The bighorn sheep is a medium-sized, largely brownish bovid with a white rump patch, muzzle, center, and rear portion of the legs. The tail is blackish-brown on the exposed surface. The hooves are equipped with a rubberlike pad that facilitates negotiating rocky terrain. The ears are relatively small and somewhat pointed. Both sexes are equipped with horns; those of males are massive and spiral outward, whereas those of females are relatively thin, recurved, and mostly directed upward and posteriorly. Horn growth reflects nutritional status.
Bighorn sheep are capable of moving with speed and agility through the precipitous terrain in which they live. Except immediately before and during the rut, they associate in groups consisting either of three-year-old males or older or of 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 status are less obvious.
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