The Return Of Desert Bighorn Sheep To Arizona Mountaintops


AH fanatic
Nov 11, 2014
Reaction score
Interesting article

Sheep hunters are some of the most passionate outdoorsmen and valuable conservationists in the world. As Vance Corigan says in a February 2017 New York Times article “people who pay $300,000 for one tag just paid to recover 30 sheep to places that haven’t had sheep in 100 years.”



This year SCI Foundation and our partners at the Arizona Game and Fish Department intend to continue supporting that passion and embrace sheep chasers’ willingness to financially contribute to wild sheep conservation. Through a recent grant awarded by the Hunter Legacy Fund, we are excited to continue studying the successfully reintroduced desert bighorn sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the impact of mountain lion predation on this growing population.
Perhaps one of the most sought-after species in the world, the extreme difficulty is simply locating one in parts of North America that haven’t seen them in 100 years. North American bighorns have been called “The Ultimate Pursuit in Hunting.” Those lucky enough to draw a tag after waiting, in some cases for more than a decade, find themselves in the seat of both a hunter and conservationist. Sheep tags can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to a record $480,000, most of which goes to state or tribal fish and game departments. A single permit for a bighorn ram can constitute a large portion of a local conservation budget.



Disease and unregulated hunting at the turn of the 20th century were devastating to Arizona’s bighorn sheep. Decades of human encroachment and fire suppression were barriers to sheep reintroduction. SCI Foundation partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Wild Sheep Foundation in 2013 to establish a sustainable population of desert bighorn sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, AZ. This project, near SCI headquarters, has returned the desert bighorn to yet another mountaintop. In just four years, three separate groups of thirty sheep were collared and released, and continue to be monitored today. As of November 2016, 85 individual desert bighorns roamed the Santa Catalinas and their numbers are still growing.


However, mountain lions remain a major threat to this new bighorn population. After the first sheep release, fourteen were killed by lions within months. The Adaptive Mountain Lion Management Plan, which allows removal of lions in the sheep reintroduction area, was extended to November 2017, and is currently being evaluated for its effectiveness in reducing predation on sheep. Limiting predation is key to maintaining population growth until the sheep can sustain natural lion pressure.


Research and support will continue as SCI Foundation and our partners in Arizona remain proactive in managing what many expect to become the most valuable game species in the Southwest. According to the Catalina Bighorn Advisory Committee, the public is supportive of bighorn sheep restoration and places significant worth on both their value to the local ecosystem and economy. The last year any desert bighorns were harvested in the Santa Catalina Mountains was 1992. However, if a viable population can be established as self-sustaining, the financial support from such valuable tags will guarantee the continued recovery of desert bighorn sheep.

Source: https://firstforwildlife.wordpress....desert-bighorn-sheep-to-arizona-mountaintops/
Is that how much an auction tag has gone for these days? WOW. Man I remember when 75k was the winning bid. And hell no it wasn't
I hope they do well there. I wish I could hunt these but unfortunately most sheep hunting is just a dream for me
The Santa Catalina mountains are on north edge of Tucson. In recent years, Game & Fish have been trying to relocate sheep to replenish the Pusch Ridge herd. Mountain Lions have been eating them almost as fast as they get released. They did send in some guys to try and thin the Lion population. I am not sure how successful they were.?
They should have hammered the lions for 3 years then released the sheep then continued hammering the lions! They should have trapped and hunted with hounds continually to accomplish this. Such BS we spend all this money (whether volunteer or govt) and predators eat our project. I am a sheep rancher and I fight predators all the time so I have a little bit of expertise in the matter.
But hey great news to have sheep on another mountain!
Credit where credit is due also to the membership of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society.

I've been applying here in Arizona for decades.
Hopefully, someday before I'm too old and frail I'll draw that lucky number.

As an aside, I was born and raised in Tucson. I am privileged to have known three sheep hunters who took Rams from the Santa Catalina's in the 1970's.
One was a classmate of mine who at the time (1978?) was the youngest person in Arizona to kill a ram.
I spent literally weeks and months at a time in the Catalina's during the 70's and 80's and was crushed to hear that the herd disappeared in the 90's.

I'm very pleased this latest project to return the Sheep to the mountain.
There have been some trials and tribulations as expected.
As mentioned in the opening posts article lions have been and will continue to be a bain. It's just the nature of these desert mountain ranges refered to from time to time as "sky islands".
For interests sake I will mention one of the early predation casualties was by a mature bobcat, and unless I'm mistaken it was actually observed by someone from the department or a volunteer.

Kudos to all involved.
Sure hope it works out. Seems like the thing to do would be to ranch the sheep intensely to create some larger numbers to release. Could be this is already what is taking place for all I know. I'm sure this is a big project with a lot of folks helping out so best wishes to everyone doing the work.
Pusch ridge country
Tucson is on the other side of the mountain.
Perfect cat country @Brent in Az. Before I moved to Arizona, I lived in Idaho and I thought we had a lot of mountain lions. I'd see their tracks and even a kill once in awhile. I knew an older couple that lived out in the country. The husband was unfortunately crippled in an accident leaving his wife to not only take care of their ranch, but also him. One morning she started to head out the front door but just before opening it, she spotted a young lion plopped down on her front porch. She was in her 70's at the time, but a Rocky Mountain bred and born ranch girl, who could handle herself without the help of a man. She called b.s. on this crap and went and got a rifle. By the time she got back the cat moved into the shade underneath their pickup, to my understanding he never saw direct sunlight again.

So it was with those experiences I moved to Arizona. I was wrong, in comparison we have far more cats as far as I can tell. While I'd seen sign in Idaho and knew others who had seen a cat here or there, I've now had 4 incidental separate sightings. Three of them in the daylight and one at night. The one at night was when a friend of mine and I were headed into deer camp. The cat crossed right in front of the truck at a creek crossing. Later as we figured, we confirmed by the tracks he was there watering. He was watering no more than 100 yards from a camp full of people.

Until they get the lion numbers down a bit, it will be hard for that herd to become self sustaining.
Mountain Lion have always been a nemesis of sorts for me. I never see any, when I have a tag in my pocket.
@Philip Glass you are spot on! They need to hammer the predators before they transplant! I have heard the lion situation in Arizona is getting out of hand with guys seeing them quite a bit in the day light.

Either way though, this is great news and glad to see them transplanting sheep where they used to be, hopefully the herd will take off and there will be one more place for us to sheep hunt.
@Philip Glass you are spot on! They need to hammer the predators before they transplant! I have heard the lion situation in Arizona is getting out of hand with guys seeing them quite a bit in the day light.

Either way though, this is great news and glad to see them transplanting sheep where they used to be, hopefully the herd will take off and there will be one more place for us to sheep hunt.
I would love to hunt a desert bighorn someday. Yes hopefully conservation efforts will keep paying off.

Forum statistics

Latest member



Latest profile posts

getting ready for a 5 day sable hunt!
joelpend wrote on tward1604's profile.
Norma 404 Brass. A personal check is good and will clear in one day when I electronically deposit.
Thank You
ftrovato wrote on jlb1036's profile.
Thx!!! Let me know what I owe you...
cold and windy day in NW today may catch a rain!