Jason Bruce has traveled the world in his quest to harvest all 40 species of sheep.
Trophies from 26 adorn a museum-style room in his California home.
He added to that total last weekend when he killed what could be a Nebraska state-record bighorn sheep.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Bruce said. “I didn’t do it to break any records. I just did it because I love to hunt.”
Bruce, who started hunting with his dad when he was still in diapers, killed the huge ram Dec. 2 on private property in the Wildcat Hills near Gering.
Todd Nordeen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission biologist who manages Nebraska’s bighorn sheep program, said the mature ram, estimated to be 10 years old, had a gross score of 195-1⁄8 and netted 193-5⁄8 on the Boone and Crockett scale. The record will become official if the score still surpasses the current record when the horns are measured again after a 60-day drying period. Nebraska’s current record bighorn, harvested by Terry Bogle of Lincoln with a rifle in December 2015, scored 190-5⁄8.
Bruce said most trophy animals look big from a distance but seem to shrink as you get closer. Not this one.
“We were really surprised,” he said. “The closer we got the bigger he got.”
Bruce shot the ram from 55 yards with his Elite Archery bow. He’d sneaked as close as 33 yards before a ewe spotted him and the group moved away. The ewe continued to glare at Bruce, but when the ram turned broadside, Bruce took his shot.
It was one he wasn’t sure he was going to get.
Brandon Tritsch of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission had spotted the massive ram 10 days before Bruce arrived. It was on private property, so Bruce made arrangements with the owner. But once Bruce arrived, it was nowhere to be found. Rams can travel 25 to 30 miles looking for ewes during the rut.
They knew it was special and devoted many frustrating hours searching with binoculars across miles of rugged terrain. After a few days, they switched to another area, but then the landowner spotted the ram and Bruce got his chance.
Bruce won his permit by auction and is one of just two hunters awarded a Nebraska bighorn sheep permit for this season, which runs until Dec. 22. Jack Nemeth of Chadron won the other permit by lottery.
Hunters may choose to use rifle, muzzleloader or archery equipment, as long as the weapon meets requirements for caliber, power or draw weight. Bruce’s ram is only the second taken by archery since Nebraska’s hunting program began.
Bruce praised the work Game and Parks did in arranging the successful hunt and wanted to thank the owner who allowed him to hunt on his land.
He enjoyed seeing the different terrain of western Nebraska and was grateful to get the chance to hunt the majestic animal.
He had planned to stay for the entire season, if necessary, but was able to wrap up the hunt in just 3½ days. He flew all the meat home.
He didn’t stay longer, he said, laughing, because he had to get home to work and earn money for more winning bids. It’s one way he can support animal conservation.
Hunters play an important role, Bruce said. They’re not just killing an animal, they’re spending money on hotels, food and guides, and helping to support the local community.
His winning bid provided him a huge and important trophy for his collection.
“Bighorn is so rare,” he said. “It’s almost a privilege to hunt them.”