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Desert (Nelson) bighorn sheep and elk are two of the Silver State's bigger land mammals.
Photo: Martin Olson
• The desert (Nelson) bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)—Nevada’s state animal—is a subspecies of bighorn sheep that occurs in mountain ranges mainly in the southwest. In Nevada, they are found throughout the southern, central, and western part of the state and in mountain ranges as far north as Interstate 80.
• The most conspicuous feature of the desert bighorn sheep is its large permanent brown horns. Both rams (males) and ewes (females) have them, though the horns of rams are much bigger and more curved. Each horn is in a “C” shape, known as a curl, and consist of a sheath of keratin (a hard protein found in fingernails and hair) covering a boney core.
• The desert bighorn is roughly five feet in length and can weigh up to 180 pounds with an average lifespan between six and eight years. Some individuals have been documented in Nevada up to 18 years of age.
• Typical desert bighorn terrain is rough, rocky, and steep, broken by canyons and washes. This type of terrain affords them the advantage in coping with predators. Desert bighorns live in regions of the state marked by hot summers and little annual precipitation. They require access to freestanding water during summer months, and in drought conditions they may water throughout the year.
• Since 1960, after the adoption of conservation measures such as carefully regulated hunting and capture and transplanting programs, populations have been rising. Currently, the desert bighorn population in Nevada is estimated at more than 8,500. The statewide estimate for all bighorn subspecies—including California and Rocky Mountain—is 10,700.
• The breeding season, or rut, generally extends from July through September. In each band of rams there is a dominance order. This order is determined in several ways, which could include the rams clashing heads in a fight. It has been estimated that rams may meet head-on at a combined speed of up to 30 mph.
• Water developments have been and continue to be constructed in habitats deemed deficient in water. Although rams may go three days without water, ewes and lambs come to water holes almost daily during the hot, dry summer months.
Bighorn Sheep Hunting Season
The desert bighorn season usually runs from late November until the beginning of January. View the hunt application page at ndow.org for details about deadlines and rules. Those who draw a bighorn sheep tag must take a mandatory indoctrination class. The Nevada Wildlife Commission sets big-game quotas annually in May.
The elk (Cervus elaphus) is native to North America and eastern Asia and is one of the largest species of deer in the world. They are also one of the largest land mammals in North America. Elk are native to Nevada, and their bones have been recovered from several archaeological explorations in the state.
The Nevada hunting season usually runs from late August until early December.
This information is provided by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. ndow.org, 775-688-1500.