As a member of multiple hunter conservationist organizations, I like to consider myself up to date on just how much time, energy and financial resources hunters actually put back into wildlife and their habitats. For years I’ve paid my membership dues to multiple Regional and International organizations and read magazines like Bugle, Fair Chase and Wild Sheep cover to cover, trying to stay abreast of the conservation, management and political issues affecting both hunters and wildlife across North America. Content and maybe even a little smug with how I was supposedly doing my part both by being a member of these organizations and by staying informed so I could stand up for hunters and all that we do to protect the wildlife we love and the habitat they desperately need to survive.
But I had no idea just how much more we were doing collectively and how much more I personally could do to support the conservation of our mountain species.
This was my first year attending the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Sheep Show and although I’d been told it was the hunting convention to attend, I was not prepared for just how eye-opening the event would be. Yes, the trade show itself is impressive. Roaming the aisles at Sheep Show for the first time has to be on par with a child’s first trip to Disneyland. If you’re a gear junkie it’s difficult to walk more than a few yards without getting drawn into a booth to peruse packs, apparel, boots, optics or firearms. If you’re looking to book a hunt, the exhibitor list reads like a who’s who of outfitters from North to South and across the globe and represents a unique opportunity to meet your prospective guide or outfitter face to face before spending your hard earned dollars. And the taxidermy alone is worth the price of entry. Every imaginable mountain species is represented with unbelievable skill and attention to detail. Standing eye to eye with ovis ammon is something I will not soon forget. If you’ve stared in awe at photos of spiralling argali rams like I have, I can assure you the photos do these impressive animals no justice.
The awards breakfasts and banquets showcase some fantastic specimens taken by hunters from around the world and yes many of the conversations at breakfast or dinner surround the hunting and killing of wild sheep and other mountain species. If you don’t have sheep fever before heading to Sheep Show, you sure as hell will by the time you leave. But this still wasn’t the most profound part of the weekend.
The keynote speeches from Mr. Shane Mahoney and Mr. Rick Carone were both thrilling and inspirational. If you’ve followed Mr. Mahoney’s writings, his abilities with pen and paper are only matched by the power and conviction of his public speaking skills. Mr. Carone’s story of determination in the face of stark odds is as inspirational as they come. He and his fellow cast members on Sheep Shape TV will serve as motivation for countless mountain hunters around the globe.
Each and every one of these factors is worth the cost of attendance but they are still not THE number one reason to make the pilgrimage in my humble opinion. No, it is the people you meet on the trade show floor, and the people you meet at breakfast and dinner and the other social events. And most importantly it is the generosity these people extend to the cause of the Wild Sheep Foundation. WSF’s purpose to “Put and Keep Sheep on the Mountain” is no more obvious than at Sheep Show. Of course there are some well-heeled people in attendance to whom bidding $10,000 for a belt buckle borders on boring. And we’ve all heard or read the reports of the monies spent on the Special Permits here in North America and around the globe.
But it’s the generosity extended by virtually every person in attendance that is the most noteworthy and the most uplifting. From dentists and veterinarians to pipefitters and stone masons, each and every person is there to support the mission and does so in their own way without hesitation. Some of the most ardent supporters and donors are the guides and outfitters themselves. Many of us “regular” folk to whom spending $10,000 on a belt buckle seems as reasonable as booking a flight to Mars lined up to spend hundreds of dollars on raffle tickets for just a chance at a Dall, Desert, Rocky Mountain, or Stone Sheep hunt with all proceeds going to the WSF. The Picture
Then there was the generosity extended to the Sinclair family on Saturday night. If you do not know the tragic story of Tanner Sinclair and the young family he sadly left behind, you can read about it here. Not only did the Stone Sheep hunt that was donated to raise money for his family fund go for thousands of dollars over market value, but on the fly a second Stone Sheep hunt was donated (by an outfitter not a wealthy attendee) and bought at a similar premium with 100% of the proceeds of these auction items going to his family not WSF.
As BC resident hunters, I think many of us take for granted just how lucky we are to hunt over the counter, multiple species of wild sheep on an annual basis. Listening to many of the attendees tell stories of the years and decades they waited to draw any one of the coveted tags south of the Canadian border and the thousands of dollars they contribute annually to both State and National conservation coffers just for a chance at a sheep tag is a perspective that will stick with me for life. As many outfitters, guides and attendees remarked, we live in the land of milk and honey if you’re a mountain hunter.
So in conclusion, if you’ve ever considered attending Sheep Show or haven’t done so in years don’t do it for the gear or the raffles or the keynote speakers. Don’t do it to rub elbows with some of the most recognizable names in the industry today. Do it for the great and generous people that love the mountains and the animals that call them home as much as you do. Do it so that when you’re gone, there will be opportunity for others.
It is an event each and every mountain hunter should experience at least once in their life.
Editor In Chief