Hunting, age structure, and horn size distribution in bighorn sheep

Susanne Schindler, Marco Festa-Bianchet, John T. Hogg, Fanie Pelletier

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Trophy hunting, the selective removal of animals for human recreation, can contribute to conservation when appropriately managed. Yet, little is known about how harvest rates or different definitions of trophy affect age structure and trophy size in harvested animals and in survivors because no controlled studies exist. To investigate the impacts of different management regimes, we developed an individual-based model for bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), based on empirical data on survival from a protected population and data on horn growth from 2 populations that differed in their growth rates. One population showed slow horn growth and the other population fast horn growth. We subjected these model populations to varying harvest rates and 2 different hunting regulations: 4/5 curl and full-curl definitions of a trophy male. We found that the effect of hunting regulations depends on horn growth rate. In populations with fast horn growth, the effects of trophy hunting on male age structure and horn size were greater and the effect of a change in the definition of legal male smaller than in populations with slow growth rates. High harvest rates led to a younger age structure and smaller horn size. Both effects were weakened by a more restrictive definition of trophy male. As harvest rates increased past 40% of legal males, the number of males harvested increased only marginally because an increasing proportion of the harvested males included those that had just become legal. Although our simulation focused on bighorn sheep, the link between horn growth rate and harvest effects may be applicable for any size-selective harvest regime.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Early online date20 Apr 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2017


  • agent-based model
  • bighorn sheep
  • harvest management
  • horn growth
  • National Bison Range
  • Ovis canadensis
  • Ram Mountain
  • Sheep River
  • trophy hunting


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