December With Bighorn Sheep

December 29, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

If you have read my “National Geographic” experience blog, you will know Don Getty (www.dongettywildlifephotography.com). Don and I first met on a photo trip to Costa Rica.  Then, as you have read, Don was one of the six intrepid photographers on the African Photo Safari.  Well, after the African adventure, I invited myself to spend a week with Don and his wife Joan at their home in Wapiti, Wyoming, to photograph Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.  Actually, Don had been bragging about how easy it was to photograph bighorn sheep along the North Fork of the Shoshone River near his home.  When I told him I wanted to come and photograph the sheep he invited me stay with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Typically the period of high sexual tension and excitement among male bighorn sheep, known as the rut, occurs in late autumn.  As winter approaches, the big, testosterone-driven males retreat from their high alpine territory to mate with receptive ewes at lower elevations.  That is what occurs in December in the canyon forged by the north fork of the Shoshone River.  The dry grasses along the canyon bottom provide ample fodder for numerous foraging ewes, lambs and immature rams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don and I spent five days, from first light to twilight, cruising up and down the canyon in his Jeep Rubicon photographing bighorn sheep.  Sheep were found incredibly close to the road.  We observed and photographed scores of sheep.  The most excitement was generated when one or more ewes excreted sexual pheromones that the rams sensed through their flehmen response.   It would not take long for a group of competing rams to sniff out a receptive ewe and attempt mating while having to fend off rivals.  This was when savage fights among equally matched males would erupt with ferocious pushing, shoving, kicking, and high velocity head-butting.  These sexually driven encounters were exciting to watch but difficult to photograph.  I was lucky to get some keepers.


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