New Mexico Wildlife

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

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Last Updated: 02/13/2008

The New Mexico Bighorn Sheep Hunting Experience

 

The bighorn sheep hunting experience in New Mexico can be quite varied, depending on the location of the hunt. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunting in the alpine differs greatly from low-elevation river canyon hunts, and rugged desert bighorn sheep hunts.

 

Alpine Hunts

Alpine hunts in the Pecos, Latir, and Wheeler Peak Wilderness take place at 12,000 ft to 13,000 ft. Access to these areas is often best achieved via horseback, as most groups of bighorn live far from trail heads. The climate can be very fickle in late summer and early autumn, and hunters need to be prepared for sunny warm days, as well as clouds, rain, and sleet, for days as a time. Care must be taken to not be trapped above timberline if a lightning storm should arrive. The high altitude provides an additional challenge as the shortage of oxygen can limit the hiking plans of even the most physically fit. The sweeping expanses of wilderness with jagged peaks and tundra plains are one of the highlights of hunting in the Pecos, Latir, and Wheeler Peak herds.

 

bighorn sheep on Gold Hill
Rocky Mountain bighorns on Gold Hill in the Carson National Forest.

 

Low-Elevation Hunts

Low-elevation Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts in Turkey Creek and the San Francisco River in the Gila National Forest provide a very different experience. The edges of bighorn habitat are accessible by vehicle, however moving within the habitat can be very challenging. Steep canyon walls and large rock outcroppings can prevent travel, or cause long detours. This topography precludes use of horses over much of the terrain. Beautiful rock formations, and transitional vegetation between juniper grasslands and Chihuahuan desert scrub provide a rich ecosystem to explore while on these hunts.

 

San Francisco River
San Francisco River in the Gila National Forest.
(Photo courtesy of Doris Weaver)

 

Desert Hunts

The desert bighorn sheep hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains, located in the far southwest corner of New Mexico, offers more rocks, and more hot days, than elsewhere in the state. Bighorn in this herd are very skittish and wary of people, making finding and shooting a ram very challenging. As in the low-elevation herds, the edges of bighorn habitat are accessible by vehicle, but the very steep, very rocky slopes make travelling through the habitat difficult. The variety of cactus species in the Chihuahuan desert scrub provides a treat as you hike through the habitat, but be careful not to walk into them!

 

desert mountains
Desert mountain habitat in southern New Mexico.

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