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Sidney teen bags trophy bighorn

Kiersten Black of Sidney certainly isn’t the only Nebraska teenager to hunt big game this fall. She has, however, harvested an animal in the state that none of the others can claim — a bighorn sheep.

Black, 15, shot the world-class trophy-caliber ram Saturday, Dec. 2, on private land in the Pine Ridge escarpments southwest of Chadron. She won the permit when her name was the only one drawn from a pool of 3,524 applicants in a lottery for Nebraska residents, which requires just a $29 application fee.

Black took to the field Saturday morning with father Trevor, younger brother Reed and family friend Tate Pieper.

They caught sight of the big ram with a group of ewes first thing that morning, but the sheep slipped into the trees and wasn’t spotted again until after about seven hours of searching the area and its steep canyons.

With her father’s coaching, Kiersten made a successful stalk and shot on the huge ram at sundown with just 25 minutes of legal shooting light to spare.

Kiersten, Trevor and Reed Black with the ram.

Todd Nordeen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission research and disease program manager who oversees the state’s bighorn sheep program, said the ram was 10½ years old — in the final stages of an average lifespan of 9-12 years.

Kiersten has developed an impressive hunting resume at a young age. The first of the five deer she has harvested was a whitetail buck with antlers of 150 inches – a size considered a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for most deer hunters. Earlier this year she shot a big mule deer in Colorado.

The teen said the bighorn sheep hunt was a thrilling experience, including the moment she learned her name was drawn.

“I was just so excited. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Trevor said he entered Kiersten’s name in the drawing, but made sure she knew of the commitment beforehand.

“You know what you’re signing up for if you draw? She said, ‘Oh, yeah, that sounds like fun.’ And here we are.

“You’ll be one of the only people eating bighorn sheep for Christmas dinner this year,” the father told his daughter as they sat near the ram.

Kiersten and Trevor Black with the ram.

Kiersten is a sophomore at Sidney High School. As a convenient coincidence, her Sidney Red Raider basketball team played at Chadron on the eve of the hunt. Had it been any other location, she surely would have sacrificed basketball for the once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

Kiersten’s harvest closes Nebraska’s 2023 season for bighorn sheep, in which just two permits were issued. The other hunter, who won his permit by auction, shot an impressive ram in the Wildcat Hills of Banner County earlier in the week.

The sheep mark the 33rd and 34th harvested in Nebraska since the Game and Parks’ hunting program began in 1998. Kiersten is just the second female and second teenager to harvest one in the state.

The number of Nebraska bighorn sheep permits available each year is based on the state’s population of the species, especially mature rams, as determined during monitoring by Game and Parks staff. To date, permits have been limited to one or two hunters in most years, with several years not permitting any harvests.

Nebraska has developed a reputation for producing trophy-caliber rams for those fortunate to win a permit. Not only do the hunts provide a rare experience and uncommon table fare, they have been vital to bighorn sheep conservation in Nebraska. About $2.5 million has been raised through the lottery applications and auctions to fund research and reintroduction efforts of the species.

Permit winners are assisted by Game and Parks staff and treated to meals and lodging at Fort Robinson State Park.

Nebraska’s reintroduction efforts for bighorn sheep began in the 1980s, an attempt to remedy the unregulated hunting, habitat loss and disease that led to their extirpation from the state in the late 1800s. Nebraska’s population of bighorns stands at approximately more than 250 rams, ewes and lambs in both the Wildcat Hills and Pine Ridge.

More information about the hunting program and how to apply for the permit lottery may be found at Outdoornebraska.org.

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