Researchers at the University of Wyoming say that the path to increasing the number of trophy rams in North American Bighorn sheep populations may be contrary to popular belief, according to their recent research paper.

The most effective method, according to their research, is the hunting of female bighorn sheep, UW says. The reason for this being that it would free up more forage for growing rams and their mothers. This would boost their nutritional levels, which is a much bigger factor than genetics in producing rams with large horns, according to their research.

The data was detailed in a paper published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, published by the Wildlife Society. Kevin Monteith, an assistant professor in UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, was the lead author on the paper.

In the paper, Monteith and his colleges said because of tradition and public resistance, there aren’t many opportunities for bighorn sheep ewe hunting. The benefits, however, are too many to ignore. Hunting of the ewes would not only lead to better nutritional conditions that would produce rams with bigger horns, it would stabilize the populations, reduce die-offs from disease and provide more opportunities for hunters.

“If production of large, trophy males remains an important management objective…, then we contend that management programs should integrate monitoring of nutritional status of populations and, where evidence indicates nutritional limitation through density dependence, seek to regulate abundance and per capita nutrition via harvest of females,” the paper states.

Tayler LaSharr, a UW master’s degree student, contributed, as well as researchers from the University of Idaho, University of Nevada-Reno, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.