Magazine article Sunset

Not the Same Old Rut: Go Eye-to-Eye with Bighorn Sheep on Wyoming's Whiskey Mountain. (Travel)

Magazine article Sunset

Not the Same Old Rut: Go Eye-to-Eye with Bighorn Sheep on Wyoming's Whiskey Mountain. (Travel)

Article excerpt

Autumn may have greeted northern Wyoming with snow and single-digit cold, but the bighorn ram about 50 yards up the mountain from me had other things on his mind besides the weather. While six ewes in his would-be harem were intently browsing frosted clumps of grass and rabbit brush, the large, taupe-colored ram was eyeing us and shaking his magnificent head.

"What a stud! 'See how big my horns are?"' said June Sampson, executive director of the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois, Wyoming, narrating the scene that was playing out before us. "He's showing off his horns!"

Nearby a younger ram gazed on. He was still learning the finer points of the fall rut on Whiskey Mountain, home to North America's largest wintering herd of bighorn sheep.

Most of the year bighorn sheep are skittish and elusive; if you are lucky enough to see them at all, it's typically only through powerful binoculars and spotting scopes. But come fall, Whiskey Mountain--nearly 11,000 feet tall and stubbled by stands of lodgepole pine that embrace open patches of windswept slopes--serves as the mating ground for as many as 900 sheep.

Preoccupied with propagation, a surprising number of the dusky animals allow visitors to get amazingly close during the rut. At one point during our photo safari, we were watching a solitary trumpeter swan flying high overhead when a ram Chasing one of the ewes darted through the aromatic sagebrush, not 10 yards away. While there are no guarantees when it comes to wildlife, this is one of the best sheep-viewing sites in the West.

After quickly snapping a series of photos, I took my time as I loaded another roll of film and changed lenses. …

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