Where Do Bighorn Sheep Live?


One of my favorite kinds of mammals in North America, the bighorn sheep population was once in decline.  Due to reintroduction by many states, the bighorn is now found in quite a few areas in North America.

The Rocky Mountains bighorn sheep and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are found in the cooler mountainous ranges from Southern Canada to West Texas. The desert bighorn sheep prefer the Southwestern United States’ desert ecosystems, including the Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert, and the Sonoran Desert.  

If you want to know more about where you can find bighorn sheep in North America then please read on.

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How To Spot Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep can sometimes be difficult to spot due to their color and the surrounding terrain.  Bighorn sheep can be found on rocky, mountainous cliffs or in the meadows around them.  The color of the bighorn can blend into the mountains behind them, and it is only when they move that you may spot them.  

If you are looking for bighorns in winter, they can almost always be found on South-facing slopes.  Bighorn sheep can be found during the day. Most are active in the late afternoon and first thing in the morning.

Arizona

The Kofa National wildlife refuge was set up in 1939 to protect desert bighorn sheep in Arizona.  Desert bighorn sheep can be found in the 2,693 km2 of the Sonoran desert in the Yuma desert region.   

There are estimated to be 428 Desert Bighorn sheep.  They live mainly in the Castle Dome mountains and Kofa Mountains of Northern Yuma country.  The mountains here are very rugged, providing perfect sheep habitat.  

Big Horn Mountains Wilderness has 9 miles of the mountain range and has many desert bighorn sheep.

Havasu Wilderness stretches for 30 miles along the Colorado River.  Bighorn sheep can be found among the many mountains along with other animals.

The Pusch Ridge Wilderness had a reintroduction of desert bighorn sheep in 2016.  The population has reached a sustainable level, with lamb survival being studied as good.

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California

Bighorn sheep can be found in central and eastern Washington.  There are populations at Hall Mountain in the Selkirk’s, the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, and the blue mountains near Joesph Creek.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep can be found from the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.  An estimated 1,000 peninsular bighorn sheep are living in these mountains.  

They are known as low elevation bighorn as they live from 400 foot to 4,000-foot elevation.

In Death Canyon, the best place to look for the desert bighorn is Titus Canyon, where the freshwater spring provides a year-round watering hole.

There are between 200 and 300 bighorn sheep living in Joshua Tree National Park.  There are three separate herds at the park.  There is a pack of 100 animals that range through the Little San Bernardino Mountains.  Another pack is larger at 120, and they live in the Eagle Mountains.  The third pack is the smallest at approximately 30 animals who are found in the Wonderland of Rocks.  

Canada

Bighorn sheep have a huge population in Canada, currently at 15% of North America’s current population.  The bighorn is the official mammal of the Province of Alberta and can be found in the Canadian Rockies straddling the Alberta-British Columbia border in the West of the province.  There are also bighorn sheep in parts of the southern British Columbia interior.  

In Churn Creek, two sheep herds are in decline.  In the Taseko lakes area of the Cariboo, there are frequent sightings of bighorn sheep.

There are approximately 14,000 bighorn sheep in Canada, with 11,000 of them in Alberta. The remaining 3,000 live in British Columbia. 

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Colorado

The Rocky Mountain National Park is home to Colorado’s State animal, the bighorn sheep.  One of the best places to see them is at Big Thompson Canyon.  They can be spotted along Highway 34 West of Loveland in the canyon.  The herd numbers approximately 60.

In winter, the best place to see bighorn sheep is in the upper Poudre Canyon.  If you start at Rustic, 42 miles Northwest of Fort Collins, head west for several miles to Big Bend Campground.  There are approximately 100 in the herd here.

The Arkansas River is a great spot during dawn or dusk to see them playing near the water.

Browns Canyon National monument is another fantastic place to see the sheep, with many sheep raising their young in the summer.

There are approximately 7,000 bighorn sheep in Colorado.

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Nevada

The desert bighorn sheep is the state animal of Nevada and Nevada has a healthy population.  The current desert bighorn population is estimated at 8,500.  Nevada also has two other subspecies, the California bighorn and the Rocky Mountain bighorn.  The total estimate for all three subspecies is 10,700.

The sheep are found throughout Nevada in the southern, central, and western parts of the state.  They can be found in mountain ranges and have been seen as far north as Interstate 80.

A good place to look for bighorns is in the mountains around Las Vegas.  The cliffs around Red Rock Canyon at the Willow Springs picnic area are another good place to see them.

In Boulder City, in Hemenway Park, they can be seen along the cliffs around Highway 93 near the Hoover Dam.

New Mexico

Following the reintroduction of the bighorn sheep in New Mexico, there are now 15 herds in the State.

Bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness in 1993 but have made their way to the Taos Pueblo side.  In the winter, the bighorns stay on Taos Pueblos South-facing slopes, moving back in the summer to the public side

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Approximately 40 sheep were released recently into the Sacramento Mountains behind the New Mexico Museum of Space History.  The goal is to have a self-sustaining population in this area.

Texas

Texas has worked hard to replenish their bighorn sheep and, since 1954, have been restocking and reintroducing.  Texas now has eleven herds of desert bighorn sheep.

In Culberson and Hudspeth Counties, forty-five bighorns were released into the north end of the mountain range in the Sierra Diablo Mountains.  The Sierra Diablo Mountains and the ranges north of Van Horn and the adjacent Beach and Baylor range now sustain 800 animals.

In Brewster County South of Alpine, the Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area population has increased substantially following bighorns’ relocations.

In Presidio County, the bighorns in the Sierra Vieja mountains can now be seen were translocated, and numbers are increasing.

The next herd can be found in the Baylor Mountains in Culberson County.  21 bighorns, 6 rams, and 15 ewes were reintroduced from the Chilicote Ranch brood pasture.  Bighorns can be seen in the Beach Mountains, also in Culberson County.  

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In the West of Texas in Brewster county, the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (BGWMA) has had both rams and ewes relocated since 1995. The BGWMA is located in Bofecillos Mountains in Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Utah

Utah has approximately 3,600 bighorn sheep in the state.  There is 2,800 desert bighorn in the Southeast and 800 Rocky Mountain bighorns in the state’s Northern half.  On Antelope Island, the California bighorn is a separate population of Rocky Mountain sheep.

Between the rocky mountain bighorns in the North and the desert bighorns in the South, the I70 can be used as a rough geographic boundary.

Hiking the Canyon Overlook trail in Zion National park is a great way to see desert bighorn sheep.  The sheep were reintroduced to the region but dwindled down to low numbers before making a comeback.  Bighorn sheep are now in such large numbers in Zion National Park that officials are worried about them spreading disease to and from domestic sheep livestock.

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Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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