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NM – HUNTING – Big-money hunting tags help bring back New Mexico’s bighorn sheep

The son of a Chevrolet assembly line worker, Rick Smith grew up hunting squirrels, rabbits, grouse and deer in upstate New York, but the words of Jack O’Connor took him on hunts to far-flung reaches of the world tracking some of the most exotic animals. Smith’s speech becomes faster and more lively as he recalls flipping through his uncle’s copies of Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and Sports Afield — any of the magazines that may have had O’Connor’s byline. He loved reading of the arduous expeditions in remote mountain regions by the legendary outdoors writer and, at the time, could only dream of going on such adventures himself. “I read every single article he ever had,” said Smith, who now lives in Dallas and has a home in Santa Fe. “I was especially interested in the sheep hunting articles. They would take place in difficult conditions, difficult terrain, with not a lot around, and he would be out there for weeks at a time. He appreciated the more remote, more difficult hunts.” O’Connor’s writings created a mystique around hunting bighorn sheep that has only grown since his death in 1978. Scarcity of hunting opportunities and a high demand for limited permits have resulted in these animals becoming the most highly prized game in North America. The vast majority of people who hope to hunt a bighorn sheep never will. The odds of winning a license in a draw in the Western states that have bighorn sheep are less than 1 in 100, in many cases far less. But in some cases, the odds can be overcome by the highest bidder. And that money, often more than $100,000 per auction tag, has accelerated the restoration of a species that was on the verge of collapse in New Mexico and across the continent. Smith, now 70, is a retired telecommunications executive whose career has afforded him the opportunity to live out his childhood dreams.  [full article]

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