Hangin' with Rocky Mountain Bighorns

My most recent trip to Jasper National Park got off to a rocky start. Thick smoke from the roaring wildfires in British Columbia had drifted east, covering much of western Alberta. There were times I couldn't see more than two car lengths in front of me on the open highway. The further I got into the mountains, the clearer the air became, but the smell of burnt forest was ever present. For the entire first day I saw no wildlife aside from a skittish bull elk. The hazy atmosphere mixed with dense rain clouds in the evening, and my sunset shoot was rained out.

It didn't seem like I was going to have much luck on my second day in the park either. I was planning a sunrise shoot at Pyramid Lake, but the smoke was so thick there that Pyramid Mountain was barely visible. I, instead, filmed some loons by the lake for a while and headed south along the Icefields Parkway again in hopes of spotting wildlife. At first, no luck. I was ready to give up, and my head throbbed from lack of sleep and smoke inhalation. Then, on my way out, only a few miles from the park exit, I spotted three rocky mountain bighorn rams coming down a mountain toward a small pond. I crept close through thick brambles until I could photograph them by the waters edge. Tourists arrived, pulled over, got too close to the sheep with their phones, and forced them across the road into the bushes by a dried river bed. The crowd eventually left. I patiently approached indirectly with my camera and 70-200mm lens - never making eye contact and acting "like a sheep." I sat about 30 yards away while the three rams nibbled at leaves. Eventually, they came close enough for me to get several shots on my own time - everyone's calm, everyone's peacefully doing their thing. 

I've been dreaming about a close encounter with rocky mountain bighorns since I was a kid, sitting on my grandmother's couch watching Wild America on PBS. It's always satisfying when I'm able to get my shots without disturbing the wildlife. As long as they're doing the same thing when you leave that they were doing when you arrived, you've done a good job. Find out how I get close to wildlife at mapsandcameras.com