I have been reading Teddy Roosevelt’s Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Volume I, published in 1885. It is an interesting read, but one of the chapters that really caught my attention was about him hunting bighorn sheep in the badlands.
The hunt was conducted during late fall, likely in the early 1880′s, some twenty five miles south of his Maltese Cross Ranch which was located about seven miles south of Medora. The hunt took three days, and Roosevelt called bighorn hunting “the most difficult kind of sport,” and said that it “ranks highest among all the species of game that are killed by still hunting.” He also noted that bighorns preferred the most barren areas of the badlands and was intrigued as to how, once they were stalked, could so quickly disappear. The bighorns had Roosevelt’s respect. He even predicted that they would outlast the bison and elk in the face of settlement.
Roosevelt was hunting the Audubon bighorn, one of eight races of bighorn sheep in North America and, as you hunters probably know, the only one that has gone extinct. In North Dakota the Audubon bighorn was found mainly in the Little Missouri River badlands, but could also be found on the bluffs along the upper reaches of the Missouri River, around the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, and perhaps the Killdeer Mountains. They were also found in the South Dakota badlands and the Black Hills.
These magnificent animals were of considerable interest here in North Dakota during the 1800′s to Lewis and Clark, Maximilion of Wied, and John James Audubon. However by 1910 the Audubon bighorn was gone. A variety of factors may have played a part in their extinction, including over-hunting, increasing competition and antagonism with livestock and the diseases they brought to the area.
Although the Audubon bighorn is gone, eighteen California bighorn sheep from British Columbia were introduced to the badlands in 1956. Their numbers have grown to become a huntable population and now offer North Dakotans a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, and perhaps some of the same thoughts and experiences of our 26th president.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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