Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

bighorn sheep


  • Bighorns are the largest of all North American wild sheep.
  • Adult rams weigh up to 135 kilograms (300 pounds), but adult ewes are much smaller, averaging 70 kilograms (150 pounds).


  • Bighorn sheep are brown to greyish brown in colour, with light underparts and an obvious, light rump patch. Muzzle is white.
  • Bighorn rams have distinctive, large, spiralled horns. Ewes and young rams have spike-like, curved horns.
  • All bighorn sheep have soft hooves with hard outer rims that give them good footing on precarious ledges.
  • The two parts of a bighorn's hoof are not independently movable. Thus, bighorns are not as agile as mountain goats on difficult terrain, though they can move quickly over rocky mountain slopes when alarmed.
  • Bighorn sheep populations range from the southwest Alberta and west-central British Columbia alpine regions east through Montana and south through California and New Mexico to northern Mexico.
Natural History


  • Bighorns spend their summers high in the alpine zone on grass-covered slopes.
  • In winter, bighorn sheep may migrate a considerable distance to reach south or southwest-facing slopes where snow cover is minimal.


  • Bighorn sheep graze on grasses and forbs. They may also browse on alpine willows.
  • They make frequent use of mineral or salt licks.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • The rut occurs from November to December.
  • Lambs are born the following spring.
Conservation and Management


Bighorn sheep are classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current Management


See details in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations. To view the guide online or to order a printed copy, visit the My Wild Alberta website at:

Sharp-eyed bighorn

The eyesight of bighorn sheep is acute; they can detect movement over a kilometre (0.62 miles) away.


Page Information

Updated: Jul 20, 2018