Desert Bighorn 101 - Lecture 3 - Tracking and Reading Sign
Tracking and reading sign is art form that can be applied to any species but here we are going to concentrating on the desert Bighorn sheep.
When tracking Bighorn sheep there are four major elements one wants to be aware of. The first element is tracks or hoof prints. The second is droppings ("pellets") The third is bedding sites, and the fourth is game trails.
With a little knowledge on these four topics you have the tools to learn many things. To start with, all Bighorn Sheep have larger hoofs on their front legs and smaller ones on their rear, so that the tracks of single animal looks like two to the untrained eye. The reason for this is that the front hoofs and legs have added weight of the neck and head to deal with.
Our next topic that we want to discuss is sheep droppings or ”pellets”. One of the important things we need to know about these pellets is that they last longer than tracks in the desert, sometimes a year or more. This will give you a clue as to sheep's whereabouts and behavior long after any footprints have vanished. This allows you to follow them in steep and rocky terrain that would never have a foot print. Another thing to know is that Bighorn Sheep have no bowel control when they produce these pellets, and they do so every 30 or 40 minutes depending on what they ate and how much water they had.
Now let’s turn our attention to bedding sites of which there are basically two types. The first one is where a group of sheep have decided to lay down and chew their cud, and may never return to this place again.
The other type is found in their core habitat. They have used it for thousands of years, over and over again. These beds are made by the sheep when they scratch at the ground with their front legs to make a small depression and then lay down in it. Oftentimes there will be an abundance of tracks and droppings at the bedding sites.
The last element is game trails. This obviously tells you that a lot of sheep have been moving up and down this trail for a long time. This tells you that various attributes in the environment are important to the sheep and have been stable for a long time. Then you can use tracks and droppings to determine if the sheep are still using this trail, and how often.
This of course will deepen your experience and widen your presence in the environment.