighorn sheep, mountain goat and moose,” Martorello said. “Without this money and volunteer organizations, we can’t cover the costs of the surveys and relocation projects.”
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