Wild sheep in North America are highly prized by hunters and most harvest regulations restrict legal harvest to males with a specified minimum horn curl. Because reproductive success is skewed toward larger males that are socially dominant, these regulations may select against high-quality, fast-growing males. To evaluate potential selective effects of alternative management strategies, we analyzed horn increment measures of males harvested over 28 yr (1975–2003) in 2 bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) ecotypes in British Columbia, Canada. Using mixed-effect models we examined variation in hunter selection for horn size, early horn growth, and male age under different harvest regulations (Full Curl, Three Quarter Curl, Any Ram). Under all regulations, males with the greatest early horn growth were harvested at the youngest ages, before the age at which large horns influence reproductive success. Early growth decreased with harvest age and until ≥ 7 yr of age it was greatest in males harvested under Full Curl regulation. Permit type (General vs. Limited Entry Hunt) and hunter origin (British Columbia Resident vs. Non-Resident) had little effect on horn size of harvested males. Full Curl regulations increased the average age of harvested males by <1 yr relative to Three-Quarter Curl regulations. Age-specific horn measures in the California ecotype harvested under Three-Quarter Curl regulations declined over time but we observed no temporal declines in the Rocky Mountain ecotype, primarily harvested under Full Curl regulations. Management strategies that protect some males with greater early horn growth or provide harvest refuges to maintain genetic diversity are likely to reduce potential for negative effects of artificial selection.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1