Full-curl Ram Determination
Legal or Not Legal?

High altitude sheep hunter
Changing Times
As a long-time sheep hunter and ex-Alaska Registered Guide, I have spent many years judging Dall Sheep, as well as Mountain Goats, Sitka Blacktail Deer, Brown Bear, and Black Bear.

In 2004, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) implemented a sealing procedure for all harvested dall sheep. This has put some added pressure on guides & sheep hunters to assure that they are taking true full-curl animals.
Young, but full-curl dall sheep
The official full-curl determination process and end results seem to be inconsistent, at best. There are a number of methods to determine full-curl including the stick test, glass shield (w/ a circle on it), and the tube method.

I have read and heard many recounts of folks taking their hard-earned prizes into ADFG or ABWE only to find out that it is sub-legal (not full-curl, not 8 years old, or not double-"broomed").

When they ask a second (or third/fourth/fifth) opinion from other "experts", the answers are often all over the board.

Here are some examples...

Example 1
Hunter #1 (H1) takes in his "trophy of a lifetime" into ADFG for sealing. Wildlife Biologist #1 (WB1) takes the horns and the hunter over to the work table and begins the process. WB1 tells him that it is 7 years old, not full-curl, and sub-legal.

Shocked, H1 asks for a second opinion, and WB1 calls his boss (who comes over). Wildlife Biologist #2 (WB2) looks over the horns for a while and says that it is 8 years old, under full-curl, but legal. The two biologists (WB1 & WB2) discuss their differences, but do not come to a consensus. They give H1 the benefit of the doubt and defer to the legal side. They seal the horns and H1 leaves relieved, but frustrated...

Example 2
Hunter #2 (H2) has just gone through a grueling death-march with his 150# pack out of the bush. He is looking forward to enjoying the comforts of home after a long successful 12-day solo sheep hunt. He arrives back at his truck only to find a friendly AST/ABWE Officer (ABWE1) waiting for him to arrive. H2 thinks to himself "this is great, it'll save me a trip to the ADFG Office 200 miles away..." H2 talks about the exciting parts of his hunt while he unpacks his license, harvest/registration tag, meat, & horns for the Officer (H2 hasn't seen a sole in 12 days).

ABWE1 counts the annuli rings and utilizes the "stick method" to determine full-curl. He announces that the Ram is 7-1/2 years old, less than full-curl, and sub-legal. H2 is in shock and cannot believe that his 38" Ram is not full-curl. H2 is a very experienced sheep hunter and feels that this Ram is easily full-curl. He asks ABWE1 what his options are... ABWE1 says that H2 can bring the horns into his Detachment (State Trooper Station) or ADFG for additional opinions, but he would need to take down all of his personal information first.

After a little recovery, H2 takes his horns into ABWE/AST Detachment for a second opinion from the ABWE/AST Supervisor (ABWE2). ABWE2 determines that it is 7-1/2 years old and not full-curl with the stick method and counting annuli rings. H2 thinks to himself - the "stick method" is not in the regulations, why aren't they using something else to "view it in a circle from the side"... H2 mentions the possibility of viewing it through something from the side and ABWE2 says that some of the ADFG biologists use a tube of some sort - and may be able to better determine full-curl.

H2 makes the long drive to the ADFG Office and talks to a Wildlife Biologist #3 (WB3). WB3 uses the tube method and counts the annuli rings. After some time, WB3 tells H2 that the Ram is 7-1/2 years old and 3/4's of an inch over full-curl. WB3 then seals the horns and sends H2 on his way.

Nice camp
Reason for this Webpage
We decided to put this web page together to help show others a good way to determine if sheep horns are full-curl (by State of Alaska definition).

This is by no means a definitive answer, just a good way that we have found that works for us (based on our interpretation of the current regulations).

Hopefully, it may help many fellow sheep hunters towards making good decisions in the field.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations relating to this subject read as follows:

A legal ram under a full-curl regulation is:
  • A full curl ram, whose tip of at least one horn has grown through 360 degrees of a circle described by the outer surface of the horn, as viewed from the side.
  • A ram with the tips of both horns broken, or broomed.
  • A ram at least 8 years old as determined by counting annual horn rings and segments. Because of false annuli, and narrow horn segments on older rams, it is difficult and risky to age a ram in the field by counting horn rings. If a ram's horns are not legal based on degree of curl or broken tips, you are responsible for counting at least 8 true annuli before attempting to take the ram.
Reference - Alaska Department of Fish & Game Website

Typical Sheep Country!
Our Method
We set up a couple of tables length-wise and covered them with white paper. We set the horns on one end, tilted up slightly. We used more white paper to cover some of the darker parts of the skull, as well as the horn on the far side - so that we would just see the horn in question against a fairly white background.

On the other end, we stabilized a 4" abs pipe that is 15-1/2" long. The pipe ends have been cut square with a chop saw to allow for a true circle. We then set up a taller tripod on the floor at the abs-end of the table for the digital and video cameras.

Onto the Horns...
The photos and videos referenced below are from a set of Dall Sheep horns taken in 2006 that were questioned by the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement (ABWE), as well as the the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) - as to their legality...

During my initial inspection of these horns, I noticed that they were just at full-curl (or slightly over) with a good drop (near jaw-line). The longest horn (right side) measures 38" x 12.75" and the left is 35" x 12.75"

Here are the photo and video links: