Bighorn Sheep in Gardner Canyon, Yellowstone National Park

Just south of the north entrance station, but before reaching Mammoth Hot Springs, the Gardner River tumbles through a canyon. To the west, sagebrush-covered hills roll upward, and to the east the steep flank of Mt. Everts juts up to 7,841 feet.

It’s on this steeper east side that Bighorn Sheep often hang out.

A couple friends and I headed down to Yellowstone yesterday to ski the Blacktail Plateau Ski Trail. We were graced with views of an elk with a huge rack, coyotes yipping and howling and a beautiful day.

Elk chilling in the snow

Elk chilling in the snow in northern Yellowstone.

On the way back to Livingston we stopped to watch four sheep graze and butt heads just off the road. Right now we are in the middle of rutting season (when sheep breed), which runs from November to January.

Look at his eye! That bighorn sheep has one thing on his mind.

In order to establish dominance, and thus get to mate with the ewes, rams knock horns. We were so close that we could hear the dull thud every time they butted heads. We didn’t see any ewes, but they couldn’t have been too far away.

Big Horn Sheep butting heads

Thud! Bighorn sheep butt heads in Gardner Canyon.

Bighorn sheep butting heads, again.

Winter seems late to rut, but the gestational period for Bighorn Sheep is only 6 months, so lambing season occurs in late-May through mid-June. Lambs weigh 8-10 lbs at birth and will walk within hours of being born.

Three sheep

Time for a snuggle.

Ewes birth their lambs on steep slopes to protect them from predators. (Sheep hooves are concave, so they can get a better grip.) Lambs stay with the ewes for the first year of their life while they learn about their home range and how to behave and survive.


Learn more about Bighorn Sheep:
Yellowstone – Teton Wildlife
Yellowstone Wildlife: An Introduction to Familiar Species of Yellowstone Area WY by James Kavanagh, Raymond Leung

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