The bighorn sheep is a medium-sized, predominantly brownish bovid with a white rump patch, muzzle, center, and rear portion of the legs. The tail is blackish-brown on the exposed surface, and the hooves have a rubber-like pad that facilitates negotiating rocky terrain. The ears are small and pointed. Both sexes are equipped with horns; the male horns are massive and spiral outward, whereas those of females are relatively thin, recurved, and primarily directed upward and posteriorly. Horn growth reflects nutritional status.
Bighorn sheep can move with speed and agility through the steep terrain they live in. Except immediately before and during the rut, they associate in groups consisting either of three-year-old males or older adult females and immatures of both sexes. Strong dominance relationships are maintained in groups of males but are weaker in groups of females and immatures. Among males, horn size, body size, and fighting ability determine social status, but among females, characteristics that determine class are less noticeable.
In Oregon, bighorn sheep occur in Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur, Sherman, and Wallowa counties. Requisite components of bighorn sheep habitat are visibility, escape terrain, and abundant continuous forage. Open areas on rocky slopes, ridges, rimrocks, cliffs, and canyon walls with adjacent grasslands or meadows, but few trees provide those requisites and form the primary habitat of this species.
Photo by Nick Myatt, ODFW