Find the best places to hunt Bighorn Sheep in Canada and discover the Bighorn's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status.

 

Provinces with Bighorn Sheep Hunting

British Columbia Resident and Non-Resident
Alberta Resident and Non-Resident

Selecting a Hunting Calibre for Sheep

Vital Shot Placement for Bighorn Sheep

Vital Shot Placement for Bighorn Sheep

Photo By: Glenlarson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified by Canada-Hunts.ca

I read a lot of forms here and the consensus of opinion always mentioned the .270 with additional references to the 7mm being sometimes repeated. The reason behind these choices cited the need for a rifle to be able to make a long shot and the need for a lightweight firearms.

Bullet choice seemed to come in at about 120 grains, really good optics, and mounting systems were always in the formula for a great sheep gun. 

 

 Bighorn Hooves

Bighorn Sheep Hooves

Front Track:

  • 2.125"-3.375" (8.25 - 8.57 ) cm long
  • 1.5"-3" (3.9 - 7.6 cm) wide.

Rear Track:

  • 2.125"-3.25" (5.4 - 8.25 cm) long
  • 1.5"-2.375" (3.8 - 6.1 cm) wide.

Trail Width

  • 4"-11" (10.16 - 27.9 cm)

 Photo From: 

https://www.nps.gov/features/colm/virtualtour/section/hard/activity/sheep-101/

 

The Bighorn Sheep's hooves are this mammals' most important assent. 

The hooves are concave in the middle, have a soft, rubber-like pad, and have hard outer edges.

This hoof adaptation gives them good traction on rocky steep terrain, allows them to cling to as little as a two-inch ledge, and can jump as far as six meters from ledge to ledge.

Range and Habitat of Bighorn Sheep

 Bighorn Range Map of Canada

Bighorn Range Map of Canada
 
  • Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Modified By: Canada-Hunts.ca

There are two kinds of Bighorn Sheep in western Canada. The RockyMountain Bighorn (Ovis canadensis canadensis) and the California Bighorn (Ovis canadensis californiana).

In British Columbia, about 3600 California Bighorns occupy the dry valleys, alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes, foothills, and mountains of the Okanagan area, South Cariboo, and South Chilcotin regions known as the CascadeMountain range.

There are 5 main herds of about 3100 Rocky Mountain Bighorns occupying the Kootenay Range, Galton Range, Front Range, West Slope of the Rocky Mountains, and the Kootenay Headwaters.

There is third subspecies of Bighorn Sheep. The Sierra Nevada Bighorn, (O. c. sierrae.Rams), it is endangered and does not exist in Canada.

It is hard to tell the difference between a California and RockyMountain bighorn. It takes a trained eye to note that California Bighorn is slightly darker in color, and it has horns that flare more outward.

Since Bighorn Sheep cannot move though deep snow, they prefer drier slopes, where the annual snowfall is less than about 60 inches a year. Typically a bighorn will winter at a lower elevation than it does in the summer.

This sparse environment provides the Bighorn Sheep with the ability to escape potential predators, such as grizzly or black bears and wolverines. It is almost impossible to sneak up on a Bighorn as it has exceptional eyesight that can detect the movement of objects that are a kilometer away. 

Bighorn Sheep are social animals that form groups of 10 to 100 ewes living together while rams tend to form groups of 2 to 5. These groups generally live separately but in the fall they will interact during the mating season.

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Description of Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep Rams Ewes
Life Span 9-12 years 10-14 years
Shoulder Height 36–41 in (91–104 cm) 30–36 in (76–91 cm)
Overall Length 69–79 in (180–200 cm) 54–67 in (140–170 cm)
Weight 127–316 lb (58–143 kg) 75–188 lb (34–85 kg)
Weight at Birth 8 to 10 lb (3.6 to 4.5 kg)
Horns More than 30 inches and 15 inches in circumference (rams);  Ewes have shorter horns with little curvature.
Hearing Acute Hearing 
Eyes Able to detect moving objects at 1 kilometer 
Dental Formula  I 0/3, C 0/1, Pm 3/3, M 3/3 X 2 = 32
Body Temperature 38.3 C (101.0 F) to 38.9 C (102.1 F) ...
Feet Ungulate
Can Travel 20 Miles per hours
Diet Herbivore
Sexual Maturity 3 Years 2.5 Years
Breeding Time November 
Gestation N/A 170 to 180 days
Birthing N/A last week in April to early June
# in Litter N/A 1 lamb - rarely two
Weaning 4-6 months
Communication The only common sound of rams is a nasal snort, usually made as a warning and when rams prepare to fight. 

Bighorn Identification
Bighorn Description

Photo From: http://creatures-of-the-world.wikia.com/wiki/Bighorn_Sheep?file=Male_Bighorn.jpg

Modified by: Canada-Hunts.ca

The Bighorn Sheep originally crossed over the Bering land bridge from Siberia and the populated in North America in the millions. By 1900, through disease from European livestock and over hunting the population dwindled to several thousand. 

The Bighorn derives its name from its' massive large, brown curved spiraled horns that the rams (males) have. At 30 lb (14 kg), the rams' horns can make up 10% of the rams weight. Ewes (females) have shorter horns with much less curvature.

Throughout the sheep’s life, the horns continue to grow. But this growth slows down in winter, these slow downs cause check lines or annuli on the horns from which a sheep’s age can be determined by counting the annuli. The horns of a ram can weigh as much as 30 lb (13.6 kg), have a curvature length of 50 inches (127 cm) and be 15.75 inches (40 cm) at the base of the horn. Rams often wear away (or broom) the first year or two's growth through fighting with other rams or rubbing their horns against rocks. Ewes have slightly curved horns about 30 cm long. Their annuli are generally too close together to tell their age beyond that of five or six years.

The Bighorn males have large horn cores, enlarged cornual and frontal sinuses, and internal bony septa (the portion that separates the left and right nostrils) that protects the brain. These adaptations are in order to protect the brain from the impact of clashes that the males exhibit in their displays of dominance. 

Bighorn Sheep range in color from light brown to grayish or dark, chocolate brown, with a white rump and white lining on the backs of all four legs. The males typically weigh 127–316 lb (58–143 kg), are 36–41 in (91–104 cm) tall at the shoulder, and 69–79 in (180–200 cm) long from the nose to the tail. The females are typically 75–188 lb (34–85 kg), 30–36 in (76–91 cm) tall and 54–67 in (140–170 cm) long. 

Yearling rams look a lot like ewes, but rams two years old or older have larger horns. 

The lifespan of a ram is typically 9–12 years while ewes can live 10-14 years of age.

 

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Bighorn Sheep

 Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

Bighorn ewe with Lamb
 Photo From: - https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/15115975466

Bighorn Sheep are ruminant herbivores with four-chambered stomachs. They are primarily grazers, consuming various grasses, forbs, and woody vegetation depending on season and location. Both Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats will start to occasionally visit mineral licks for bone an muscle growth before the snow melts off of them. However, once the snow melts, both species will make it a routine and continue to use the licks with their visits peaking in June and July.

Grasses, sedges and soft-stemmed plants comprise the majority of the diet, but up to 25 percent of diet may be comprised of shrubs such as sage, Saskatoon bush, mock orange, bearberry, juniper, and willow.

Cured grasses such as fescue (cool season grass) and bluebunch wheatgrass are key food sources on most winter ranges in British Columbia. Junegrass and the halfshrub pasture sage are also important, especially in early spring. In late spring, Bighorn Sheep relish the new growth of a variety of grasses, together with herbs like balsamroot. On alpine summer ranges, they eat a variety of grasses, clover, and sedges, together with succulent herbs such as lupines and the tender new leaves of willows and other low shrubs.

Fescu Lupine Bluebunch Wheatgrass Balsamroot
Fescu Lupine Bluebunch wheatgrass Balsamroot

 

Bighorn Sheep Breeding and Reproduction

 Bighorn Lamb

Bighorn lamb
 Photo From: https://www.flickr.com/photos/58234511@N00/1389876814>

It is January, the rut has finished and receptive ewes are in their gestation period that lasts 170 to 180 days after conception. The Bighorn will form in large herds that do not typically follow a single leader ram,

In the spring, pregnant ewes will leave the social group of the herd and migrate to alpine areas near the winter-spring range in order to give birth in an area that is safer from predation. The downside is that these areas are generally areas of poorer quality forage. 

After a few days of nursing and bonding in the cliffs, ewe, and lamb rejoin the ewes’ social group. There the lamb will spend the summer with its mother, learning the landscape and putting on an additional 56 lbs (25.4 Kg) by the end of the summer. The weaning process of a lamb is one of slow progression, where the lambs eat more grasses and nurse less through the summer months so that by the time October arrives they are weaned

From mid-May to early June, one and sometimes two lambs 8 to 10 lb (3.6 to 4.5 kg) are born with most births occurring in the first two weeks of the lambing period. Lambs that are born earlier in the lambing period are more likely to survive because they have a greater amount of time to receive adequate nutrition for survival, as their mothers are lactating at a time when food quality is higher.

Newborn lambs can walk within hours and the pair will soon rejoin the Ewes' herd, where the lamb will accompany its mother for an entire year. Here, the young ewes and rams learn the location of seasonal ranges, salt licks, and escape terrain by associating with the older, more experienced members of the sheep herd.

Bighorn Sheep are among the most social of British Columbia’s hoofed mammals. During most of the year, the ewes and rams occupy separate ranges where they travel in groups of 5 to 20 with occasional herds of up to 100. Ewes and lambs form nursery groups that comprise of females, lambs, and yearlings of both sexes all of whom would be related to each other. You will find the older ewes in charge and within these groups dominance in the group is maintained mainly by age. When ewes are integrated into the hierarchy at the age of one to two years they may fight in order to determine their position in the social ranking. 

Young rams will leave the band of ewes when they are two to three years old and join a bachelor group. Ram groups have well-developed social rules and a dominance hierarchy or “pecking order” in which it is a ram's size. Particularly the size of his horns will determine his status in the hierarchy. Smaller rams recognize and respect the dominance of bigger ones, but similar sized rams engage in bouts of head-butting to settle who is in charge. In this case, the rams attempt to establish a dominance hierarchy to determine access to ewes for mating. During the pre-rut period, most of the characteristic horn clashing occurs between rams, although this behavior may occur to a limited extent throughout the year. Bighorn Rams exhibit agonistic behavior: two competitors walk away from each other and then turn to face each other before jumping and lunging into head butts. The ram that rebounds most in these violent clashes is the lighter of the two. Rams' horns can frequently exhibit damage from repeated clashes. 

This occurs throughout the year, but it is particularly pronounced among mature rams at breeding time, when dominance usually confers the right to breed with any receptive ewes. This does not to rule out the fact that a young ram may sneak in and breed a receptive ewe while the larger rams are sparring. Most ewes do not breed until they are two years old, but where nutritional conditions are very good, a few may breed as yearlings. Rams are physiologically capable of breeding by two years of age, but they usually have to stay on the sidelines until they are seven or eight years old.

In southern British Columbia, most Bighorn Sheep breed between early November and mid-December and those herds that spend all their time at higher elevations all year seem to rut 1 to 2 weeks later. As with most northern ungulates, the rut is timed to optimise the availability of abundant nutritious forage at birthing.  Pregnancy rates have been shown to be over 90% of adult females and bearing one young per year. 

Conservation Status of Bighorns in Canada

Both California and Rocky Mountain Bighorns are considered vulnerable and “at risk” in British Columbia, which means that without further protection, they are likely to become either threatened or endangered. The existing herds are vital to maintaining the species’ persistence. There is a clear need to preserve or restore physical connections between subpopulations along with connections to potential future habitats to facilitate range expansions and shifts.

Bighorn Sheep are considered good indicators of the lands' health. This is because the species is sensitive to many human-induced environmental problems. In addition to their aesthetic value, Bighorn Sheep are considered desirable game animals by hunters. 

Bighorn Sheep of all ages are threatened by Bobcats, Lynx, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Coyotes, Wolves, Wolverines, and especially Cougars, The young can also be targeted by Golden Eagles. Cougars prey mostly on adult sheep while Coyotes usually take lambs or starving adults. On occasion, Cougars and Coyotes can seriously reduce the size of a herd

Bighorn Sheep die from predation, starvation, accidents, and disease. These factors kill about 50 percent of the lambs and 20 percent of yearling sheep each year. After the age of two, the sheep are less vulnerable, but the death rate increases again when they get old. If they don't die young, bighorns frequently live to 12 or 14 years; the maximum known age is 20 years.

In the East Kootenay region, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herds that winter at low elevations contract pneumonia at about 20-year intervals.

A pathogen, called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae has been identified in that Bighorns that get fatal Mannheimia haemolytica pneumonia a fatal lung disease in Bighorns that affects sheep of all ages and sex. This disease is known to impact herd size with a rapid die-off of 40 to 80% of the herds' population. Contact with domestic sheep and goats seems to be the key trigger for this disease but deficiencies of key trace minerals, changes in diet, poor nutrition, overcrowding, and inclement weather may also be factors in these die-offs. California Bighorn Sheep do not appear to be as susceptible to pneumonia epidemics.

Wild sheep harbor a wide variety of parasites, but few cause any mortality. If the food on winter ranges is insufficient, or winter weather is severe, the sheep may be weakened so that parasites such as lungworms, in association with pneumonia-causing bacteria, can cause epidemic die-offs, virtually wiping out entire herds. Scabies and other diseases introduced by domestic sheep can cause similar losses.

Accidental deaths from fighting, falls, avalanches, and highway traffic can occasionally occur. Predators—in particular the wolf in the north and cougar in the south—consistently take old or sick sheep, but do not pose a threat to population’s survival because healthy sheep are more than capable of avoiding capture by running off onto cliffs that are too steep for the predators to follow.

The most serious threat to wild sheep numbers is a lack of good quality winter food. Although the summer pastures are almost unlimited, winter snows may force entire herds to feed on just a few hectares of range. Many of those ranges must be shared with domestic sheep, cattle, horses, or wild animals such as elk. Resulting malnutrition may kill sheep directly, but more commonly makes them vulnerable to death from disease, exposure, or predation.

The present population is about 25 000. Dall and Stone sheep numbers are not well known, but have changed little since pre-settlement times.

Luckily, recent conservation measures have halted the decline and some herds are now increasing. Many bighorns are safe within national parks and game reserves. Restrictive hunting laws and relocation of animals into formerly occupied ranges have increased numbers. As in the case of the buffalo, or bison, bighorn herds will never return to their original abundance because so much of their former range has been permanently settled or altered by man. However, it is hoped that further re-introductions, new parks and reserves, and improved livestock grazing practices will be rewarded by increased numbers of our unique and majestic bighorn.

References

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bighorn_sheep

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_bighorn_sheep

  • https://peerj.com/articles/2001/#intro

  • Hinterland Who's Who - http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/mountain-sheep.html

  • https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/animal-facts-bighorn-sheep

  • http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Ovis_canadensis.html

  • http://www.canadiangeographic.com/wildlife-nature/?path=english/species/bighorn-sheep

  • http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bighorn.pdf

  • http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/frpa/iwms/documents/Mammals/m_bighornsheep.pdf

  • http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wildlife-management/bighorn-sheep-management.aspx

  • http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wildlife-management/documents/TrophyBighornSheepManagement-Feb03-2012.pdf

  • http://www.defenders.org/bighorn-sheep/basic-facts

  • http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/okanagan/esd/atlas/species/bighorn_sheep.html

 

Photo Credits - Background

Bighorn Sheep - Pixabay

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