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Field Identification Desert Bighorn and Aoudad


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Field identification: Bighorn sheep versus Barbary sheep (Aoudad)


 


The rise of exotic Barbary sheep (aoudad) in the Southwest has brought challenges to native desert bighorn sheep, ranging from disease to habitat degradation and competition for forage and water sources.

Another challenge is mistaken identity.  

Multiple desert bighorn ewes have been inadvertently killed by hunters thinking they were shooting an aoudad. This impacts bighorn numbers and can cause significant legal troubles for hunters.

The following is a guide to help hunters distinguish bighorn sheep from aoudad.
 

Desert Bighorn Sheep

These native sheep have a more muscular body with sleek light brown to gray fur. Coloration around the rump, belly, and muzzle is white. 

Ewes have horns that only curve slightly and can be anywhere from 8 to 15 inches long, while rams have much larger, curling horns. 
 

Barbary Sheep (Aoudad)

Aoudad are reddish brown on the upper portions of their body. Some older animals can take on a grayish-brown color.

Only part of the inside legs and belly is white on most aoudad. Some, however, will have a bit of white around the muzzle. Aoudad have shaggy beards, with that of ewes being less pronounced than rams, running from a couple of inches below the head down to the chest. Mature rams may have the beard run all the way down the length of the legs to form what hunters often call “chaps.”

Like bighorns, both males and females have horns. Aoudad horns curl out from the head, with mature rams’ horns sweeping back and never making a full curl like desert bighorns.

LOOK BEYOND THE HORNS

  • If it has a beard, it's an aoudad.
  • If it has a white muzzle, it could be a bighorn or an aoudad. But if it has a white muzzle and a white rump, it's definitely a bighorn.
  • Quite a few desert bighorn ewes will have ear tags and/or GPS collars, but very few aoudad will. If you see a tag or collar, take extra precaution because you’re almost guaranteed to be looking at a desert bighorn. 
  • Do not let location be a factor in your identification. Their range overlaps in much of the Southwest, and both can travel great distances. Although not currently there, it might be possible for aoudad to venture into the southern-most distribution of Rocky Mountain bighorn as well. The same coloration and appearances apply to both desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, so be cautious anywhere when aoudad hunting in the Southwest. Pull the trigger only when you are 100 percent sure of your target.


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Contact Wild Sheep Foundation to order more Field Identification: Bighorn Sheep versus Barbary Sheep (Aoudad). Available in June 2024. Or download a PDF you can print at home by clicking here.
 


Test your knowledge with our Field Identification Slide Show.


Use the arrows on the image to click through for the answers.


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