The "Real Skinny" On Snow Sheep Hunts


Published: November - 2003

Is it true that the quality and quantity of Russia's snow sheep has declined? The answer depends on who you talk to. Some hunters report not seeing a single sheep on recent hunts, and others are coming home with smaller rams than they had hoped to take. We've also heard from various sources that some Russian operators are overharvesting their areas. On the other hand, according to Dennis Campbell, executive director of the Grand Slam Club/OVIS, snow sheep haven't been in better shape in a very long time.

What makes Campbell say this in light of what others are reporting? To answer that, a brief history lesson is in order. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the communist state had committed huge investments to Siberia, developing mining, logging and livestock industries here. The state also subsidized the relocation of thousands of people to this area. Sheep habitat lost ground to industrial projects, human develop- ments and a huge reindeer breeding program that introduced intensive competition for existing forage. Many peripheral habitats were lost, and some entire populations of sheep were wiped out by uncon- trolled poaching, mostly by geolog- ical crews using helicopters.

All of that came to a grinding halt when the communist regime fell and the new, more capitalist-oriented Russian government realized the true costs of operating in the harsh conditions of Siberia. Many of the settlements were abandoned. Poaching declined significantly. The tended reindeer herds mostly disappeared. Snow sheep got much of their lost habitat back, and for the better part of 12 years now, Siberian snow sheep in general have been recuperating.

So what's with all the talk about over-harvesting and reduced trophy quality? Campbell says that is the result of several factors related to the realities of Siberia. This is a very tough place to hunt. For many years, access has been by helicopter only. During the height of Soviet exploitation of the region, there were thousands of Russian MI-8 helicopters here. But over the last 15 years, many of those have fallen into disrepair. The........(continued)

 
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