South Dakota Hunting Article see all
I was traveling to Custer for a party. I was anticipating an evening away from home with my wife. Dancing, good food, friends and conversation were on the itinerary. Our hosts were former clients, elk hunters who after hours of whispered conversations on the trail of elk and later in the evenings over meals, had become good friends.
The bighorns were in their usual location on the hill above Deadwood between the Lodge and the rodeo grounds. I had grown accustomed to seeing them with their bright orange ear tags and radio collars drawing my attention as I passed by on the blind curve.
Why, with thousands of acres of green grass surrounding them, they choose to spend so much time against that vertical rocky slope, I will never know. The traffic is horrible and there is little food, but they blend in with the rocks so well that at times I have questioned whether I actually saw them.
They look so rough this time of year. Their winter coats are falling out in clumps and the patches of wool are scattered so randomly that it looks like an angry barber has taken their revenge. The ewes all pant in the heat and their flanks accordion in and out as they attempt to draw in a cooling breath. The close proximity of the heated roadway can’t help. But then again, this year’s moisture has created a haven for biting flies and mosquitoes and perhaps there are fewer there among the rocks than in the tall grasses.
This time though there was a difference. Two lambs accompanied the ewes, ram and yearling there by the roadside. The initial success of the transplanted Alberta sheep rested on the hope that the rigors of capture and relocation would not adversely impact the sheep and that any pregnant bighorns would carry their lambs to term. These two lambs are among the first born in the Northern Black Hills in perhaps a hundred years.
The southern herd is suffering from disease and fewer of their lambs have been surviving each season. These baby bighorns carry the hopes of a more resistant herd capable of better handling the Black Hills. But, disease resistance is only one of several dangers this herd faces. Survival among the racing tourists on their way to the gambling below will be a challenge.
The lambs are small and look like nothing more than another stone laying alongside their mothers there next to the roadway. We stopped and took several pictures and had dozens of cars stream past. There is little room there for safety. The curve of the road makes it impossible for oncoming traffic to see. A family of sheep would need to scramble to make the crossing without being hit. Yearly sheep are lost in the central and southern hills near the Cleghorn fish hatchery and around Hill City. Signs have been constructed that warn tourists that they are in in sheep country. Hopefully, they take heed of the signs, scan the roadsides, and slow their travels in anticipation.
For the new northern hills lambs to have a fighting chance, they will need similar help from the department of transportation, Game, Fish, and Parks, and area residents. A temporary electronic sign that flashed the warning, “Baby Bighorn Lambs around next Blind Curve,” might slow traffic enough to give them a chance. Such plans might already be in the works, but it couldn’t hurt for area residents to ask for an expedited installation.
Until then, slow down on your next trip into Deadwood, keep your eyes peeled and give the lambs a break.