Big horn sheep

Big horn sheep stand in grasses on Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake near Polson.

Big Horn Sheep are among the rarest of the hoofed mammals found in Montana. They primarily dwell in rocky areas and sparsely wooded canyons. In Montana, big horn sheep are also present in the badlands country of the Missouri Breaks.

Big horn sheep have brown coats with white or light-colored underbellies, a white rump and dark brown tail. The sheep have small rounded ears, a thick neck and white muzzle.

The most notable feature of the big horn sheep is, of course, the horns. Rams have extremely thick, ridged horns that curve backwards encircling the ear. Ewes have slightly more slender horns that form a half circle in maturity.

In the summer big horn sheep join in small segregated herds, but during the breeding season groups of dozens or even hundreds of sheep will congregate.

During the fall breeding season, rams have violent head-butting contests that can last for hours. The rams simultaneously rear back on their hind legs and surge forward, crashing their heads and horns forcefully into one another. The sound of impact can be heard for miles.

Big horn sheep are agile mountaineers, able to deftly navigate steep terrain. They have sturdy legs and rubbery soles on the base of their hooves, which provided superb traction.