Tag Archives: bighorn sheep

A Tribute To Fallen Sheep Conservationists

While conducting aerial surveys for desert bighorn sheep in West Texas on Saturday, Aug. 8, three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) employees died in a helicopter crash on TPWD’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Brewster County.

TPWD reported the victims include Wildlife Biologist Dewey Stockbridge, Fish and Wildlife Technician Brandon White, and State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar.

Photo by Chester Moore.

The pilot, a private contractor, survived the crash and was transported to El Paso for further treatment.

“No words can begin to express the depth of sadness we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director.

“These men were consummate professionals, deeply liked and highly regarded by their peers and partners alike for the immense passion, dedication, and expertise they brought to their important work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine.  Wildlife conservation in Texas lost three of its finest as they so honorably and dutifully carried out their calling to help survey, monitor and protect the bighorns of their beloved west Texas mountains.  We will miss Dewey, Brandon, and Dr. Bob deeply and dearly.  All of us at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department send our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Stockbridge, White, and Dittmar families in the wake of this devastating tragedy and continue to pray for the health and recovery of the pilot.”

In a heartfelt statement on the tragedy, the Texas Bighorn Society released the following statement.

We are deeply saddened after hearing about the tragic and unexpected loss of Wildlife Biologist Dewey Stockbridge, State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar, and Fish and Wildlife Technician Brandon White on Saturday in the Brewster County helicopter accident.  These three respected Texas Parks and Wildlife employees have dedicated their life to desert bighorn and wildlife conservation.  Their commitment and expertise have given us the knowledge we need to succeed in restoring desert bighorn sheep in Texas.  We will always be grateful to these men for their hard work and sacrifice, and we give our sincerest condolences to their families. 

Make no mistake these three men were conservationists in the truest sense of the word. Wild sheep require a higher level of management than any other game species in North America and what they did for these great animals will help ensure viable populations in the future.

Of the three, I only briefly knew Stockbridge who was knowledgable, generous and passionate about the topic of sheep conservation and all wildlife management, especially at Elephant Mountain WMA which he oversaw.

Photo by Chester Moore.

Wild sheep are special animals and the people who work toward their conservation are special people. These men and women work in some of the most inhospitable environments in America and put in countless hours in extreme heat, extreme cold and at extreme elevations.

They are worthy of our respect and in this tragic case, worthy of memorial as an example of deeply committed conservationists.

Our prayers here at Higher Calling Wildlife are with their families, co-workers and the extended family of wildlife conservationists in the Trans-Pecos of Texas and beyond who were impacted by their dedication.

These men helped Texas’ rarest and most regal game animal, the desert bighorn sheep reclaim and sustain habitat lost during much of the 20th century.

Their death saddens us but the actions of their very dedicated lives should serve as inspiration.

Chester Moore

COVID-19 And The Wild Sheep Decline: An Interesting Parallel

The impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus on humanity, is nothing short of historic.

While the death toll has not and hopefully will not reach the levels of the Spanish flu of 1918, the potential is there, and the grip it has on government, commerce, and private citizens is unprecedented.

That’s why I can’t help but make parallels between COVID-19 and the near-catastrophic decline of wild sheep of the 1800s.

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The author photographed this bighorn at 12,000 feet in an area where grazing is restricted but these sheep don’t stay here all the time. Moving into grazing areas is a highly dangerous proposition. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

When Lewis & Clark set out on their epic expedition, there were around two million wild sheep in North America. By 1900, there were fewer than 25,000 according to some estimates.

And while it would be easy to blame it on unregulated hunting and market killing which no doubt had some impact, by far the biggest killer was pneumonia.

Coming from domestic sheep, it hit wild herds as they co-mingled in the valleys and mountains during the westward expansion of European settlement. Millions of sheep died, and if it were not for conscientious hunters and fish and game departments around the nation, there would likely be no wild sheep left today.

Listen to Chester Moore discuss this issue and give some inspiration on wild sheep conservation at his new podcast “Higher Calling”.

It’s a story few have heard outside of wild sheep hunting and biologist circles, but now is the time.

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Notice the mountains in the background of this sheep lot. Have wild sheep mingled with herds in this area? (Public Domain Photo)

The decline of wild sheep is second only to the government-sponsored bison slaughter in the depth of impact on a species in North America.

Humans are now quarantined, and in effect, bighorns are in many areas.

In 2016, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) officials killed six bighorns because backpackers saw them co-mingling with domestic sheep. The bacterial form of pneumonia can be brought back to the herd and transmitted to lambs.

“When you have the lambs dying, it’s hard to build a population,” said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski in The Durango Herald.

“As wildlife managers, we look at populations, not individual animals. In this case, we know an individual animal could spread the disease to the larger herd, and then we have a bigger problem.”

This is not an uncommon practice in wild sheep management.

While translocations, strict herd management, and grazing restrictions have brought sheep numbers continent-wide into the 150-175,000 range, pneumonia is still the most significant threat. Still, there are no specials on Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild or any other mainstream media outlets. This pandemic has been going on with wild sheep for 150 years, and only the hunting community, fish and game agencies, and biologists seem to care.

The focus should now be on saving people and the economies of the world, but there is space to teach a valuable lesson on wildlife conservation. There has never been a point in recent history where this particular story of wild sheep has such a great chance to touch the hearts of millions of wildlife enthusiasts.

During the downtime from work and school, people are looking for things to occupy their time and inspired, informative media on some of the beautiful animals in North America can help fill some of that void.

That is what this post is all about. I’m doing my best to let people know that when the dust settles on COVID-19 (and me and my family are praying daily that will happen soon), sheep will still have their own pandemic to face.

Concerned conservationists have done a remarkable job building herds throughout North America, but these conservationists are aging quickly, and new blood needs to step up to the plate.

Maybe something good that can come out of this tragedy is that some young person is motivated to get involved with sheep conservation. Perhaps being isolated, afraid of mingling with others and under the potential threat of death itself because of an unseen force will inspire action.

Sheep, of course, have no way to conceptualize these things, but they don’t need to when caring conservationists are in place in fish and game departments, conservation groups, and halls of the legislature.

COVID-19 may be momentarily stealing our freedoms, but it can’t rob the wild and enduring spirit of those thoughtful enough to make a bold stand for bighorns and their thinhorn cousins.

That force is as majestic as the sheep themselves.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

COVID-19, Wild Sheep & Chester’s New Podcast

Join The Wildlife Journalist® and award-wining conservationist Chester Moore as he discusses the connection between what we are experiencing in this pandemic setting and what nearly wiped out wild sheep in America in the 1800s.

Also hear a a heartfelt story of how Chester and his Dad bonded over hunting scrapbooks and how it pointed him toward a higher calling of wildlife conservation.

Listen below.

Wildlife Journalist Honored For Bighorn Writings

Wildlife journalist Chester Moore has been honored for his writings on bighorn sheep hunting and conservation.

He won first place for the “Outdoors Column ” category in the Texas Outdoor Writers Association Excellence in Craft awards for his bighorn sheep story entitled “New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns”. The story appeared at Higher Calling and in the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Mountain Minutes newsletter.

Moore at home with his two “Excellence In Craft” awards.

He also received a second place award in the “Feature” category for his “Desert Homecoming” story in Sports Afield that detailed the comeback of Texas’ desert bighorn herd. 

“I’ve been doing a lot on wild sheep, trying to get the word out on their conservation needs and the absolute triumph that hunter-based conservation has been for all wild sheep in North America. It’s a real honor to be recognized for these writings.”

Moore is a staunch supporter of sheep and mountain wildlife conservation is a member of The Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society as well as the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance. He is also a member of The Houston Safari Club Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation.

Additionally, in January at the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas state convention Moore was awarded the “Advocatus Magni” award for his work as an advocate for wild turkey conservation.

Chester won the “Advocatus Magni Award” from the National Wild Turkey Federation for his work as an advocate of wild turkey conservation.

“This is such a tremendous honor,” Moore said.

“Wild turkeys are a passion of mine and I believe if we get turkey conservation right all forest species will benefit. Even wild sheep benefit from certain turkey enhancement projects like controlled burning. To get an award like this is truly inspiring.”

Sheep Show Highlights Hope

A desert bighorn ram crossed the steep, rocky opening with incredible ease.

I had struggled to quietly get within photo range without slipping and falling to my death for longer than I would like to admit. The ram, however, crossed through a much more treacherous spot with impunity-in seconds.

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A beautiful desert bighorn ram walks across a steep, rocky slope. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Seeing their ability to survive and thrive in such habitat is one of the things that draws men to seek out wild sheep-whether with a camera, rifle or bow and arrow.

And Jan. 15-17, thousands of sheep enthusiasts gathered in Reno, NV. at the annual Sheep Show hosted by The Wild Sheep Foundation.

It was my first time attending and I came both as a fan of wild sheep and a wildlife journalist wanting to get the story on what makes this group of people tick.

The fan was satisfied as soon as I walked through the doors of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

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The author with a beautiful Dall sheep mount at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Sheep Show in Reno, NV. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Anyone into wild sheep would be impressed with incredible wild sheep taxidermy displays and hundreds of booths ranging from outfitters specializing in argali hunts in Tajikistan to Colorado’s grass-roots Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society.

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An incredible argali display created by Wildlife Revolutions-Taxidermy Studio. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

A melanistic desert bighorn taken in Mexico was of particular interest as well as a mountain-style display of wild sheep and goats from Asia.

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A melanistic desert bighorn taken in the 2019 season in Baja Mexico on a hunt arranged by Bo Morgan of Go With Bo, a well known outfitting company. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Sheep hunting is not for the out of shape was evidenced by conversations with outfitters who start some of their hunts at upwards of 12,000 feet.

And it’s not for the out of work either.

While lottery-style draw permits gives the working-class man access to sheep hunting, much of it is a wealthy man’s game.

But that has come as a benefit to wild sheep.

Whereas whitetail deer can pay for themselves through standard hunting licenses fees due to their huge distribution and strong populations, sheep can’t survive through that model.

Auctioning off a portion of tags to wealthy hunters at banquets like those held at the Sheep Show funds a huge part of wild sheep conservation efforts. And whereas whitetail need studying and observation, sheep need an entirely different level of management.

Moving sheep from areas with high population densities to low and making sure they do not co-mingle with domestic sheep that can pass on deadly pneumonia is incredibly expensive.

Without groups like The Wild Sheep Foundation which according to president Gray Thornton spent more than $6 million on conservation efforts in 2019 along with regional groups like the Texas Bighorn Society and Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, sheep would be in real trouble.

Tags at these auctions regularly go more than $100,000 and some coveted tags like those for Montana’s giant rams have fetched more than $400,000.

The hunters with that kind of coin could easily hunt big rams with outfitters who have tags and spend less. But these hunters believe in conservation and don’t mind spending to make it happen.

The most impressive part of the event came at the beer reception for the Less Than One Club. Its a subgroup of The Wild Sheep Foundation for members who have never taken a wild sheep.

More than 2,000 people attended this year’s event, shattering the previous record and showing an incredible diversity of people.

I’m a member and despite having traveled and written all over North America have never taken a sheep.

Neither had the lifelong sheep biologist who I sat with or the 28-year-old girl I met who dreamed of sheep hunting. Virtually very income level, background, ethnicity and state in the union was represented and everyone was truly excited.

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Pete Muennich of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance announces the winner of the annual “Billy Goat Club” drawing for a mountain goat hunt.  The Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance partners with The Wild Sheep Foundation on this event. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

And although I don’t have official demographics, I estimate a third of that room was 35 years and younger and half under 45. In the hunting world those are impressive numbers and they show hope for the future of wild sheep.

Enthusiasm for these great animals is not limited by age, income bracket or location. It’s universal to those who have somehow found a fascination with wild sheep.

Three Dall sheep hunts were given away that night in draws that had everyone on their edge of their seats. Asian ibex hunts were given away for the international component of this unique club that everyone in the room inherently wants to be disqualified from.

The day after the show, I drove seven-hour span from Reno to Las Vegas to attend the SHOT Show on behalf of Texas Fish & Game magazine. It was an incredible drive through stunning country with frequent “Bighorn Crossing” signs.

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Bighorn crossing signs are a common sight in many areas of Nevada, highlighting the state’s high level management of these ungulates. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

I had learned about a tract of public land with a good sheep population and hoped I would be able to photograph my first sheep in Nevada and by God’s grace and good information there was the sheep at the beginning of this story.

I could not help but think back to the Sheep Show and wonder if this beautiful, young ram would even be here without the love of those in the sheep-hunting community.

Just as I decided to head back down as not to spook the ram, he made his way down toward me.

He stopped about 75 yards away, highlighted perfectly by the brilliant desert sun and essentially posed while looking right at me. I could now make out a tag in his ear with a very easily identifiable number.

This ram had at some point been captured, documented and maybe even moved from another area to here.

That kind of management doesn’t come cheap and it does not come without people who believe in wild sheep management like the Nevada Department of Wildlife and The Wild Sheep Foundation.

The beautiful creature turned and headed back up the slope, this time journeying to the peak and over.

I left Nevada with great hope for the future of sheep and sheep hunting thanks to the Sheep Show and a deeper curiosity about Nevada and it’s three varieties of wild sheep.

More on that to come soon.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

Creating Young Conservationists-You Can Help!

For Immediate Release—Wild Wishes® grants wildlife encounters to children and teens with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling.

Part of the outreach of Chester and Lisa Moore’s nonprofit Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® outreach, the 100th child received a life-changing wildlife encounter in Sept. 2019.

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Chester and Lisa Moore in Colorado scouting for location for Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions.

Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions goes to a new level by taking teens from the program on expeditions to teach wildlife conservation through mentorship in wildlife photography, social media awareness raising and fundraising skills.

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“We noticed that many of the young people we work with who face these great challenges are looking for a way to help and give back. We are creating these opportunities to give young people an avenue to not only understand conservation but a way to get involved,” said Chester Moore.

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Reannah fits a radio collar on a desert bighorn sheep at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area courtesy of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Two pilot projects initiated the program in 2019.

Wild Wishes girl Reannah changed her degree and school (now a Texas Tech student) to work with conservation after her wish encounter as a high school senior in 2018.

In December 2019 she got to participate in a desert bighorn sheep capture and translocation at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area courtesy of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

“It was an incredible experience!,” Reannah said.

“It give me even more inspiration to pursue a career in working in wildlife conservation.”

Wild Wishes boys Amos and Jaxon got to take part in a special catch-and-release conservation mission for Guadalupe bass in west-central Texas. The trip was featured in Texas Fish & Game magazine and the boys learned how using the photos they took on the trip could raise awareness to problems facing stream fisheries.

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Jaxon was excited to catch his first-ever Guadalupe bass

Special challenges usually disqualify young people for experiences like this. We are creating special opportunities for them only.

In 2020 we are doing our first expeditions into Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park as well as our second annual Guadalupe bass trip.

Can you help sponsor one of these trips? Any size donation is appreciated.

You can make tax-deductible donations here.

For more information email chester@chestermoore.com.

TX Bighorn Capture Inspires

Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA)—The chuffing sound of helicopter blades sounded faintly in the distance.

As a crowd of biologists and technicians from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), Tech Tech, and Sul Ross University, among others, looked upward, the helicopter appeared.

Flying above the 6,2000-foot peak of Elephant Mountain in this remote area of Brewster County, it looked blurry at first.

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A pair of bighorns is safely brought to the ground as the sun rises over Elephant Mountain in Brewster County, TX. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

But upon approach, details became apparent, and so did it’s cargo.

Two desert bighorn sheep blindfolded and secured in safety gear hung from the helicopter and were soon gently placed on the ground.

After detachment, the ground crew quickly moved the sheep to tables to thoroughly examine them.

They gave the sheep everything from fecal examinations to blood tests and took tiny ear clippings for DNA records.

“I can’t believe I’m getting to see all of this,” said Reannah Hollaway, a first-year wildlife student at Texas Tech.

Reannah is part of our Wild Wishes® program that grants wildlife encounters to youth struggling with critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling.

As a high school senior, Reannah’s initial wish was to encounter sea turtles. But while attending her first school of choice in 2018, she reflected on her wish experience and decided to go into the conservation field.

In fall 2019, she transferred to Texas Tech and now dreams of working on behalf of wildlife.

When TPWD”s Project Leader of Trans Pecos WMAs, Mark Garrett, approached her with a GPS collar in hand, she wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

But as officials brought in a big ram, she realized she was getting to put collar it.

“This will give us much information on its movements and allow us a better understanding of what these sheep are doing after we move them to Black Gap Wildlife WMA,” Garrett said.

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Reannah fits a radio collar on a desert bighorn ram. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

After overcoming a few understandable nerves, Hollaway enthusiastically fitted the collar and watched as the crew moved the ram into a transport trailer.

In the course of the next few hours, she took ear clippings and helped take a blood sample from several ewes.

Desert bighorn sheep restoration in Texas in many ways centers on Elephant Mountain WMA. Donated to TPWD in 1986 for sheep propagation, it has been highly productive for desert bighorns, and when the area reaches carrying capacity, TPWD officials move part of the herd to other locations that could use a population boost.

These efforts supported by groups like the Texas Bighorn Society, Wild Sheep Foundation, and Dallas Safari Club have seen bighorns reach a population of around 1,500 in the Trans Pecos.

And after years of importing sheep from states like Nevada, TPWD offcials are now able to use Texas sheep to stock available habitat.

These ewes are tagged, collared and ready for release at Black Gap WMA. (Photo by Reannah Hollaway)

“It’s exciting to see how so many people have rallied around the bighorn program, and we are always excited to be able to take sheep from one place to another to expand their range in the Trans Pecos,” said Froylan Hernandez Texas desert bighorn program leader.

While scanning the area for photo opportunities, I noticed Reannah looking into one of the transport trailers.

“He’s beautiful, and his number is 8,” she said, referring to the identifying ear tag.

“I think I’ll name him Brian. He looks like a Brian.”

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“Brian” the bighorn-aka No. 8 is trailered and ready to be released at Black Gap WMA. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The young lady looked at the gorgeous ram in awe, and in her eyes, I could see the same wonder that has kept me enthused about wildlife since I was a little boy.

When business is slow, assignments are challenging, and real-life issues settle in, these moments are what keeps someone who works with wildlife motivated.

As me, my wife Lisa and daughter Faith made the eight-hour trek from Alpine to the Houston area to bring Reannah home; the happenings of the day dominated the conversation.

The sheep were beautiful.

The people were kind and gracious.

The helicopter operation was incredible to witness.

And Reannah getting to take part in this process was unforgettable and inspired a young lady to move forward in her studies and life with enthusiasm.

Ancient pictographs created by first nations people like the Jornada Mogollon of Texas and Fremont Culture of Utah adorn rock walls and caves in the desert Southwest.

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Bighorn images inscribed on rocks in Utah by the Fremont culture. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

Among these rock paintings are striking images of bighorn rams.

It is not clear whether these first nations people hunted sheep, but their reverence was evident.

Today desert bighorns still inspire.

Whether it is wildlife journalists like myself, wildlife biologists, hunters, landowners, or an aspiring student like Reannah, these animals leave an imprint on the human spirit.

Their mere presences move us to make the world a better place for sheep and other wildlife.

Chester Moore, Jr.

New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns

If looks could kill I would have been a dead man.

The ewe fixated on me with a focused intensity.

It was obvious she knew I was a stranger in her rocky domain and I suspected her to bolt at any time.

But as clacking sounded from the rocks below, she broke the stare and looked down.

Up came her baby, a gorgeous Rocky Mountain bighorn born this spring and already masterfully moving up through this gorgeous and treacherous gorge.

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Bighorn lambs can weigh as much as 70 pounds during their first winter. This one was climbing up to find its mother. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

After the lamb came up, eight more bighorns moved up into the plains above the gorge. It was an incredible sight and is proof of New Mexico’s hard work to see its bighorn populations increase.

According to Nicole Tatman, Big Game Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (Game & Fish), the state has populations of both Rocky Mountain and desert bighorns.

“We actively manage both herds and are always evaluating populations and areas where we can translocate sheep from abundant herds into areas that need more or that currently do not have sheep,” Tatman said.

In 2018, Game & Fish officials released 40 desert bighorns in Alamogordo and over the last decade stockings of Rocky Mountain bighorns in the Rio Grande Gorge and near Bandelier National Monument have proven successful.

The state is able to conduct translocations from its own herd and has seen significant progress in its sheep program. According to Game & Fish officials their desert bighorn herd was an estimated 170 in 2001 and now sits at over 1,000. Rocky Mountain bighorn populations edge that out and are expanding into suitable habitat.

And suitable habitat can change.

The tragic Las Conchas fire that consumed more than 150,000 acres created treeless habitat in the mountains that is perfect for bighorns.

Controlled fire is a practice that benefits sheep along with other wildlife like New Mexico’s Merriam’s turkeys, so it is interesting to see that even after something as catastrophic as that fire, hope can arise.

I plan to do more expeditions into New Mexico in search of bighorns in the next year, focusing both on the desert and Rocky Mountain herds.

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Chances are this young ram won’t be contributing his genetic this year but he sure showed an interest in this ewe. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

Just before the sheep I found disappeared into their rocky habitat, a young ram tried to make a move on an older ewe. You could tell it wasn’t quite his time yet but the instincts are there.

And those instincts to reproduce, persevere and expand will keep hope alive for New Mexico’s bighorns in the coming years.

Chester Moore, Jr.