Fauna of the National Parks No. 6
The Bighorn of Death Valley
LIFE HISTORY OF THE DEATH VALLEY BIGHORN
The rutting period per se begins slowly in late June,
increases in intensity rather sharply through July, maintains a fairly
high level through September and October, and gradually declines through
November to subsidence sometime in December. Our latest record of
copulation is December 23, although sporadic activity has been recorded
in January, February, and March.
The beginning of the season is signaled by the
breaking up of the winter ram bands and the appearance of single rams
along the trails, near the springs, or traveling temporarily with the
While several rams may be observed together in an
area during the rut, we have no record of two or more teaming up for the
season as has been suggested by others.
Feeding behavior appears to be substantially modified
during the peak of mating activity. The older rams were observed to eat
very little, yet, despite the increased expenditure of energy, they
reached the end of the season in excellent condition. The younger rams
(up to 3 or 4 years) ate more than the mature rams yet responded to the
rigors of the season by some loss of weight and general signs of
The distance traveled during the rut has not been
determined, but two positively identified rams, Tight Curl and
Rambunctious, were first observed near Travertine Point in Furnace Creek
Wash in the spring and autumn of 1956; in upper Echo Canyon in January
and February 1957; and at Nevares Spring in August 1957. This represents
an airline distance of 12 miles, and both rams were headed north from
Nevares toward Indian Pass 7 airline miles farther.
Attention to Females
Attention to females appears to vary in detail with
the individual but some general behavior can be summarized:
Mature rams seem to show no persistent interest in
ewes either before oestrus or after, only during.
Young rams from a few weeks up to 3 or 4 years of age
tend to harass ewes to some extent whenever they come in contact with
them. Copulation sometimes occurs under these circumstances, which may
contribute to the length of the Death Valley lambing season. During this
period the young rams usually defer to the older rams without contesting
the field in any way.
Rams have several approaches to ewes during the rut,
but some are more common than others. Probably the one most generally
used was first recorded at Nevares, August 15, 1957. Our field notes
12:45. When I arrived from Navel Spring, Buddy had
had a ewe and lamb "staked out" in the shade of a cut bank about 300
yards up Nevares Wash since 11 o'clock.
She's old, or sick, maybe both, Buddy says. And
skinnyI can see her head from here where she rests in the shade.
Reminds me of Old Mama. Buddy says she isn't sure it isn't Old Mama. I
haven't seen the lamb yet.
1:00. The old ewe has come out in the sun, and it is
not Old Mama. This is a typical Nevares type ewe. Large body, long neck,
and high horns. She is lame, and old, I don't know about sick. The lamb
has come out. About 5 or 6 weeks old, fuzzy, no horns, brownish and not
gray like its mother. It has gone back into the shade. It definitely is
not ready to travel. Its ears are held at an odd angle which should help
in future identification. Mother goes hack in shade and lies down.
1:30. Buddy left to see about supplies at
2:00. I have been glassing the entire area ever since
Buddy leftand again a sheep is standing at Old Spring! Out of
nowhere, just standing there, already having drunk his fill, a huge ram,
looking very much like the one at Navel yesterday. I thought at first it
may be the same one. Then I realized this one is darker, and his horns
hang lower on his head, He has gone down to the big boulder across the
grass and vegetation below Round Pool and is pawing a bed. He's down,
but not enough in the shade, I'd think.
2:10. He's up and heading this way. I have set up
both movie cameras and the still camera with the 500-mm. lens, all under
damp cloths to keep them cool.
He's moving steadily across the spring area with a
most purposeful manner. If he keeps coming, or going, he will find the
ewe and lamb. He acts as though he already knows they are there.
I got some good movie footage and slides as he
crossed toward the cut bank where the ewe is still lying. I think I got
a good shot as he saw her in the shade, broke into a fast trot, and
rushed her to her feet, rose in the air and disappeared behind the bank
as he tried to mount her, with no preliminaries whatever.
I don't know whether a new lamb is on its way just
yet or not, but by this ram's manner he intends to see that one is if it
They are back in sight now, and I am reminded of Fred
Jones' account of rams knocking each other's testicles with their front
feet. The ram is knocking at her flank in the same manner.
He is now standing behind her, and with steady
persistence nips at her flank. She turns her head with a slight toss
every time he does thisand eventually it assumes the
characteristics of a dance.
The lamb is lying in sight, flicking its ears and
ignoring the whole thing.
The ram tries again to mount and the ewe slides out
into the sun, where she soon begins to feed again. The ram watches her
for a moment from the shade, then paws out a bed and lies down. The ewe
feeds for 10 minutes, returns to the shade, and all three are lying
down. It is 2:30. Temperature, 110°.
I have watched for half an hour for fear I'll miss
something. All I've seen is half an hour of cud-chewing.
3:00. They have repeated the business of the ram
getting up, rousing the ewe, trying to mount, she moving away, the
head-bobbing deal, now and then the strike with the rigid foreleg by the
ram. Eventually she is out in the open again, feeding. The lamb changes
position and lies down again. The ram follows the ewe into the sun, but
only for a moment.
4:00. All are lying in the shade again.
4:30. Nothing has happened except I've just got
eyestrain from watching.
4:40. The ram is out in the open after the ewe and
she is running with a remarkable display of energy and agility for one
who seemed so old and decrepit an hour ago. I don't see the lamb. The
ewe stops now and then and seems to be remembering that she already has
one child, and where is it? But the ram keeps pressing her, shoving into
her flank, nipping at her flank and striking. She runs in a circle and
seems to be trying to see her lamb. She slides out from under the ram
and heads for the mountainswithout her lamb.
4:50. She and the ram have dropped out of sight in
Nevares Wash and I am trying to find the lamb. Here it is, just out of
the shade where it has been resting all afternoon, looking around for
its mother, who is still out of sight.
4:55. The ram and ewe are gone. The lamb is running
across from Nevares Wash toward the second canyon to the north and goes
out of sight alone, one canyon too soon!
5:00. At the site of the 4 hours of bedding and
mating activity I can find two beds, two pellet groups, both adult; no
sign of the lamb at all, two urine spots. This in 4 hours. Temperature,
More spectacular but somewhat less common is the
exhausting and ritualistic "herding" sometimes engaged in by a ram and a
ewe for several days before culmination. This was first observed at
Nevares Spring on August 17, 1957, and again on the 18th.
We were still not certain what part this "herding"
played in the mating pattern when on December 2, 1957, we got a report
of two rams "playing" on a fan 5 miles below Badwater. Our notes of
December 3 read as follows:
7:50 a.m. Spotted two bighorn running toward
mountains through desertholly sheep-head high. Glasses showed not two
rams but one young ram (1-1/2 to 2 years old) and, of all things, none
other than our old friend from the Badwater band of December 1954, old
Droopy herself! Spooky as ever and looking not a day older.
They ran to about a quarter of a mile from the
highway and then stopped and watched me for awhile; then they began to
feed on last year's annuals.
8:30. They have fed half way back to the road and are
standing watching me. I have taken some record shots in this poor
8:35. They have both bedded about 100 yards from the
road, and this seems like a good time to change film but there is still
some to run.
9:00. The sun has reached them. I'll finish the two
rolls nearly done and change film while they are still in siesta.
This young ram [Paleface] is "herding" Droopy. That
is the "playing" reported last night. I got about 5 feet of one of their
less vigorous efforts.
9:15. They have disappeared. While I was changing
film I heard rocks flying, and over my shoulder I saw the most exciting
"run" and "herding" display yet! Lee Shackleton is here watching now. He
said that they were over half a mile north of here when he saw them last
night. He was much surprised to learn that Droopy was not a ram.
They are "running" again, but too far away and in
9:50. The young ram has "herded" Droopy into a small
ravine. After standing about her for awhile he is now lying down.
9:55. She is lying down.
10:00. The sun has reached his bed but not hers. If
they were both in good light it would make a perfect illustration of the
"herding" ideathe ram always trying to stay above the ewe or
between her and wherever she wants to go. Or seems to want to go,
because we have noticed before (and here this morning) that the ewe will
often outrun the ram, then seem to wait for him to regain his position.
Perhaps this is a ritualistic sort of thing, as most of the rams'
fighting seems to be. Last summer when Knocker was herding Longhorn in
116° in the shade, we thought she stopped to rest, perhaps. But
today is so cool, 60° at 10:15, that certainly the weather can be
discounted. It begins to look like Droopy could get away if she wanted
10:20. The ram has stretched out his head and is
resting and sleeping with the weight of his head on his muzzle and right
horntip. This could certainly contribute to brooming of the
10:30. He is up, stretching, urinating. Now he is
going down to Droopy. He strikes at her with front feet. Droopy leaps up
and without further ado is off full tilt to the north with His
Orneriness hotfooting it after her.
10:36. They are now feeding in a draw on some plant I
can't see from here.
10:55. He began "herding" her and has been at it
until just now at 11:30. I would estimate they have completed about a
11:50. Droopy made a run for shade but didn't make
it; so, at 11:55, she lay down in the wash.
12:10. They are both lying down, both in full
12:25. Now they are up and feeding. Droopy got up
first, probably because I walked out of her sight and she had to get up
so she could see where I was going and what I was up to. This happens
quite oftenoften enough, in fact, that we realized long ago that
it is better to stay in sight at all times if you want continual
observations. Sheep get uneasy if you get out of sight for a moment, and
sometimes we have found them gone when we reappear, perhaps running in a
sudden panic generated by simple uneasiness in the beginning. Then one
of them kicks a rock or sneezes and away they go.
1:15. They have been out of the wash on the first
terrace at the foot of the mountain for some time.
After some good "runs" on terrace, they have been out
of sight in ravine since 2:50.
3:20. I finally decided that they might have gone up
the ravine and I had better move up with the jeep truck and equipment
until I can see directly into the ravine. So I packed up all the
cameras, slammed the truck doors, started the engine, and looked up to
find them standing on the ridge again, come up to see what the noise was
all about. This is the fourth time this has happened today. Their
hearing must be o.k.
3:35. Sun has gone down behind the Panamints. Ewe and
ram are feeding quietly in the wash 200 yards away. Now he's after her
3:50. The sun is still showing on Daylight Pass.
4:05. The moon is up. This "herding" business has
taken a new slant. I am quite sure that it is a game of some sort or
ritual. In any case, it is voluntary on both sides. Again and again
Droopy has been in a position to elude Paleface and really get away, but
she never takes advantage of the opportunity. Instead, she has, once or
twice, not only waited for him to catch up but retraced her steps until
he saw her again.
He has now "forced" her all the way down the fan over
half a mile to the highway by a series of short jabbing runs at her,
which are not designed to reach her but to frighten her onlylike
running at someone and stamping your foot and shouting "boo." As a
matter of fact, he sometimes gives the equivalent of a "boo" in a sort
of snort. He drops his head low to the ground, nose out, ears back,
takes one or two very slow crouching steps, then a sudden lunge toward
her, but never to her. She obediently dashes away a short distance.
Now, since sundown, he has pushed her thus to the
edge of the highway and out on it, while he himself patrols the berm,
and will not let her off the pavement!
4:20. He suddenly seemed to say "that's enough of
that," turned, and, head down and out, began to walk rapidly away toward
the mountains. Droopy immediately picked up her cue and followed at a
Now he starts something new. He pretends not to see
her, but if she starts to go by him on the right side he quickens his
pace and gets directly in front of her. She tried the left side with the
same results; so from right to left and back four or five times; then
suddenly he whirls and lunges at her. She whirls away for a few feet and
stops. He stands, head down, glaring at her for a moment turns his back,
and away he briskly goes, she after him, and the whole process is gone
As they near the ledge at the foot of the mountain
they burst into breakneck speed and round and round they go. Who started
it, or who is "chasing" who, is not really apparent. This finally breaks
up when he leaves the chase and leaps up to the top of a 10-foot ledge
and stands, head low, looking down at her. Here again her voluntary
participation becomes apparent, because she now deliberately places
herself directly below him, and the maneuvering begins: She to ascend
the ledge, he to block her.
The last I could see of her she was lying down,
placidly chewing her cud. He was still standing 10 feet above her on the
loose ledge looking down at her. Suddenly the ledge began to crumble
under him, and she got up and moved from under the falling rocks. He,
however, was completely unperturbed, just spread all four feet out a
little and rode down the small landslide until it stopped; whereupon, he
simply relaxed where he stood. She lay down again a few feet away and I
left them there chewing their cods in the moonlight.
On the next and third day of activity, their behavior
followed the same pattern as the day before, but with minor
When the ewe approaches the ram and he her, face to
face, she will start to run to the right past him but he heads her off,
turning in always and intercepting her attempt to pass him on the left,
back and forth with incredible agility and stamina.
As it grew darker, he reverted to the "leading
cut"going away from her but never letting her go past him or off
in a direction of her own choosing.
It began to appear that he either knew where Droopy
wanted to go or he was "leading" her and she deliberately following,
because he would turn suddenly and walk briskly into a ravine or up on a
ledge at right angles to their general direction of travel. She
At one point we thought that they had bedded down,
and we were preparing to leave when a change took place. It was so dark
we could scarcely see them with the binoculars, but Droopy suddenly took
the lead and at a breakneck speed struck off across the nearly
perpendicular face of the mountain to the north, with the ram about 10
yards behind her. Showers of falling gravel and boulders followed them
both. Long after we could no longer see them, we could follow their
progress northward by the sound of the rolling rocks and small
landslides they loosed in passing.
By 5 o'clock the sounds were dwindling to a point
where it appeared that even they were being slowed down, if not stopped,
by darkness, and finally no sounds at all. The moon rose and we came
Finally on Nevares Peak on September 15, 1958, we got
a definite indication of the objective of this unique behavior.
A mature ram known to us as Black-and-Tan persisted
in his "herding" of the ewe, Brokeoff, until it netted him a completed
Their physical satisfaction from copulation didn't
seem to last for more than about 15 minutes, however, during which time
they just stood resting. Then they began again the same violent
expenditure of energy involved in "herding," up and down the mountain
and across the face of cliffs.
Actual copulation, after such a prolonged courtship
and a vast expenditure of energy, was surprisingly brief.
A description of copulation, as well as another
premating "technique," was recorded earlier on Paleomesa, November 19,
1956, when, as dawn broke, I watched mating activity in a band of 14.
The mating was between a new ram which had joined the band the night
before and none other than the leader of the band, Old Mama,
Old Mama was quite aggressive, butting and shoving at
the ram and then whipping around and nudging him with her hind quarters.
He, in turn, stood with his head and neck across hers, and from time to
time he would strike upward at her flanks with stiff foreleg. When he
landed a sound blow this way, she would squat and emit a small amount of
fluid from her vagina.
The actual copulation was brief, the ewe standing
with head held forward, the ram mounting, and after two or three
movements of adjustment, one long thrust forward, and then slowly
sliding backward and off.
Copulation seems more likely to occur when only one
ram is "pursuing" a ewe. Our observations indicate a tendency for two or
more rams to become sidetracked from their amorous pursuits by the call
to arms, and it is not uncommon for a third ram to appear and make off
with the prize while the lusty antagonists try to prove to each other
which is the better ram.
By constantly traveling back and forth from one
spring to another during the rut, the rams, in effect, may increase
their ratio to resident ewes by more than two to one. (See table 8.)
The varying results of this temporary imbalance has
been recorded many times. A typical incident took place at Navares
Spring on September 5, 1957:
5:15 a.m. Temperature, 82°. No wind. Thin clouds
in the south.
I have been watching the ground to see if I can
determine how early as well as how late sheep may travel. It seems to me
that bighorn can travel by 5 a.m. at this time of year. Judging by the
darkness of evening in which we have both seen and heard them, they can
travel until 8 p.m. Longhorn was traveling across the mountain from the
Red Saddle the evening of August 27 at 8 o'clock. The ground was just
about equally discernible to me in both instances. I could not see a
sidewinder on it, for instance, but I could see a large rock or a ditch
well enough for walking.
6:00. It is light enough that I just saw without
glasses a white rump patch moving on the pointno animal, just a
patch. The 12 X 50 binoculars reveal the ram Nevares II starting across
the mountain at Saddle level above the springs. He walks freely and
rapidly, as usual not browsing. He is seen eating very little these
6:10. The quail are stirring.
6:15. Nevares II is heading for the upper Needle's
6:20. The sun hits Telescope Peak.
6:23. Nevares II is gone, high up on the Needle's
Eye. Temperature, 80°.
6:28. Three sheep are running at Old Springa
ewe, Full Curl, and Tight Curl. This is the full-tilt run that means
business. I don't see a lamb. They are making a complete circle of the
entire spring area. Tight Curl is hottest after her. I can see his mouth
open, his tongue out, head forward and down, and I can hear him pant and
puff! Full Curl is waiting back a way. Now he cuts in as they pass! She
heads for Long Spring, grabs a mouthful or two of water. And here's
another ramNevares II is back! So there she goeslooks like
Little Ewewith three rams in full chase. She heads this way.
Nevares II drops out. Full Curl miscalculated. He cut across and she
turned this way, and so he's far behind! Tight Curl forced her up the
point about half way, and she turned back across the mountain. Full Curl
didn't see this so he went hotfooting it up Nevares Wash while the chase
went the opposite direction behind him.
6:45. How can they keep this up? She has found the
Black Pool and is snatching a quick gulp. Tight Curl does, too, and
Nevares II catches up. They head toward Old Spring.
Full Curl is coming down from the Saddle with another
ram! This is the long-absent Toby. He and Full Curl take a moment out
for a quick clonk and fall in after Tight Curl. The ewe heads for Old
Spring, and as she and her four rams approach it another young ram is
spooked out of the spring!
They all mill around above the spring and I can't
tell who is who in the whirl, but I can see a lamb on the fringe of
things. (This ewe lost her lamb in the chase. It came in to water alone
on the 7th, but it came again with its mother on the 9th.)
I have gambled on pictures of this. I don't know
whether the light is good enough, but I have to try.
They seemed to be leaving the springs and heading
toward the Notch, so I thought I might get close enough to identify the
new ram; but this was a mistake.
Just as I arrived above Raven Spring, I found that
the ewe had switched and was coming back above me. And then the whole
band spooked and headed at breakneck speed straight up the mountain.
I, of course, retreated, since interference with
their activity is something we always try to avoid. I got the 12X50
binoculars here at camp in time to see some of them go over the Second
Ridge into Nevares Canyon. Almost immediately Nevares II came back and
headed south behind the First Peak. Then Tight Curl reappeared and
headed east up Second Peak, from time to time looking back and down into
the canyon where Full Curl and Knocker were evidently still at it. Tight
Curl's mouth is still open and his tongue is out.
7:15. All is quiet at Nevares Springs.
7:25. Half a mile away and 2,000 feet up, Tight Curl
is approaching the summit of Second Peak and is silhouetted beautifully
against the rising sun. Nevares II comes across on the skyline from the
south and they hassle awhile on the mountaintop until 7:45 and they
leave. All is still now.
Then I hear a last good clonk from the canyon and I
wonder: Is it possible that 3-year-old Knocker is so eager to know about
life that he takes on Full Curl?
All quiet again.
8:20. The shadows are shortening faster now, racing
silently up from the valley floor. It is 92° I will try to catch up
on my notes before it gets so hot that sweat soaks the paper whenever I
10:30. Just after Buddy arrived to take over the
second "watch," I heard "sounding" in the north. I called Buddy's
attention to it and heard it again, the distant foghorn sound of a big
ram "calling." The glasses showed him standing on the rim of Fuzzy
Canyon, half a mile to the north, and (even at this distance) also
revealed him to be Broken Nose.
He came on down, posed for pictures on the point, and
went on down to Long Spring for water and feed. On his way south, he
stopped and seemed to be drinking at a place where I didn't know there
was water. He went on south and eventually out into the South Wash. When
he was far enough away that I couldn't disturb him, I went down and
checked where he had seemed to be drinkingand he had been. A small
round pool, about 12 inches across and 8 inches deep, was still full
after all his drinking.
12:30 p.m. He has gone out of sight up the wash.
1:00. A young ram at Old Spring already has had a
drink and is working north. This is Knocker back again; so he had been
sidetracked by all the excitement this morning.
We watched him work slowly toward The Saddle when we
suddenly realize there is a big ram above him hurrying along at a great
rateBroken Nose! We thought he was a way down the South Wash,
somewhere. We look ahead. What is he after now? There it is, just about
to enter The Saddle, a ewe and lambDark Eyes and Light Neck!
They've obviously already drunk, their sides tight as ticks. How did we
miss them? It must have been while we relaxed for about 10 minutes to
eat a sandwich. Knocker apparently came in with them and drank with them
and hung around just long enough for us to spot him before he followed
1:15. They are through The Saddle and going steadily
northward without stopping even to nibble at holly. Last time, on the 2d
when Dark Eyes was here, she and Brahma gobbled up thistle and
Bebbia for over 2 hours. Today, nothing.
1:45. She and her lamb and Knocker have dropped over
into Fuzzy Canyon, but the "Nose" seems to have folded up in the shade
somewhere along the way.
4:00. Temperature 106°.
6:00. Buddy was trying to spot three bluish birds
flying toward the springs when she spotted instead a big ram going up
the First Ridge. It was Tight Curl, last seen early this morning going
over the Second Peak! He didn't come down to drink but climbed, tongue
out, almost steadily until at 6:30 he went back over the crest of First
Peak. Temperature, 102°. (Official temperature, 111°.)
It has been suggested that fewer rams would be
desirable: That the four- or five-ram relay chase unnecessarily exhausts
the ewe; that lambs are lost in the chase, thus contributing to the
mortality rate; that hunting would have reduced the ram ratio and
maintained a "better balance of the sexes"; that controlled hunting
should, therefore, be considered desirable in sheep areas that are not
in the National Park System. This point will be discussed further under
"Status for the Future" and "Recommendations for Protection."
Fighting With Other Males
Fighting with other males is a much publicized but
little understood phase of bighorn life history.
There is a real question as to whether their dramatic
butting bouts are fighting or are simple contests of skill and stamina
with little real antagonism involved.
The evidence of this report points strongly toward a
ritualistic emphasis on the interpretation of the activity and suggests
the need for much more observation and study before definite conclusions
can be drawn about the part it plays in the propagation of the
Certainly it has nothing to do with the premating
collection and maintenance of a "harem," or ewe herd; nor does it seem
to result in the elimination of one ram from participation in mating
activity with a certain ewe. From our observations, the "fight,"
"joust," "contest," "clonking," or "brain busting" appears to have no
objective whatever except the satisfaction of some deep-seated urge
aroused by the mating instinct and demanding and receiving an outlet for
its own sake, whether it is with another ram, a bush, a tree, a boulder,
or a mountain.
This subject has been discussed to some extent under
"Communication" and "Play" and will be treated in its initial stages
under "Growth, Behavior, and Care of Young."
The concept of deadly enmity between rams, with a
"battle to the death" upon meeting, could scarcely be further from the
truth. Rams' reaction to one another varies with each individual: Some
challenge and are accepted; others neither challenge nor accept one
extended to them. Under no circumstances is it necessary that a ewe be
present to precipitate a struggle.
A contest may be heralded by a vocal challenge, as
described under "Communication," but it may not.
A series of encounters is included in this report,
chosen from many to illustrate, as completely as possible, the scope and
complexity of this behavior pattern.
Rams seem to be uninterested in a contest with an
inferior opponent. One instance of a young ram badgering a mature one
into a duel has been included under "Attention to Females," but the
usual reaction of an older ram to the young was well illustrated in Box
Canyon near Deadman's Curve on March 23, 1956. Our notes read as
Just before sundown an old ram, apparently spooked by
my slamming the truck door, rushed out of the wash and up the rocky
slope below and north of Deadman's Curve. He was a full curl, slightly
potbellied, and very spooky. He worked his way into nearby Box Canyon,
wary and suspicious. He apparently could smell the others there, yet
when one of them suddenly appeared he turned and ran pellmell out of the
canyon, then stopped, turned back, and cautiously retraced his
He stopped 50 feet from the first ewe. Both stood,
heads up, looking. The two lambs came, curiously staring at this ram
whom we named The Stranger. Then came the young ram. He at once stood
and walked on his hindlegs around the old ram, whose indifference to him
could not have been greater.
They have met on a steep slope in the last rays of
sunset, a quarter of a mile away, but I could hear the young ram blowing
as he walked and could see him slant his head as he sighted for the
rush. The Stranger seemed not to see him or his antics until he came to
earth with his forefeet and lunged. The old warrior then casually turned
his massive horns enough to catch and hold the force of the young ram's
charge. He was ready, by force of habit perhaps, braced for it, and gave
not an inch. Neither did he take one. The young ram strained against
him, plowing deep into the talus, blowing mightily through his nose.
Getting nowhere, he backed off, repeated the entire maneuver, rearing,
circling on his hindlegs, charging. This was repeated three or four
times in 15 minutes. It was like a drunken youth trying to pick a fight
with an old prizefighter who has just dropped in for a nightcap.
The lambs both stood together and close by, like two
children watching a street brawl on the corner. Once, while the young
ram circled, a lamb came forward, nose out, and the old ram touched
noses with it.
Suddenly after 15 minutes of badgering The Stranger,
the young ram seemed satisfied with the situation, turned away, and
began to feed.
The old ram seemed suddenly to catch the scent of
Blondie, who was 30 feet above him. His nose went out, and up the hill
he went, but she flipped out and away. He trailed her hopefully for
several minutes and then got side-tracked by New Mama. She, too,
repelled his blandishments, turning, as it were, a cold shoulder to him.
All seven of the band were doing likewise. He stood there for several
minutes staring at seven white rump patches moving slowly away. He took
the hint and turned away down into the bottom of the ravine and climbed
slowly up the other side of the canyon to the skyline.
Not only younger rams, but mature smaller rams are
also ignored. To illustrate, on August 23, 1957, at 9:25 a.m., two rams
came around Needle's Eye trail. One was Roughneck. The other had an
outstanding blemish on his right shoulder and was much smaller than
Roughneck, although he appeared to be about the same age. Our notes
describe the meeting:
Roughneck has drunk for about 2 minutes and is all
through, but the new one is nervous, moving around, and has now gone to
the new pool at Old Spring and is almost standing on his head to drink
from it. Apparently he gets in the water with both feet, as a habit,
because he did the same thing while beside Roughneck.
Roughneck has finished drinking and is now going back
up the mountain. The new one looks up at him but drinks more, again on
his head. I've never seen anything like this. I wonder if that blemish
on his shoulder causes this, by forcing him to bend his knees to drink.
I can't see his forelegs at all. He reminds me of a bear cub I once saw
at Crater Lake with his hindfeet on the rim of a garbage can and the
rest of him hanging down inside. This is a strange way of drinking, like
a little lamb. (We've seen this three times.) Now when he raises his
head and stands up, I see that this new ram was on his knees! His
appearance makes the count total 16 rams, 11 rams, and 9 lambs so far at
Nevares Seeps since August 11. [Ewes and lambs remained unchanged but
rams totaled 27 by September 10.]
Buddy arrived at 9:45, and we have named the new ram
Little Joe, because he reminds us of a small belligerent man we once
knew by the name of Joe, who had a chip on his shoulder for everybody.
This Little Joe has a chip both literally and figuratively. He is
constantly picking on big Roughneck, who doesn't want to do anything but
rest in the shade.
Little Joe really charges him in the side or on the
rump or anywhere it's handy. Roughneck acts bored and irritated by this,
but not angry. Once or twice he has obliged by presenting horns, and we
hear the familiar woodblock bang again.
They both finally found shady beds, Roughneck first;
and then Little Joe made him get up and give him his and go find another
They and I snoozed until 11:10 when Buddy called me.
They were on their way north, Roughneck in the lead by a hundred yards
as though he were trying to shed himself of this nuisance, Little Joe,
who was hurrying after him as though he weren't about to be shed.
Potential contestants often meet without combat or
contest, even during the peak of the rut. A typical illustration of this
indifference occurred on September 7, 1957, when two big well-matched
rams approached Navares Spring about 4:30 in the afternoon. Tight Curl
came trotting across Nevares Wash from the north, went directly to Raven
Spring, and without hesitation dropped to his knees and proceeded to
quench his considerable thirst in five 30-second drinks before he stood
upright again. He then ambled over to Long Spring, where he knelt in the
tall grass and was drinking again when Flathorn rounded The Point, saw
Tight Curl, and immediately "blew" him a challenge and started rapidly
We rushed to get our cameras ready for the onslaught.
It was still 112° in the shade, and so we soaked several towels,
hung them over the cameras, and rushed down to the ledge for action.
Flathorn stopped 10 feet from Tight Curl, who stood
immobile, watching. Flathorn turned to one side and began thrashing his
horns in a Baccharis bush, but Tight Curl was unimpressed and
turned away, pretending to eat. As Flathorn approached him he actually
began to eat, ignoring Flathorn's growling shoves. Tiring of this in a
few minutes, Tight Curl suddenly walked away a few feet into the shade
of a mesquite tree and lay down. In a few minutes Flathorn followed him,
and we had two of the best "fighters" we knew lying side by side in the
Excessive heat seems a reasonable explanation of the
lack of belligerence between Tight Curl and Flathorn, but it is more
difficult to find an explanation for Mahogany's reaction to The Hook on
the morning of September 9, 1957.
Mahogany's singular indifference to my proximity
early that morning has already been described under "Response to Humans
and Equipment." Normally wary and shy as any other ram we knew, he had
calmly walked past me on the trail as though I were a boulder which he
saw there every day. Now as I watched from camp with the big fieldglass,
he lay on the trail, chewing his cud, shifting his big red body slightly
now and then, flicking an ear, closing his eyes and pointing his nose
skyward occasionally, the very picture of relaxed ruminant
At 8:30, with the spring area still in shadow and the
temperature still only 98°, I heard The Hook's first call from far
up in the hazy recesses of Nevares Canyon. Mahogany rose quickly but, to
my surprise, looked only briefly toward the call from the canyon.
Instead, he turned around in the trail and almost immediately lay down
again. The calling of the distant ram persisted and grew louder, but if
Mahogany heard it he showed no sign, facing away from the approaching
challenge as though it did not exist.
It was 8:45 when I saw for the first time that it was
The Hook whose call was being ignored. As he leaped into view and paused
("posed" may be a better word) for a moment against the sky, I caught a
glimpse of the jagged end of the broken horn which gave him his name.
The carriage of his head, the lithe grace of his entire body, and the
dramatic quality of his stance all told who he was.
The Hook was as different in personality from
Mahogany as the classic rogue of literature differs from the hero. He
was unpredictable, slender and fascinating to watch, with a flair to his
every move; whereas, Mahogany was beautiful in a massive and solid way
which made the observer feel, without reason, that he would always do
what a bighorn was expected to do.
Now as The Hook came plunging down the mountain
toward him, Mahogany rose majestically to his feet and turned to face
his challenger. But as The Hook, with raised hackles and lowered head,
began a menacing approach to him, Mahogany in a most unheroic manner
calmly turned away and lay down again. The Hook continued his approach,
however, and virtually knocked his reluctant opponent to his feet. Then
head to rump and rump to head they shoved each other round and round,
"blowing" and "growling" mightily. As was to be expected, Mahogany
turned suddenly and began to walk away. The Hook accepted this move at
its face value, and he, too, started to walk in the opposite
But instead of rearing to his hindlegs for a charge
as our hero would be expected to do, Mahogany again started to lie down.
This seemed to infuriate The Hook, who whirled and charged him anyway,
catching him half down and knocking him over on his side. The Hook then
bounded lightly away a length or two and turned, awaiting expectantly
for a retaliationwhich never came. With incomprehensible good
nature, Mahogany shook off a cloud of dust and lay down again! The Hook
leaped forward furiously, pounded Mahogany on the rump with a front
hoof, then on the shoulder. He lowered his horns and bore down on
Mahogany's belly, but Mahogany just lay there and actually began chewing
This appeared to be beyond toleration for The Hook,
who danced around to the front of Mahogany and leaped into the air,
landing astraddle the prostrate ram, wrong end to. This brought Mahogany
to his feet beneath The Hook in a whirling confusion which ended with
both rams on their sides in a cloud of dust. The Hook leaped up and
squared away for a charge, but again none came. Again Mahogany lay down.
He just did not want to fight. Over and over again The Hook would rouse
him to his feet and wait for an onslaught which never came. Finally with
magnificent anticlimax, The Hook roused him once more and with superb
contempt lay down in Mahogany's bed. Impassively the big ram pawed
another bed, lay down, yawned, closed his eyes, and pointed his nose
into the first rays of the morning sun, and silence reigned on the
mountain. The 9 o'clock temperature was an even 100°.
Half an hour later, with my attention momentarily
diverted by a lizard on a waterbag, The Hook vanished and I never found
where he had gone. Mahogany had the mountainside to himself for another
half hour; then at 10:30, in full sunshine and 102° of temperature,
he got up from his bed and climbed briskly through The Saddle and into
Nevares Canyon as the morning haze was lifted by the heat waves rising
Actual full-fledged bouts between rams is seldom
observed for two principal reasons. The first of these is one of time
and place, a combination of hot weather and inaccessible terrain. The
bouts increase in intensity as the mating season advances into late
summer when few observers are willing to spend enough time in the back
country to be accepted by the bighorn as part of the scene. Until they
are thus accepted, the second reasonthe natural wariness of the
bighorn toward the introduction of strange elements into his
surroundings will continue to obtain; that is, observers will
continue to disrupt his normal activities to the extent that he is
likely to retreat beyond the range of observation before engaging in an
activity which cannot be carried on with divided attention. During 1955
and 1956, we had made many observations of rams together during the
season of the year when "fights" were supposed to take place, but always
their attention was occupied almost entirely by us as long as we were in
sight of them. Our following them only increased their wariness of
It was not until the summer of 1957, when we "sat it
out" for 30 days a quarter of a mile from the Nevares Seeps, that we
finally created acceptable conditions for the making of these
observations. We were there for 10 days, from August 10 to August 20,
before the rams turned their gaze from us beneath our distant mesquite
back to each other and these amazing contests began to take place.
Between August 20 and September 10, we saw innumerable hassles, with
much shoving, sharp "infighting," and "right upper cuts" with the stiff
foreleg, but only eight times were these preliminaries climaxed by the
measured walk away from each other, the simultaneous whirling turn and
rise to the hindlegs, the astounding upright run toward each other, and
the incredible precision and force of the blasting lunge.
It is doubtful if the human body would survive one
such concussion, by comparison with the ram, whose bouts may range from
one strike to the most spectacular contest of our records when Tabby
fought Full Curl to a total of 48 blasts in one day.
A typical single-strike contest, complete with
preliminaries and post bellum maneuvers, began before sunrise at 6:15 on
August 20, 1957, when two 7-year-old rams, Roughneck and The Hook, came
trotting single file down the Needle's Eye trail toward the Round Pool.
The Hook apparently caught a movement on the mountain because he stopped
and, with his head far back, stared upward toward Middle Peak. Roughneck
came directly on down to the pool. Our notes describe what happened:
I can see the slight roughness all over Roughneck's
neck, shoulders, and back, but he is in fine shape. He is going back up.
He meets the other ram, who "ups" to him. He whirls, hitting The Hook on
the shoulder with his rump and goes on around. He lowers his head and
pushes against The Hook's neck. The Hook stands with his nose straight
up, and Roughneck rubs his horns up and down his neck.
Then, suddenly, they back off about 10 feet apart and
hitand I have heard the loud crack we've read so much about. You
know what it is when you hear it. It sounds like rams meeting head
Too dark yet for pictures.
6:25. Dark Eyes and her lamb (what The Hook stopped
to watch) came on down to drink, and Roughneck drinks again with her.
The one bang seemed to be just a gesture. The Hook is standing up there,
just looking. Now he sticks his nose out and again comes slithering
toward them. He passes the ewe and goes to Roughneck and shoves him in
the rump with his shoulder. Then, he suddenly mounts the other ram! He
slides right off again.
This seems to be part of the mating behavior pattern.
Roughneck didn't even stop drinking. The Hook dropped off and walked
away without drinking and started toward Round Pool.
6:35. While The Hook was off drinking by himself,
Roughneck started working on Dark Eyes, who promptly took to the hills
on the south trail toward the Needle's Eye.
6:40. The Hook has overtaken them. Roughneck saw him
coming and stopped and stood with his head sideways, his nose out. The
Hook turns his head sideways, with his nose out, and they slink rapidly
toward each other. They bypass each other's horns and manage to hit
jostingly, a shoulder against a hip, whip around and stand noses
together and straight up.
Now Roughneck breaks the pose after 10 seconds,
starts back toward the Springs. The ewe and her lamb go on through the
Needle's Eye. The Hook just stands there.
The above was scarcely an adequate introduction to
the incredible encounter of the following day, August 21, 1957 when,
with the temperature 88° at 5:30 a.m., I found a large dark ram
lying down by an old blind at the foot of the mountain, above Old
Spring. I saw that he was mature, and in the dim light looked like old
Mahogany. As the light grew brighter, I wondered if his horns were heavy
and broomed enough for Mahogany.
6:25. He has scarcely moved until now, when he
stretched his head forward and laid it on the ground with all its weight
on the tip of his right horn and his nose, or muzzle.
6:28. He raised his head enough to turn it and rest
it on his left horn and muzzle.
I wonder if this is one way of brooming horntips?
It's the only time I have ever seen the tips of rams' horns touch the
ground under any circumstances.
6:30. I hear rocks, and so does old Mahogany. He's on
his feet. Here they come: A ewe being chased by a young ram. Can this be
Knocker and, yes, it's Longhorn.
6:48. They are milling around near Old Spring. The
young ram, as is the way with young rams, has more or less stepped aside
for old Mahogany. Longhorn says all she wants is a drink, but the boys
try to keep her away. As the light gets better I see that it is not
Knocker, but Slim drinking. Now Longhorn gets her head down. Mahogany
and Shim are nosing each other, and the poor girl is finally getting a
drink. After 4 minutes the rams leave each other and Mahogany starts
nudging Longhorn, but she finishes her drink now no matter how much
head-tossing and hip-rolling and smacking he indulges in. It was 6
minutes of drinking for her.
6:56. The rams are pushing each other around. I hear
rocks again. The sheep do, tooto their left and up the
7:00. Longhorn stops, looks up the mountain, but is
now drinking again2 minutes this time.
The young ram is scarcely 3 years old. He is no
bigger than Longhorn, but he is very aggressive. His horns are very
high, with the same curve as hers. Her son? Mahogany twists his head
nearly upside down and with a wriggling lip makes a quick pass at
Slim seems too young or something to have learned the
"lip-flick" in his approach to the girls.
While writing that, I heard rocks and look up to find
Slim standing alone. At 7:12, I find Mahogany and Longhorn 300 yards up
the mountain. She is squatting to urinate which, of course, always ties
a ram in knots of hip-curling and taking stances of various kinds, which
allows the girls either to stand still a few minutes or take advantage
of his trance to get a headstart.
They are "pointing" the mountain again, but I can't
find anything yet.
7:20. Here he comes, another rama new one!
Tall, thin, long-necked, three quarter curl, slender horns and very
flat, the sharpest curl in toward the end. Slightly Roman-nosed.
Slightly mottled on the shoulders and back. Noticeably high-shouldered
and ewe-necked. Brown, not mahogany or gray. He is, in fact, the perfect
Nevares-type ram. Mahogany, in comparison, looks like a Durham bull.
As the newcomernamed Nevares Icrosses
toward the first saddle I can see that the mottled appearance was
probably caused by late shedding as of last year. But he is putting on a
remarkable burst of energy, almost trotting straight away from the
spring, never stopping, ignoring Longhorn (who, I notice for the first
time, has white eyebrows!) and Mahogany and hurrying toward The Saddle
with the air of a man hurrying back to a sick friend.
7:40. He's gone. He came in at 7:20, did his
drinking, and is over the ridge again in 20 minutes.
7:50. Mahogany has followed Longhorn over the
8:30. Half an hour ago I heard horn-banging over the
ridge, so I grabbed a camera and got around there in time to see
Mahogany putting Nevares I to flight. Little Slim nowhere to be seen. Of
course, Longhorn was standing innocently by. I tried to get around to
where the light would be good, but they spooked at seeing me in a
different place. Longhorn and Mahogany went up the first ridge and
Nevares I went to the left toward Nevares Canyon. I tagged along,
thinking I might get him going over the skyline.
Before we reached there we met another mature ram on
his way in. Too far away to recognize without glasses and I had none
with me. He went down out of sight and I waited for about 5 minutes,
when suddenly he appeared on the skyline, against the sun, right above
me. Just about the biggest head of horns I've ever seen. I tried to get
a silhouette of him but I'm afraid he was gone too soon. I started back
and soon came out from behind that ridge and found all three big boys
tagging Longhorn up the mountain. I came back to camp and the big
I watched them until Longhorn led them around the top
shoulder of the First Peak.
9:00. Two of them have reappeared on the very top of
First Peak and are banging horns on the skyline. The big glasses show
these to be Mahogany and Full Curl.
9:10. I tried for a telephoto shot; I don't
knowfor the last 5 minutes they've been standing still, except for
Mahogany constantly banging Full Curl in the belly with that rigid right
which Full Curl seems not to mind at all. Temperature, 94°
They have apparently given Longhorn to Nevares I.
When they were all together these two would start hassling and Nevares I
would sneak off with Longhorn.
9:25. Buddy arrived and with delight took over the
watching of the two big rams, who were still upsing [striking upward
with stiff foreleg, but not hard] to each other near the top of the
First Peak. I need not have been afraid she would miss them, because
they almost at once began to work their way down toward the spring,
pausing continually for a squaring off and a series of maneuvers ending
in a little brain-busting each time. We were so pre-occupied with our
first extended observations of the "bartering-ram" business that we did
not keep a blow-by-blow account of it.
Seeing that they were coming in (Mahogany for the
second time) and that they might do some fighting close enough for
pictures, I began setting up all cameras on hand in readiness, while
Buddy kept the glasses on them. I made it just as the first ram, Full
Curl, hit the spring area at 9:40.
They were here from 9:40 until about noon, feeding,
drinking, fighting. We have spent the entire time with the cameras, and
we hope to have good pictures of them, both movies and slides.
We are pooling our observations for details of this
phase of behavior, however. It is difficult to keep notes during their
activities because of the speed with which developments occur. We found
that we were constantly trying to write something down, hearing
something else happen, and hooking at each other, asking, "What was
that?" So, for the main description of the patterns they follow (and in
this they do have patterns), we will depend on a dictated account, which
was done while I watched and reported and Buddy wrote. This will be
filled in by both of us as we see fit and appended to the end of these
We were surprised and delighted that they chose to
come to Raven and Long Springs and stayed on this side of the Nevares
Seeps throughout the entire time. All the old rams have gone to Old
Spring before, or to Round Pool.
We were most lucky that it was a cool day, maximum of
104° here and overcast, and cooler most of the rime. We were able to
work out on the brow of the point the entire time without discomfort to
ourselves or danger to our equipment.
Although we have never seen Full Curl here before, he
was not a newcomer. He knew where to go for water and led the way in and
out, although this was Mahogany's third or fourth trip, his second
today. He's older, probably 10 or 11, slightly potbellied but still with
Mahogany follows about 50 feet behind him and waits
until he stops; then he deliberately strolls up and with his muzzle
lifts Full Curl's romp off the ground. Full Curl ignores this. It has
happened three or four times.
Full Curl seldom uses the stiff right, but Mahogany
loves it. He is constantly smacking Full Curl somewhere when he is in a
"clinch" with himmaybe in the chest, the belly, the penis or the
testicles, but in no case does it seem to be painful. Especially when it
lands in the genital area, it is more of a lifting shove than a
After tolerating it repeatedly for several minutes,
Full Curl will often walk away to the proper distance and they both
whirl and get set for a bang.
This nonchalant turning away fooled us several times
early in the game. We actually thought the jousting was over, and we
would try to get something done quickly and be prepared for their next
round, only to hear the bang before we had scarcely turned away.
They do sometimes actually eat during these displays
of indifference, which could account to some extent for the good
condition of these rams despite these prolonged expenditures of
At one time, after a particularly violent blast, Full
Curl turned away and, apparently at some signal, Mahogany walked right
up to him and side by side they proceeded a few yards to Raven Spring,
where they stood flank to flank and drank for several minutes.
10:45. They began to travel north, up over the foot
of First Ridge, across the main Nevares Wash and on north, Full Curl in
the lead, Mahogany following, occasionally catching up to Full Curl and
lifting his hindquarters from the ground with his muzzle. Full Curl
seems to ignore this completely, and it seems to be friendly, to say the
12:15. They finally disappear to the right in the
canyon north of Red Wall.
We tried to catch up on our notes and I took a
4:20. Buddy roused me by asking if I heard that bang.
From then until 7:32 we watched an unusual match of skill and strength
and, to an extent, deceit.
These two are evenly matched and seem to enjoy this
brain-busting, and as far as we can tell enmity or antagonism is not
part of it. Competition, perhaps.
This second series of encounters between Mahogany and
Full Curl took place high up on the foot of Dromedary Ridge, at least an
airline three-quarters of a mile from here, but the structure of the
cliffs surrounding the arena was such that the hollow woodblock sound of
impact reached us clearly. The 12 x 50 glasses allowed clear observation
of every move, which otherwise would have been barely discernible to the
Not being concerned with picture taking at this
distance, we were able to concentrate on their behavior. We counted 20
head-on crashes in 1 hour, all of which we saw as well as heard from
three-quarters of a mile away. And when they finally ambled over the
upper end of Pink Ridge at 7:32, they showed no sign of pain or fatigue
or ill will toward each other. They had sparred, waltzed, wrestled, and
tilted for nearly 7 hours, as well as climbed several miles through the
roughest terrain in the valley, and were feeling fine!
Here are some of the details of the behavior pattern
during these contests. This one began on the crest of First Nevares Peak
about 9 a.m., continued down the face of the mountain to the spring
area. It was pursued there for about an hour and a half, then north
along the trail until 12:15. There was a lull, as far as we are
concerned, since we neither saw nor heard them until 4:20. Then they
took it up on the black limestone slope in the shade of an east-facing
cliff on Dromedary Ridge, and they had no respite until sundown, when
they took each other by the horn, so to speak, and went over the
One bears down on the other's rump with muzzle, and
at times will push a foreleg between the hindlegs of the other as if to
hit the genitals. The other does not shrink from this blow and appears
never to be hurt by it. In fact, the aggressor seems to "pull his punch"
as it lands.
They may butt each other on the rump for some time,
milling around and around, leaving churned-up earth for the sign reader.
We call these hassle grounds.
They hold noses side by side, heads high and back,
and seem to be pushing the sides of their faces against each other, not
Stiff foreleg is delivered from the front, side, or
back, just as it is to ewes in mating activity.
After sharp jab at other's shoulder with tip of horn,
both stretch up high in air.
Aggressive activities are interspersed with most
casual browsing, or at least a pretense of browsing.
They sometimes nip each other in the flank in the
same manner a ram nips a ewe in the flank in mating activity.
One ram will put his forehead against the other's
side and push, causing the other to whip around.
One pushes with his forehead the fullness of the
other's neck or his chest while he holds his head high in the air in
They will stand nose to nose for 5 minutes at a time,
eyes nearly closed.
Each puts his nose against the other's shoulder and
turns around and around. (See fig. 51.)
With a shoulder to a rump and a rump to a shoulder,
they may growl and "waltz" around and around for half an hour at a
They scratch on each others" horns sometimes; each in
turn accommodatingly holds his horns steady for the other.
After cracking horns loudly, they stand away, noses
in the air again. The farthest away we have seen them walk from each
other today is 30 feet when they come head on; usually it is from about
10 feet. On the other hand, they may knock horns at 4 or 5 feet, or just
lean back in their tracks and lunge forward without moving their
They stand away from other other, noses in air,
sizing up each other. They may crash horns or they may just both forget
it and start to eat, or one walk toward the other with a peculiar
side-to-side motion of the head, which seems to be the signal for a
clinch, which they do.
As the area in shadow increases, the scope of their
activities increases with it.
Part of the ritual, which seems to be understood by
both parties concerned, is the overly casual walking away on the part of
one (figs. 52 and 53) after a certain amount
of hassling to any distance he chooses, which may be anywhere from 5 to
30 feet. He will casually start to feed, while the other watches warily,
sometimes with head up, sometimes with head almost to the ground, always
watching the feeding one. This feeding will be broken by an incredibly
swift whirl and leap into the air by the feeding one, which never fools
anyone except the uninitiated observer. Sometimes the feeding will go on
too long to suit the other, and he will begin a cautious advance. They
may rise to their hindlegs on the whirl (fig. 54), tilt their heads and sight down their noses for
several seconds, in situ, then simply drop to the ground again.
Elaborate pretense of not knowing what the other is
doing, seems part of it.
The accuracy of the collisions is really remarkable,
but it isn't 100 percent perfect. If they hit off center, both heads are
twisted violently to one side. Occasionally they miss enough to catch
their entire weight in the crook of a single horn (fig. 59), in which case they
lunge past each other with one or the other of the horns sliding out of
the crook over the tip. This could break off the tip, causing brooming.
(Three days later when we again saw Full Curl, one of the participants
in these observations, he had lost several inches from the tip of his
This seems a much more logical explanation of
brooming than the alleged use of the horns in digging for plants, which
we have never seen. We did, in fact, pick up a newly split-off ram
horntip in a churned-up area near Virgin Spring last year.
The rams generally do not stagger back from the shock
and regain their balance or control of themselves, as might be expected
from such a collision. They seldom lose control of themselves in any
way. They do not, as a matter of fact, fold up at all. Their entire
physical setup seems timed to the blow to such an extent that, barring a
slip or a miscalculation, the recoil is under perfect control, and they
come to the ground in perfect balance, braced for any next move the
other might make. Usually there is none for a few seconds. They just
stand there with noses up, heads back and eyes nearly closed. Mahogany
and Full Curl showed no sign of shock or pain after crashing 48 times by
count in one day.
The low blowing sound, or growl, seems to be part of
a generally aggressive mood and attitude in one designed to shake the
confidence of the other. When this happens, the ram seems to be
utilizing every muscle in his body to make this sound. His neck arches,
his head is held very high, nose tucked in. The muscles throughout his
torso tighten, his back arches slightly, and he seems to stand on tiptoe
and tower above his opponent. He then expels his breath, apparently
through his nose, which, when coupled with seeing his threatening
action, seems to be some sort of a growl but, when heard without viewing
the accompanying action, sounds ridiculously like an old man snoring in
the early morning hours.
On September 10, 1957, Tabby and Broken Nose blasted
each other more than 40 times (we didn't start counting from the
beginning) in 2 hours. The bulges of cartilage on the back of their
heads at the base of their horns, which apparently act as shock
absorbers, had increased in size as the contest progressed, and from
time to time the lower jaw of each ram was held on one side as though it
might be dislocated. Another collision or two seemed to correct this
difficulty and the jaw would be held normally again. Their noses
gradually became swollen and puffy from the tip to between the eyes, but
we saw no blood either from the nostrils or the ears, as legend would
have it. As is commonly the case, no ewes were present during the entire
time, nor did they seem to be looking for any. When for some reason they
both decided they'd had enough, they ambled into the mouth of Redwall
Canyon and lay down side by side for a 10-minute rest before they parted
company as casually as though they were unaware of the existence of each
We have had reports from other areas of rams teaming
up for "the season," fighting their battles together against all comers
and, at least tacitly, dividing the "spoils" between them. The closest
we have come to observing this in Death Valley was on August 28, 1957.
Full Curl had been in the Nevares Spring area since 6:57 a.m. when we
noted at 1:40 p.m. that he had met The Hook on Slope Trail. Our notes
1:45. New ram [Toby] at Round Pool. A three-quarter
curl, tannish, bump on nose, reddish "wig" on back of head. Horns seem
to be completely symmetrical and unbroomed, whitish instead of
2:00. He's gone south and met The Hook and Full Curl.
He's not sleek as they are, low hipped and rather high shouldered.
2:35. Toby (with the thatch on the back of his head)
suddenly broke off relations with Full Curl and The Hook and walked off
the slope into the South Wash.
For the last half hour they've been hassling on the
Slope Trail. More or less same routine, except once when Toby and The
Hook clashed, The Hook shot clear under Toby and, more or less on his
knees, came out the back way. Whether Toby overshot or The Hook
undershot the mark I wouldn't know. They both seemed a little surprised
but squared off and made a better job next time.
During this interlude the two oldtimers seemed to
center their attention entirely on the newcomer. Although they had been
doing a lot of infighting before Toby came along, they stopped it
entirely and seemed to take turns on him until he heft. He was not
licked by any means; he just lost interest after about half a dozen
clashes in 35 minutes.
3:00. All three of them showed up in the cut-bank
shade of the South Wash and resumed their tiffs there.
3:30. I went into the drainage below them and got
chose enough, I hope, for good pictures of jousting. The wind, however,
was terrific and very hot and may have spoiled much of it. I could
hardly stand up in it sometimes.
The films taken during this time recorded an
unexpected maneuver, the simultaneous "strike" of three rams at once,
repeated several times. Full Curl and The Hook, standing about 5 feet
apart and 10 feet away and facing Toby, would rise and "sight" him, and
he, taking it all for granted, rose and "sighted" them both, taking the
full impact of each ram on a single horn.
On one occasion as The Hook and Full Curl stood
shoulder to shoulder facing Toby, Full Curl rose to Toby who rose to
meet him, but, as they both sighted and lunged, Toby suddenly shifted
his aim to The Hook, who could do no more than take it while Full Curl
stood on his hindlegs sighting an adversary who had already passed him
The difficulty in determining the objective of this
intense activity should now be apparent. Of the eight full-fledged bouts
we have recorded, not in one instance has a ewe been present during the
entire time. Death or even severe injury appears to be more accident
than intent. We have no record of one ram seeming "win" over another in
the sense that one is beaten down or back and put to flight by another.
Nor have we observed an instance of a "winning" contestant pressing a
temporary advantage over another. When The Hook caught Toby in the face
as he leaped up the bank toward him, he watched Toby with all the
appearance of delight in the other's discomfiture, actually kicking up
his heels in apparent glee when Toby finally gave up and went around and
came up the long and safer way.
That some sort of sexual satisfaction is derived from
the contests is indicated by the fact that it occurs only during the
rut. It has been suggested that it may be vestigial behavior from an
earlier race with a harem pattern, but our observations yielded no
evidence to support such speculation. This much is certain: The contests
have no direct connection with the acquisition of a mate or mates. If a
ewe is present when a contest begins, she has no effect on it or it on
her. She is just as likely to wander off with another ram, unnoticed by
Response to Young
Response to young by mature rams seems to be
practically non-existent. We have no observations indicating an interest
in lambs of either a destructive or a constructive nature.
Younger rams, up to 3 years of age, appear actually
to enjoy the company of lambs, but older rams have at most been observed
to touch noses with a lamb on rare occasions or butt one out of the way
on equally rare occasions with no affection or animosity suggested by
either action. (See "Growth, Behavior, and Care of Young.")
Under no circumstances does the ram appear to share
in the responsibility for the care of the young.
One attitude of the mature ram was recorded at Old
Spring on September 6, 1957. Tight Curl had been browsing with Brahma
and her lamb, Little Brahma, when from across the thicket Tight Curl got
a "scent"; his nose went out, his head down, and his hackles up, and he
slithered through the Baccharis and thistles, came around a big
boulder to find Little Brahma on his knees at a clump of grass. Tight
Curl plowed to a stop, his head flew up, and he looked quickly around
and lost interest.
Group activity among Death Valley rams seems to be
limited to the 4 or 5 months of late winter and early spring when they
separate themselves from the ewes, lambs, and young rams and form the
far-ranging bachelor bands, about whose function and specificity very
little is known.
During this study we have been able to locate but
three bands of rams during the off season, and the remoteness and
roughness of the terrain in all three cases prevented us from
maintaining the contact necessary for the continuous, daylong
observations that form the basis for this report.