If you think about it, driving the Theodore Roosevelt National Park scenic route is as close to a big game safari as you can get in North America. Instead of elephants and giraffes, we get to see bison, elk, big horn sheep, long horn steers and of course prairie dogs. (I guess, they are kinda like the monkeys of the prairie).
So, on our last “big game safari” at the north unit, south of Watford City, we lucked out on our late day adventure. We were elk spotting but spotted none. Instead we stumbled into a humorous mating ritual of the big horns.
And we got to see several of this year’s spring big horn lamb crop.
Last week, we showed you this set of images to encourage you to visit the park. The wildlife is there to see.
But that’s not all! Read down to find out about the game the boys and girls play.
Big Horn Lambs
We found several healthy big horn lambs from this spring. The ND Game and Fish big game biologist I talked to said this is a very good year for lamb survival. They’re hungry and there’s not much food in the bluff, buttes and hills, so they are grazing in the grasslands. It’s perfect feeding territory for them. That’s where we found them, moms, dads and kids.
And so, here with this story, we’ll show you several images to whet your appetite and encourage you to visit the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Brett Wiedmann, a big game biologist with the state Game and Fish Big Game Department says the state’s big horn sheep population is recovering from the health issues in 2014. In fact, he says there’s a record number of big horn sheep between Watford City and Mandaree along the Little Missouri River. The steep bluffs and ample grazing make it ideal for as many as 400 sheep to thrive in the area.
Most of them are in the back country and a little tough to spot, but in the north Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and across the river at the CCC Campground, you can get a good chance to spot a sheep or two. That’ one of the reasons the tall fence is going up along Highway 85 — to keep deer, elk and sheep off the highway.
This video from the ND Game and Fish Department includes excellent shots of big horns, and positive news from Brett Wiedmann.
Big horns are like to graze in open grasslands but they don’t go too far from the steep hills of the Badlands where they can stay protected from predators. And that’s where we found the, right along the scenic drive next to the sheer face of the Badlands gorge..
We also got a bit more laughable entertainment as a couple of rams were intent on getting with a ewe — or two.
This is peak rutting season, November and early December.
The chase scene
So, if you go out to the north unit this time of year, take your camera.
This comical video shows the chase is on– round and round the hills they go. Up and down, down and up.
The Badlands from Watford City, downstream on the Little Missouri River to the big Missouri River is home to hundreds of big horns. One way to possibly catch a glimpse of the big horns outside of the National Park is to drive east on Long X road from Highway 85.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where are the Badlands in North Dakota
The North Dakota Badlands follow the Little Missouri River from the southeast corner of North Dakota, north toward Watford City, then east toward Lake Sakakawea and Mandaree.
Where can I drive in the Badlands?
Several roads are open — except in a snow storm — including East River Road and West River road. You can access them near Medora. Near Grassy Butte, drive Upper Magpie and Lower Magpie roads, accessed from Highway 85.
Where can I see wildlife in the Badlands
The Badlands are home to many types of wildlife. That includes rattlesnakes to prairie dogs, coyote, fox, mountain lion, mule deer, elk and big horn sheep. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park also has bison, wild longhorn steers and wild horses. The photo gallery “Animals of the Badlands” showcases many of the animals easily spotted in the Badlands.