Species / International Ovis

Nelsoni Desert Bighorn Sheep

Ovis canadensis nelsoni


Arizona: (Northwest part of the state), California: (Southeastern part, mainly in the Mohave Desert, but also in the Colorado Desert in the far south), Colorado: (Southwestern part, south of the Colorado River and west of the Gunnison River), Nevada: (Southern part), Texas: (Western part), Utah: (Southwestern and south central part of the state).


Weight 150-170 pounds. The desert sheep is a bighorn that has adapted to a hot, arid environment with limited forage and water. It is smaller than the Rocky Mountain bighorn, with a smaller skull, bigger ears, paler color and a short coat. The white rump patch is smaller and usually is divided by a dark tail stripe. The horns are almost as large as those of a Rocky Mountain bighorn and tend to have more flare. This – combined with the smaller body size and shorter coat – makes the horns of a good desert ram appear huge and almost out of proportion to its body.


Desert mountains with sufficient permanent water. Water is essential. While desert sheep may forage for considerable distances, they must return to drink every few days during hot weather.


The desert bighorn is usually the last ram of a “Grand Slam” to be taken, and is often never taken at all. It must be hunted on foot in steep mountains with crumbling rock and under hot, waterless conditions. But the greatest obstacle is the lack of permits. Limited permits are available through drawing in Arizona, Nevada and a few other states, but few permits are allotted to non-residents. Since permits are more limited for this North American wild sheep than the Dall, Stone or bighorn, it is usually the Desert Sheep that becomes the biggest obstacle to completing a Grand Slam. Some are lucky enough to draw a coveted permit in one of the western states while others usually have to pay premium prices for a Mexico permit or special Governors permit.

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