Saturday, August 2, 2014

Desert Bighorn Sheep Scoring and Field Judging-Aging and Score

Scoring and aging bighorn sheep on the hoof can be challenging to say the least.  It is a common goal of sheep hunters to try to harvest the oldest and most mature rams that we can.  Depending on the area, an 8+ year old ram is what most desert sheep experts consider mature.  So how do you tell how old a ram is?  I was always taught to find the 4 year ring and then count from there.  The 4 year ring is usually the darkest line (ring) on a horn.  The 4 year ring mark is made on the rams horn because that is the first year the ram reaches sexual maturity and experiences his first breeding season or what hunters refer to as the rut.  They don't feed a whole lot during this period and their horn shows the signs of lack of nutrition during that period.  See the photos below of prominent 4 year rings.  Some are easier to see than others.  A good rule of thumb when trying to determine age of a ram is look for the 4 year ring to be as low as possible on the horn or closer to the ground the better.  Another way to think about it is if it is level with the ear that is good.  Keep in mind, if you got a panel of sheep experts together they would probably never always agree on the exact age of every ram.  This is meant to be an exercise not an exact science.  In the photos below look for the 4 year ring that is clarified by the red line.
This ram pictured above and below is probably 7-8 years old.

This ram appears to be 6 years old-Photo by Julie May

This ram appears to be 5 1/2 years old

Notice there is no 4 year ring.  This ram appears to be 2-3 years old.

Ernie's ram was aged by AZGFD at 9 years old

Claude's 2013 AZ Raffle ram was aged by AZGFD at 9 years old

I would guess this ram to be 7 years old

This ram was aged by AZGFD at 9 years old
Back to the ram from the original post.  Once you determine the 4 year ring then simply try to count each dark line on the horn as it travels towards the rams head.  Usually a sign of a 10+ year old ram is when the 4 year ring is level with the ear.  If you see that it is a good indication of a old mature ram.  In the picture below, the red line shows the 4 years ring, the green line (5 yr), the blue line (6 yr), the purple line (7 yr) and the light blue line (8 yr) ring.  I believe this ram to be 8.5 years old

This is the same ram but a much more up close look at the rings.  The colors are the same in both pics above.  Find the 4 year ring then count each dark ring on the horn towards the eye or base of horn from there. 

If you have any questions in regards to this post please send them to and I will try to clarify or answer them as good as I can.  If you come up with a stumper I will outsource it to find the answer.

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