Bignorn Sheep

Bignorn Sheep

The bighorn sheep stands about three feet high at the shoulder and five feet in length. This wild mountain sheep live in dry, desert mountain ranges and foothills near rocky cliffs. They were all over North America but were particularly numerous in the Rocky Mountains.

The male sheep is called a ram and during the mating season fight for the females by battering their horns together. Bighorn sheep are gregarious and sometimes herds contain over 100 individuals.

The Native Americans hunted the bighorn for its meat, skin and horns. They are also in danger of attack from coyotes and mountain lions. The bighorn has excellent eyesight and agility. This aids it in jumping and gaining narrow mountain footholds when being chased by its predators.

Primary Sources

(1) William Becknell, Missouri Intelligencer (22nd April, 1823)

On the 26th we saw large flocks of mountain sheep, one of which I killed. It had long thick hair; its color was of a dirty blue, with a very fine fur next the skin; a black streak extended from its head to its tail, which is short, and of a lighter color than the body; its rump and hams were very similar to those of our domestic sheep.

(2) Theodore Roosevelt, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail (1888)

It has happened that I have generally hunted big-horn during weather of arctic severity; so that in my mind this great sheep is inseparably associated with snow-clad, desolate wastes, ice-coated crags, and the bitter cold of a northern winter; whereas the sight of a prong-buck, the game that we usually hunt early in the season, always recalls to me the endless green of the midsummer prairies as they shimmer in the sunlight.

Yet in reality the big-horn is by no means confined to any one climatic zone. Along the interminable mountain chains of the Great Divide it ranges south to the hot, dry table-lands of middle Mexico, as well as far to the northward of the Canadian boundary, among the towering and tremendous peaks where the glaciers are fed from fields of everlasting snow. There exists no animal more hardy, nor any better fitted to grapple with the extremes of heat and cold. Droughts, scanty pasturage, or deep snows make it shift its ground, but never mere variation of temperature. The lofty mountains form its favorite abode, but it is almost equally at home in any large tract of very rough and broken ground. It is by no means an exclusively alpine animal, like the white goat. It is not only found throughout the main chains of the Rockies, as well as on the Sierras of the south and the coast ranges of western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, but it also exists to the east among the clusters of high hills and the stretches of barren Bad Lands that break the monotonous level of the great plains.

Throughout most of its range the big-horn is a partly migratory beast. In the summer it seeks the highest mountains, often passing above timber-line; and when the fall snows deepen it comes down to the lower spurs or foot-hills, or may even travel some distance southward. If there is a large tract of Bad Lands near the mountains, sheep may be plentiful in them throughout the severe weather, while in the summer not a single individual will be found in its winter haunts, all having then retired to the high peaks.