North America Sheep Species

ROCKY MOUNTAIN BIGHORN SHEEP

(Ovis canadensis canadensis)


LOCATION: Alberta: Western part of the province along the Rocky Mountains near the border with British Columbia. -         Arizona: Southeastern part of the state near the border with New Mexico. -         British Columbia: The Omineca-Peace and Kootenay wildlife regions in the Rocky Mountains near the border with Alberta. Also introduces in two areas (Unit 3-17, west of Spences Bridge, and Unit 3-20, southeast of Kamloops) in the Thompson-Nicola Wildlife Region that were formerly California bighorn habitat. -         Colorado: Throughout the Rocky Mountain region. -         Idaho: Western and central parts north of I-84. -         Montana: Western parts. -         Nebraska: Northwestern part of the state. -         Nevada:East-central part near Mt. Moriah. -         New Mexico: Southwestern part near the Arizona border, and in the Pecos Wilderness in the north-central region. -         Oregon: Northeastern corner. -         South Dakota: (non-indigenous): Three areas in the southwestern part, where they were introduced from Wyoming and Colorado. This was once the range of the extinct Audubon bighorn. -         Utah: One herd in the northeastern part on the Nevada border, another northeast of Green River. -         Washington: Extreme southeastern parts. -         Wyoming: Mainly in the northwest, but also in the north-central and south-central parts.           

DESCRIPTION: Weight: 200-250 pounds, occasionally as much as 300 pounds. The Rocky Mountain bighorn is the largest sheep in North America and one of the largest in the world. It is a heavy-bodied animal with massive horns and a full, coarse, grayish-brown coat. The muzzle is white, as are the backs of the front legs and insides of hind legs. The belly is white in the groin area, with the white color sometimes extending forward onto the chest. The rump patch is large and white, surrounding the dark tail. The horns are very thick at the base and tend to carry the thickness throughout their length. Typically, the horns curl close to the head and are broomed off at the eyes where further growth would interfere with vision.


HABITAT: Mountain ridges and basins, usually above timber line, but often in timbered areas as well.


REMARKS: It has been said that of all the world’s sheep, the Rocky Mountain bighorn – especially one with horns of trophy proportions – is by far the most difficult to collect. Surveys indicate that bighorn hunts have the lowest success ratios of all sheep hunts.



MEXICAN DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP

(Ovis canadensis mexicanna)

LOCATION: - Arizona: Southern half of the state. - Mexico: In the Sonoran Desert of the state of Sonora. Wild sheep also formerly occurred in the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in the Chihuahuan Desert, but are extinct; however the populations have been restored with sheep captured in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Also in Mexico, the sheep can be found on the Island of Tiburon. - New Mexico: Southwest corner of the state.

Description: The adult body weight of the male is 150-200 pounds. The male's horns become a full curl by 7-8 years of age and have a spread of up to 33 inches and can weigh 30 pounds. The Mexican desert bighorn sheep has a smooth coat of brittle guard hairs and short, gray, crimped fleece under fur. The fur is pale brown and pales in appearance than the bighorn sheep of the United States.


Habitat: All of the areas where they can be found are desert that consist of low, arid plains separated by barren, often detached mountains. Sometimes it is referred to as a tree desert because of the sizeable trees and treelike cacti. Temperatures range from about 50°F in January to about 85°F in July. Elevations range from sea level to merely 5,000 feet. Characteristic plants are palo verdes, ironwood, mesquite, and the saguaro or giant cactus.


Remarks: The Mexican government has turned the care, conservation and harvest of these magnificent sheep over to the private land owners. Therefore, although these hunts are extremely expensive, the future of these sheep is good because of both facts, i.e.: Privately owned and of great value.



CALIFORNIA BIGHORN SHEEP

(Ovis canadensis californiana)


LOCATION: British Columbia: Southern part, in the Caribou, Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan wildlife regions. Idaho: Southwestern part, south of Interstate 84 in Owyhee and Twin Falls counties (non-indigenous). Nevada: Northwestern part, north of Interstate 80 in Washoe, Humboldt and western Elko counties. Oregon: Southeastern part, mainly in Harney and Malheur counties. Utah: Small population in the northwestern part of the state. Washington: North-central part, near the B.C. border in Okanogan and Ferry counties; central part, in Kittitas and Yakima counties; and southeastern part, in Asotin, Garfield and Columbia counties.  

DESCRIPTION:  The California bighorn is considerably smaller than the Rocky Mountain bighorn, with rams of the same age weighing as much as 50 pounds less. The horns are shorter and less massive, and tend to have more flare. The ears are longer, the coat is not as heavy, and the color is lighter, being more gray than brown. Normally a dark stripe extends from the dorsal area through the white rump patch to connect with the dark tail, whereas in the Rocky Mountain bighorn this stripe is usually interrupted or absent.


HABITAT: Less steep and rough than that of the Rocky Mountain bighorn, with more grass and less browse.


REMARKS: Present United States populations are largely the result of transplants from British Columbia through the cooperation of the B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch.



DALL SHEEP

(Ovis dalli dalli)


LOCATION: Most of Alaska’s mountain ranges; the extreme northwestern corner of British Columbia; the northern and western Yukon Territory; and the Mackenzie Mountains in the Northwest Territories.  

DESCRIPTION: The Dall sheep is pure white, with amber hoofs and horns. The horns are slimmer than in other North American sheep, more triangular in cross section and relatively longer. Horn conformation varies with region, some ranges featuring sheep with tight curls, others with more flare; however, the typical mature Dall ram has horns that flare outward at the tips after making a full curl. Dall sheep are somewhat smaller and slimmer than Stone sheep.


HABITAT: Alpine country, including glacier edges, below permanent snow line. Essential elements are steep, rugged cliffs and rock outcroppings for escape from predators, and nearby meadows for feeding.


REMARKS: The Dall ram is currently the least difficult and least expensive North American sheep to hunt. Dall sheep numbers are high and are stable throughout their range. Dall hunts in Alaska are typically conducted on foot from fly-in camps. All hunts in northwestern British Columbia are horse hunts. The Yukon offers horse hunts and fly-in hunts. The Northwest Territories offers horse hunts, fly-in hunts, riverboat hunts and strenuous backpack hunts. On horse hunts, the horses are used only on the approach, with the actual stalk made on foot.



DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP

(Ovis canadensis nelsoni)


LOCATION: Arizona: (Northwest part of the state), California: (Southeastern part, mainly in the Mohave Desert, but also in the Colorado Desert in the far south), Colorado: (Southwestern part, south of the Colorado River and west of the Gunnison River), Nevada: (Southern part), Texas: (Western part), Utah: (Southwestern and south central part of the state).

DESCRIPTION: Weight 150-170 pounds. The desert sheep is a bighorn that has adapted to a hot, arid environment with limited forage and water. It is smaller than the Rocky Mountain bighorn, with a smaller skull, bigger ears, paler color and a short coat. The white rump patch is smaller and usually is divided by a dark tail stripe. The horns are almost as large as those of a Rocky Mountain bighorn and tend to have more flare. This – combined with the smaller body size and shorter coat – makes the horns of a good desert ram appear huge and almost out of proportion to its body.


HABITAT: Desert mountains with sufficient permanent water. Water is essential. While desert sheep may forage for considerable distances, they must return to drink every few days during hot weather.


REMARKS: The desert bighorn is usually the last ram of a “Grand Slam” to be taken, and is often never taken at all. It must be hunted on foot in steep mountains with crumbling rock and under hot, waterless conditions. But the greatest obstacle is the lack of permits. Limited permits are available through drawing in Arizona, Nevada and a few other states, but few permits are allotted to non-residents.  Since permits are more limited for this North American wild sheep than the Dall, Stone or bighorn, it is usually the Desert Sheep that becomes the biggest obstacle to completing a Grand Slam. Some are lucky enough to draw a coveted permit in one of the western states while others usually have to pay premium prices for a Mexico permit or special Governors permit.



FANNIN SHEEP

(Ovis dalli fannini)


LOCATION: Primarily located in the Ogilvie Mountains of the Yukon and occasional dark hued sheep in Alaska and the Northwest Territories.

DESCRIPTION: Weight: 180-220 pounds, and sometimes up to 250 pounds. Horns are dark amber and vary widely in configuration. The Fannin sheep has been aptly described historically as a “saddle back” sheep departing from the all-white Dall by the dark haired areas of the back and shoulders and on the tail.


NOTES: Many people believe the Fannin sheep is nothing more than an offspring, or cross, between the Dall sheep and Stone sheep. This, in fact, may be the case, because their ranges do overlap. However, the fact that Fannin sheep exist in the northern Yukon defies this theory. The northern Yukon Fannins are totally isolated geographically from their southern Yukon relatives. The stereotypical Fannin sheep are primarily found in the Ogilvie Mountains of northern Yukon Territory. A small pocket of Fannin sheep can even be found in Alaska. At present, it is accepted that the northern Yukon Fannins simply range into Alaska. There are also Fannins found occasionally in the Mackenzie Mountains of NWT. It is difficult to explain this phenomenon, because the Dall sheep of NWT are isolated from Stones and Fannins by significant amounts of geography. The Fannins of the Mackenzie Mountains are more numerous (but still rare) in the southernmost parts of the range. However, they show up occasionally in the most northern part of the range as well. If a ram has only a black tail, it is generally accepted as a Dall sheep. It is only when the dark hair appears on the body that it is considered a Fannin. Because rams with color have begun to show up quite often in traditional Dall habitat, GSCO has made the following decision: If a ram has only a small amount of black hair within the body and/or down the legs, the trophy owner can choose to call it either Fannin or Dall.


REMARKS: Fannin sheep hunts are more expensive than Dall sheep and conducted with horses or on foot from fly-in camps.



STONE SHEEP

(Ovis dalli stonei)


LOCATION: Northern British Columbia north of the Peace River, extending northward into the southern Yukon Territory.

DESCRIPTION: Weight 180-220 pounds, exceptionally as much as 250 pounds. The Stone sheep is a handsome animal, differing from the Dall mainly by not being white. Individuals vary greatly in color and pattern, ranging from almost white in the north through shades of gray and brown to nearly black in southern areas. Sheep of various colors may be found in the same group. The head, and often the neck, are a lighter color than the body. The muzzle, belly, backs of legs, and rump are white. The tail is black, and is usually connected by a dark band to the dark hairs of the back. The Stone sheep is somewhat larger and chunkier than the Dall sheep, with heavier, darker-colored horns. Horns are brown or dark amber and the age rings are more clearly defined than in Dall or bighorn rams.


HABITAT: Alpine country, including glacier edges, below permanent snow line. Essential elements are steep, rugged cliffs and rock outcroppings for escape from predators, and nearby meadows for feeding.


REMARKS: Stone sheep hunts are more expensive than those for Dall sheep, and there are fewer licenses available. All hunts are conducted with horses, and can often be arranged to include other species as well. Many sportsmen consider the Stone sheep to be the finest North American big game trophy.



NORTH BAJA DESERT BIGHORN

(Cremnobates)


LOCATION: The North Baja desert bighorn sheep exists on the Baja of California from the international border between Mexico and the United States to the north and the 28° parallel to the south. To be more specific, the southern border of this subspecies is a straight line drawn across the peninsula from Isla Navidad on the west, through Guerrero Negro and continued east across the Baja to the Gulf of California.

DESCRIPTION: The North Baja desert bighorn is the biggest of the three desert sheep that occur in Mexico (Mexicana, South Baja and North Baja). The body size is bigger by 20% and the horns are bigger by 16%.


HABITAT: Within Baja California, the areas occupied by desert bighorn in the north (cremnobates) differ significantly from areas occupied by desert bighorn in the south (weemsi). These areas are differentiated into sub-regions of Baja California on the basis of their climatic, animal and plant attributes.


REMARKS: The last time the North Baja desert bighorn (cremnobates) was legally hunted was in 1990. There is not a huntable population at this time. There does not appear to be a government or a non-government organization working on reversing that status.



SOUTH BAJA DESERT BIGHORN

(Weemsi)


LOCATION: Confined to the southern portion of the Baja California peninsula in the state of Baja California Sur. More specifically, they can be found south of the 28th parallel line. Specifically, south of a straight line down through Isla Navidad and through Guerrero Negro and continued across the Baja to the Gulf of California. There is a well-managed, healthy population of these desert sheep on Carmen Island (Isla Carmen) as well as several of the South Baja Ejidos. 

DESCRIPTION: Desert sheep from Baja California can be differentiated from other desert bighorn sheep in North America, because of their larger size. Anatomical differences extend beyond the horns. For example, desert bighorn of the weemsi subspecies are darker than other desert bighorn and the ewes have the longest horns of all North America desert wild sheep.


HABITAT: A 650 mile portion of the South Baja California peninsula is occupied by the weemsi subspecies. The habitat consists of irregular, sometimes discontinuous escarpment running north and south of the length of the peninsula, falling off the eastern side. The varied topography includes mountain ridges, hills and tablelands, canyons and outwash plains, largely granitic or lava. Bighorns are found chiefly on the eastern side of this long elevated tract.


REMARKS: The population of desert sheep in South Baja is cared for, conserved and harvested by the Mexican government and private land owners very rigorously. Thus there is a huntable population, although small.

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