Dubois Bighorn Sheep

Just outside Dubois stands Whiskey Mountain, home to the largest wintering Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd in North America.  Bring your binoculars and make time to visit this unique wildlife habitat area.  Visit the National Bighorn Sheep Center in downtown Dubois or schedule a guided tour.

Include the Dubois bighorn sheep herd on your Circle the Continental Divide Driving Tour.

My Bighorn Sheep Experience

When I think of iconic animals of the West, along with the powerful carnivores—the grizzly bears, wolves and mountain lions—the image of a bighorn sheep comes to mind. Its curling horns are emblematic of Wind River Country and for good reason.

Dubois Bighorn Sheep Photo: Bill Sincavage

The herd that calls the Whiskey Basin home near Dubois is the foundation for reintroduction of wild sheep in the West. It is the largest wintering herd in North America.

Seeing bighorn sheep isn’t easy but it is worth the detour. That’s because they are rare. Even though they call the area home, they remain elusive, making their home high in the mountains, where they are able to thwart predators by scurrying up mountainsides that seem impossible for an animal to navigate.

The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, located at 10 Bighorn Lane right on Dubois’ Main Street, offers a chance to learn about wild sheep in North America. It tells the story of the animals’ history, their habitat and their future, which is threatened. Bighorn sheep have suffered declines across the country, crowded out by development, the reintroduction of predators, and most importantly diseases carried by domestic sheep, Moulton said.

Learning about challenges bighorn sheep face makes seeing one all the more special and the center offers tours starting in late fall and running through early spring. It’s then that the Whiskey Basin sheep return to their winter habitat in the area. Tours are available by appointment and require 24 hour notice.

The best time to go is the last two weeks of November and the first two weeks of December, which is the height of the rut. If dominance within the herd isn’t decided, that’s when it will be.

Two bighorn rams butt heads on a snowy hillside.
Bighorn rams battle for dominance. Photo: Bill Sincavage

And here’s why that is so cool. Bighorn sheep ram horns can weigh up to 15 pounds each, meaning bighorn sheep males might have 30 pounds atop their head. Those horns aren’t used for defense, but for a real-life game of king-of-the-mountain to establish breeding rights among the herd of ewes. It’s a wild animal experience not to be missed.

There’s a viewing shed on Trail Lakes road, complete with a spotting scope, benches, shelter and interpretive signs, that’s a great place to start your viewing.

If your visiting dates don’t coincide with the rut, or tours, the Interpretive Center is still worth a stop. There’s plenty of information, with interactive exhibits and mounted animals. There are also chances to view Dubois bighorn sheep in other times of the year. The staff keeps a list of recent sightings and can direct you to where you might be able to catch a glimpse of these iconic animals.