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Flat Creek Inn Blog

Jackson Hole Wildlife, Part 7: Bighorn Sheep

July 6, 2020

It’s the bighorn sheep’s time for the limelight. If the 6th installment in this series was Return of the Jedi, our 7th installment is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—with fewer Horcruxes, but more headbutting.
Latin name: Ovis canadensis

How big are bighorn sheep?

Bighorn sheep are the largest wild sheep in North America, ranging in size from 160 to over 300 pounds, depending on gender.

What’s up with the “bighorn?”

As you may have deduced, bighorn sheep are famous for their—wait for it—big horns! Both males and females grow these horns, but males horns can weigh up to 30 pounds, which is more than the combined weight of all their bones. Males’ horns can grow to be up to three feet in length and up to 1 foot in diameter at the base. The horns serve a crucial evolutionary purpose: making them feel really secure in their masculinity. They’d drive big trucks if they could.

Cut to the chase. Tell me about headbutting.

You got it. Like typical men, males (also called rams) like hanging out with the local boys while the females (ewes) move in their own packs. The bros usually hang out together peacefully until mating season, or rut, when things start heating up. During the rut, rams compete by running at each other at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and clashing their horns together. Rams also compete with genital kicking to determine mating hierarchy. Similar practices are used by male humans in my family competing for the last BBQ rib on the grill.

What do bighorn sheep eat?

Bighorn sheep are herbivores. In summer months, bighorn sheep graze on grasses, seeds, and plants. In winter months they can be found eating woody plants like willow and sage.

Where can I see them in Jackson?

Bighorn sheep can be seen on the National Elk Refuge during the winter months. Typically the ewes and kids (1-year-old lambs) arrive first, followed by the rams. They’ll remain at the refuge from mid-November to May.

How long do they live?

Typically 6-15 years in the wild.

More sheep facts:

•A herd of bighorn sheep protect themselves from predators by facing in different directions so they always keep watch on their surroundings.
•Bighorn sheep are ruminants. They have a four-part stomach that allows them to eat a lot very quickly so they can get to a high cliff or ledge before they regurgitate what they’ve eaten and rechew it safely away from predators. Pretty gross, but if that’s your thing, we won’t judge.
•They have really sharp eyesight, smell, and hearing which helps them avoid predators.
•Though not quite as agile as a mountain goat (not that it’s a competition), bighorn sheep are well equipped for the rocky territory they inhabit. They have toenails that are designed to snag any protrusion on a rock’s surface and a soft inner pad that provides grip. As you can imagine, these guys aren’t big on pedicures.
Read previous posts in this series here: moose, elk, pronghorn, gray wolves, bears, bald eagles.
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