Wild Horse Island Yields New World Record Bighorn Ram

Flathead Lake’s state park produces yet another remarkable specimen in 9-year-old sheep

By Tristan Scott
The horns and skull of a world-record setting bighorn ram were discovered on Flathead Lake's Wild Horse Island. Photo courtesy FWP

A bighorn ram that spent its life on Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island boasts the largest horns ever recorded for the species, besting the previous world’s record by nearly 7 inches and joining two other local rams in the top-10 all-time spread, according to a Boone and Crockett Club assessment of the animal’s skull and massive horns.

The ram, which wildlife biologists aged at 9 years old, died of natural causes and was discovered in the fall of 2016. The posthumous mass and girth of its full-curl horns and skull are an indication of the animal’s epic size in life.

The two other rams were also officially measured, entered and accepted by the Boone & Crockett Club at 205-2/8 and 209-0/8, both scores landing in the top 10 all-time. The horns and skull of the pending world-record ram weigh roughly 48 pounds.

The colossal rams’ providence on Wild Horse Island is testament to the state park’s importance in providing refuge to a suite of wildlife species, according to officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The horns’ final score of 216-3/8 Boone and Crockett points edged out the previous world-record ram, which was hit by a vehicle in 2010 in Alberta and tallied a final score of 209-4/8.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will offer the public a chance to see this historic wildlife monument at an upcoming public viewing. The ram’s horns and skull will be on display at FWP’s regional headquarters in Kalispell, 490 N. Meridian, between noon and 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 23.

The sheep on Wild Horse Island are a result of habitat restoration and maintenance projects done by FWP’s state parks staff, as well as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Wild Sheep Foundation.

“Wild Horse Island is a unique state park that provides world-class wildlife viewing opportunities for the public,” David Landstrom, state parks manager for FWP’s Region 1. “We’re devoted to preserving this special place, and we look forward to working with conservation partners to perpetuate critical habitat work that maintains this incredible bighorn sheep herd.”

While the forested refuge gets its name from its classic herd of horses, the state park’s bighorn sheep population of about 100 has become the star attraction in recent years. The island has also played a pivotal role in the recovery of bighorn sheep herds across North America. Over the years, FWP has transplanted bighorn sheep from the island to other parts of the Western U.S. and Canada, where bighorn populations are historically suffering from disease outbreaks and disappearing habitat.

“Wild Horse Island provides a vital nursery herd that has helped supplement other herds across the West,” said Neil Anderson, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife manager for Region 1.

At 2,160 acres off the west shore of Flathead Lake near Dayton, Wild Horse Island features stands of old growth Ponderosa pine and Palouse prairie native bunch grass furnishes the island with an idyllic setting for recreationists and wildlife alike. One of six state park units on Flathead Lake, Wild Horse Island is a world-class wildlife-viewing destination that provides visitors spectacular glimpses of bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, and falcons, as well as wild horses. Big Arm State Park to the south is the primary launching point to access Wild Horse Island.

“Without natural fires, we have to resort to mechanized habitat stimulation and removal of brush and trees. This costs money and we have to rely on creative funding sources and donations to get the job done,” Landstrom said. “It’s a challenge our people freely accept, especially when we can see results like this special animal, and share this special place with people.”

The pending world record will be certified by a special panel of senior Boone & Crockett officials who will verify all the ram’s entry score measurements. The panel is scheduled to convene later this month at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s national headquarters in Bozeman.

To continue managing and maintaining Montana’s state parks, such as Wild Horse Island, Gov. Steve Bullock has signed an executive order chartering the Montana Parks in Focus Commission as a public-private collaboration to strengthen Montana’s state park system and identify long-term sustainable funding options.

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