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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

Wildlife: Where to See Bighorn Sheep

Scout high deserts and mountains for these scrambling sheep.

by: Kelly Bastone

Sheep in Yellowstone (Ken Archer)
Sheep in Yellowstone (Ken Archer)

High deserts and mountains throughout the Rocky Mountains and Southwest

>> Steep, rocky cliffs Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorns are distinct subspecies, but they favor the same stomping grounds: open slopes of 45 degrees or more. “They negotiate steep terrain better than most predators, so that’s where they feel safest,” says Brian Wakeling, a wildlife biologist and chief of game for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
>> Washes and springs During hot summers, bighorns stay close to water sources. In winter, they move to lower mountain pastures and drier grounds, since they’re adapted to drink less in cooler weather.

>> Any time of day During the summer, however, they stay in shady alcoves midday.
>> Fall rut Watch (and hear) rams butting heads at 30 mph while fighting for a mate. In spring, ewes bear their lambs on high ledges.

>> Watch for white patches against rocky backgrounds. “They have big, white butts,” says Wakeling, so the hindquarters stand out most.
>> Sit still and use binoculars, since bighorns are sensitive to movement. If you must get closer, approach from below; motion from above makes them feel vulnerable.

Top spots
Whiskey Basin, in the northeast Wind River Range, WY, has North America’s largest wintering herd; hike the eight-mile round-trip on Whiskey Creek Trail to Whiskey Mountain

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