Field Judging Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Amount of outward flare:
Typical flare on average shaped/average depth of curl Colorado rams happens 32-33" from the base. The best angle to judge this from is the quartering away look. Add the amount of flare to get an approximate horn length: four inches of flare makes a 36-37" long horn.
GK: Getting a good side view of the ram so that you can determine how the horn comes off the top of the head, how far back the horn comes, how low the horn drops in relation to the bottom of the jaw, and how far it comes up in relation to the eye or the bridge of the nose. Another thing to look for is the tightness of the curl – can you fit a softball through it or a soccer ball? If it is a softball-sized hole it is a tighter curl and shorter horn whereas a soccer ball-sized hole means it is a lower-dropped and longer-length horn. There is a lot of experience that goes into judging the size of the curl. Hands-on measuring of sheep horns has really helped me in field judging.
If you only had one look at a ram, which would you prefer? TR: Quartering toward me provides the best picture of horn shape, mass, and length.
GK: In my opinion you can’t judge a ram with one angle/view. You need to look at all four sides (front, right & left sides, and rear view). Typically all rams look big from the rear look or angle. You need all angles.
Are there some “rule of thumb” measuring tricks that you use? TR: Not really. I depend heavily on studying photos of previous ram kills and I use those for comparison. If a ram looks really big from any view, he probably is and if I try to talk myself into any other judgment, he probably is smaller than I think.
GK: For Rocky Mountain bighorns there are a couple measurements that seem to be helpful. From the tip of the nose to the base of the horn is typically 10 inches, so this will give you a good reference point to help judge the length of the horn. Try and lay that measurement around the horn to determine the length of horn. Another measurement is nose to eye, which is typically nine inches. The length of the ear from the opening to the tip of the ear is typically four inches. Compare the ear measurement to the width of the horn from the side view to determine the mass. I like to see a ram with horns that drop really low. This usually means good length. By using these measurements as reference points, this should help you judge the length and the mass of the horn.
What is your biggest fear when scoring a ram?
TR: My biggest fear is that he might be a dwarf or less than average sized ram. Lone rams are dangerous business to score accurately because there’s nothing available for comparison. While guiding a few years ago, we harvested a ram that looked to score in the mid 180’s. He only had a half-curl ram with him so comparing body size/horn bases was impossible. He turned out to be a dwarf ram in both body size and overall horn size. It was still a magnificent looking ram with great appeal, but he scored a full five inches lower than we estimated.
GK: Scoring a ram bigger than it really is. Keep in mind that in all species there are smaller framed rams and if they are off by themselves it is easy to misjudge. If there are several rams together then you can compare body sizes to make sure that they are all equally sized. Anyone that has been on a number of sheep hunts at some point will make a mistake and misjudge a ram.
When trying to determine age and body size on a ram what do you look for?
TR: Old rams typically have swayed backlines and a big protruding belly when viewed from the side. Depending on the particular ram, horn growth rings may or may not be visible in a spotting scope.
Often, the anterior side of the horn is the best place to find growth rings and can be best viewed as the ram faces away from the viewer. It is well known that trophy rams in Colorado are 8-10 years old although a few grow massive horns at earlier ages. Seldom are rams seen that are over 12 years old. Judging body size is fairly easy if other rams are present for comparison. Beware of the lone ram and judging body size/horn size without comparable rams present. Rams are typically mature in body size at age five.
GK: A big ram’s butt will discolor and have a dingy look, especially the white patch. They will usually have a big pot belly and will also have a swayed back. I try to judge the fourth-year ring, which is the most prominent ring on the horn. You want that about halfway down the horn/curl and you want to be near its ear and horizontal to its back line. That means the ram is getting some age. If the fourth-year ring is above the ear then it’s a young ram and if it is even or below the ear then it’s an older ram. It is just a measuring tool, but not always accurate because some rams can have 5-6 inches between rings.
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