WSF Sheep Show Reaches New Records
February 24, 2019
Growth has been steady during the past 11 years, according to WSF President and CEO Gray N. Thornton, but he added that this year was different.
“This year, WSF not only increased the previous year’s numbers, but they knocked them out of the park,” Thornton said. “Going into convention for a group like WSF is always nerve-racking. Most of the entire annual budget is made within a three-day time frame, forcing every transaction to be extremely high-stakes, with more of a pass/fail mentality. If WSF fails to meet their fundraising goals, the ramifications will echo throughout wild sheep herds across the globe. Simply put, state, provincial, tribal/First Nation agencies rely on the funding from WSF to ensure wild sheep will continue to live on the landscape. Without that funding, wild sheep restoration would falter and fail.”
Thornton added that Sheep Show results seem to directly correlate with wild sheep restoration efforts. As WSF staff is still tallying final numbers, Thornton noted that roughly $8 million was raised in just three days at the event, which includes four evening banquets, multiple fundraising auctions, and a variety of raffles and other activities. Auction items include several special hunting permits for wild sheep and other species throughout the US, Canada, Central Asia and Mexico. The majority of the proceeds go directly to wild sheep conservation, including habitat restoration, water projects, trap and transplants of wild sheep species to suitable ranges plus collaring and disease testing of wild rams, ewes and lambs. This is all vital to the species’ survival and directly addresses wild sheep susceptibility to deadly respiratory diseases transmitted to wild herds by contact with domestic sheep and goats.
“This year’s banquet attendance increased by 26 percent, with over 2,000 people packed into the Tuscany Ballrooms at the Peppermill on Friday and Saturday Night,” Thornton said. “Hotel bookings by WSF attendees were up 26 percent, auction values were up 15 percent, and general convention attendance was up an incredible 22.5 percent.”
Key to the event’s success were new attractions that increased attendance diversity at this year’s Sheep Show®. These new events included a special live podcast hosted by Steven Rinella of the Meat Eater television series, with his panel podcast discussion taking place on stage before hundreds of fans at the convention center, and a new WSF Sheep Shoot archery course sponsored by MTN OPS and Total Archery Challenge, where individuals had a chance to shoot for a Stone’s sheep hunt. Another main attraction was the first-ever WSF Rinke Ram, a custom Dodge 1500 pick-up truck completely underwritten by longtime WSF supporters Kevin and Janine Rinke. On Saturday night of the convention, the truck was raffled-off, boosting total raffle sales to over $600,000.
The ever-popular WSF <1 Club, consisting of WSF participating members who have not yet harvested a wild sheep, also saw drastic increases, with membership jumping over 40 percent over the previous year. Six lucky attendees at the <1 Club drawing won a wild sheep or mountain goat hunt. Those top prizes were the impetus for over 1,700 <1 Club members to attend the mixer and hunt drawing.
“This year’s <1 Club was unreal,” said Marci Johnerson, WSF’s membership manager. “If you want to get in, you better sign-up ahead of time because this place is getting packed.”
Meanwhile, WSF’s Youth Wildlife Conservation Experience (YWCE) had unprecedented attendance. Thursday and Friday saw 557 young men and women bused in from local schools to participate in wildlife conservation learning experiences, while Saturday shattered expectations with a record 1,047 youth attending. “This is an overall total of 1,597 kids in three days. We have never before had over 1,000 kids in one day, nor have we bused in so many students during the week,” said WSF Youth Education Coordinator Dr. Ryan Brock Brock.
“The numbers certainly tell a story said Brett Jefferson, WSF’s Chairman of the Board. “We are here to raise money for wild sheep conservation and create awareness in the community that wild sheep conservation matters. If those two points are our main objectives, then this was the best Sheep Show to date.”
For Thornton, the future for wild sheep has never looked more promising, thanks to the enthusiasm of WSF’s growing group of generous supporters.
“WSF strives to keep our event innovative and new,” Thornton said. “This year, we saw 100 people get festooned with a WSF tattoo just so they could ride for the brand they believe in. What other event can a person enter several raffles and contests to win a Stone’s or Dall’s sheep hunt—an impossible dream for most avid mountain hunters— participate in an archery shoot, grab a beer and watch a live Meat Eater podcast, mingle with a few thousand fellow wild sheep enthusiasts from around the world, and then head over to a banquet where every dollar raised is used to help the very animals they love to see in the wild?”
The wheels are in motion for next year’s convention and expo, with donations already being accepted, vendors lining up to reserve booth space and other logistics being pinned down.
“The WSF staff is already starting to plan the 2020 Sheep Show, with 2019 as the new benchmark. There can be no doubt that what we do here echoes across the mountains globally in realized wild sheep conservation initiatives. This show is a funding mechanism, perhaps even a vector for awareness, but more importantly, it forecasts the effectiveness in the coming year of our wildlife conservation efforts and funding abilities. Right now, the forecast is looking bright,” Thornton added.
With its world headquarters in Bozeman, Mont., The Wild Sheep Foundation, formerly the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, was founded in 1977 by wild sheep conservationists and enthusiasts. WSF’s Mission is to enhance wild sheep populations, promote professional wildlife management, and educate the public and youth on sustainable use and the conservation benefits of hunting while promoting the interests of the hunter and all stakeholders. WSF is the premier advocate for wild sheep, other mountain wildlife, their habitats and their conservation. Since forming in 1977, the Wild Sheep Foundation and its chapters and affiliates have raised and expended more than $120 million on conservation, education and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe and Asia towards its purpose to “Put and Keep Wild Sheep on the Mountain.” These and other efforts have resulted in a three-fold increase in bighorn sheep populations in North America from their historic 1950-60s lows of 25,000 to 85,000 today. WSF, its Chapters, Affiliates and agency partners are also working together to ensure thinhorn sheep thrive in their northern mountain realms for generations to enjoy.