posted: October 28th, 2011 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Throughout North America, many species of wildlife engage in ritualistic contests to determine male order of dominance during the mating season. In the animal world, few contests are more vigorous nor is the ritual more complex than among mountain sheep. I have followed sheep throughout much of North America and have always considered it a rare treat when I stumble across action such as I enjoyed with two other photographers a few days ago.
We had left Dayton, Montana and then made the 15 minute trip by boat to Wildhorse Island where we beached in a small cove known as Skidoo Bay. The island is mountainous and we immediately began to climb, looking as we did for wild horses, the island’s namesake. Instead we saw a few small deer but then, off in the distance, a herd of “bachelor” rams.
At this time of year, males are still in groups, where they begin determining a “pecking” order. They gather in groups known as “huddles” where they curl their lips at one another, poke one another with their hooves, and nudge one another with their horns. A great deal of information is exchanged in such groups, information that often helps determine male order of dominance without having to resort to “violence.” But when doubt remains, rams sometimes resort to battles, which can sometimes produce injury.
L to R: Todd Campbell, engulfed by the beauty of Wildhorse Island, focuses on nearby action; Jack Floegel approaches herd of rams near top of Wildhorse; bachelor herd of rams “huddle” to exchange information.
We continued our climb and found several of our bachelor herds, and as we watched we saw several rams that appeared huge. We also saw several that appeared on the verge of a violent confrontation and we set up our camera gear, waiting to see what might happen. We were not disappointed.
From a distance of about 50 yards we watched as two rams stalked off to a distance of about 30 feet, turned to face one another. Rising on hind legs they ran forward dropping at the last minute for increased momentum then collided. In the stillness of the day the sound of their impact sounded like a high power rifle and we struggled to record the drama, which they repeated. Though the impact must have produced immense headaches, in this case no eyes were poked out, no ribs were broken, though one of the males did appear to emerge as a solid champion, for the other ram stalked off.
Toward day’s end we reluctantly leave behind one of the largest rams any of us have ever seen but find compensation when a group of ” wild” horses find us.
When the sheep tired we began to wander the island, finding more bachelor herds. We looked as well for the island’s famous mule deer herds, but saw but one or two lone bucks. And though we never found our wild horses, they found us near one of the old homestead shacks that still remained on the island. They were a friendly group of about four and apparently had been fed in the past as they poked at our pockets, hoping perhaps for an apple.
Reluctantly, we departed near sunset, believing we had enjoyed a most successful day.
THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:
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