Every year I participate in the annual count of bighorn sheep conducted by the division of wildlife. Some guys come from out of state to participate in the sheep survey and spend their own money to rent ATV's for the 3 days. For guys who have waited years for tags it is an excellent way to scout their unit.
The survey tracks more than just sheep. All large animals are included. This was the 4th survey I have participated in and the first one where I didn't see any bighorns.
I wanted to share a few pics from my 3 days of scouting.
Horses and ATVs along with spotting scopes are used heavilly, but there will always be a need for mountaineering skills. To get an accurate count they need some people at high altitude.
I camped at 11,500ft. After hiking only a few hundred yards from my camp I found big clumps of elk hair mixed in coyote feces. I knew something was up.
Not a sheep but at least it is something. There was a cow w/ calf along with an unclassified elk on this ridge.
Counted 25 elk here but I knew I had seen some go behind the ridge. Little did I know that the majority of the herd was behind the ridge. Another 30 head besides that stood on the next ridge over in the background, way out of my camera range.
On my return I ducked into a limestone cave for a bit to escape the rain. There is quite a bit of history in these caves going back to the days of the conquistadors. My route back to camp would take me just below the snowfield.
At the bottom of the snowfield I found the source of the hair in the coyote sh!t. Life can be tough (and short) for late born calves. Most likely lost it's footing on the snow when the herd crossed, slid, and broke something. From there it probably got ugly. The cow would have guarded it but time would be on the side of the predators. It isn't just calves killed in these drainages. I've found skeletons of nice sized bulls with button antlers killed during spring months.
My day to travel 4 miles of ridgeline at 13,000ft.
Same herd as previous day but now the number had grown to 52.
There were 7 bulls in the herd of 52. These two were the largest.
Basking, grazing and lazing.
They busted me as I was leaving to continue along the ridge. In this photo, the herd cow barks out warnings.
From there the route became a lot less enjoyable. I was comitted to staying on the ridgeline which was pretty exposed. Weather moved in and rain and groppel prevented me from seeing much on the surrounding peaks. The going was painfully slow because the lichen or moss that covers the granite gets slippery when wet so it requires extra care with every move.
Culprit? or mercifull angel of death? depending on your point of view.
A silver coyote strikes the classic pose.
6 more miles and I can enjoy the warmth of my tiny 1 burner cookstove.
My total count was 0 sheep, 115 elk, 7 deer, 1 coyote, assorted trout fishermen.