The impact is cringe worthy. Crashing Bighorn sheep, in the fight to be king of the hill, or the dominant male of the herd, ram heads inducing headaches of onlookers.
Rising up on hind legs, a pair of Bighorn rams, charge each other at speeds of 32 km./h (20 mi./h).
Weighing up to 300 pounds, the explosive clash of the Bighorn sheep horns colliding, echoes through the wide, western Canadian Columbia Valley.
Bighorn Sheep in Radium Hot Springs
For decades, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have lived in and around the village of Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia. In late spring and summer, the large sheep move into the nearby mountains to lamb.
During the autumn and winter in Radium, you can’t help but see the sheep with horns, strutting on the sidewalks, meandering in the middle of the road and on the hills along the highway beside the village.
The Springs Golf Course in Radium seems to provide a particularly welcoming mountain sheep habitat.
Come early November, every Bighorn ram seems on the prowl. After all it is breeding, or rut season, and the Rocky mountain sheep have one thing on their mind.
Who will get the girls? Or in this case the ewes?
Why doesn’t a Bighorn ram skull shatter?
The adult Bighorn male carries an impressive set of large, curled horns. Weighing as much as 13.5 kg. (30 pounds), the rams horn is a weapon of epic battles.
Fighting for dominance, males charge each other again and again, for hours at a time. Where such force would give human a life threatening head injury, the Bighorn sheep skull is thick and bony, preventing injury. The shock absorption quality can take up to 362 kg (800 pounds) of force.
Why Bighorn sheep ram heads
Bighorn sheep live in social groups, however the ewes and rams typically only meet for mating. Where the boys hang out in groups like bachelors, the females and young rams live in a family-like setting.
Lambs are born every spring, typically on high, secluded ledges. There, predators such as coyotes and wolves, are challenged to reach the Bighorn offspring. At one week of age the lambs join the herd.
All is peaceful in the mountain sheep world until autumn, when Bighorn sheep rut season commences.
As the trees to shiver their orange and brown leaves in the autumn chill, the Bighorn head banging escalates. Those with the biggest horns, typically the oldest rams, are victorious. Their prize is the ability to mate.
Celebrating Bighorn sheep in Radium
Each fall, all things ‘Big Horn’ take over the village of 800 people. Radium Hot Springs, often referred to as Radium, originates from the hot springs situated close by, in Kootenay National Park.
Prior to COVID, the annual Radium Hot Springs Headbanger Festival conjured up images of raucous, heavy metal music. Although the festival is no more, the male bighorn sheep continue to do the head butting or head banging.
Mountain ram behaviour is on full display in November in Radium. Anyone with a love of wildlife and nature is sure to wander about open mouthed at the Bighorn sheep fighting in the streets.
Where is the Radium Hot Springs?
Located at the edge of Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada, the Village of Radium Hot Springs is 250 km. (155 mi.) west of Calgary, and 135 km. (84 mi.) west of Banff. The Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools are within the national park, just prior to entering the village of Radium.
Nestled in the Columbia Valley, the village sits between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Purcell Mountains to the west. The Columbia River runs just west of the village.
Have you ever seen Bighorn Sheep?
Other articles of interest in the Radium area
15 Spring Things To Do In Radium Hot Springs
Canada’s Golden Triangle Road Trip – A Nature Lover’s Itinerary
Edgewater Irrigation Flume – Still Flowing Strong
This article was originally published November 2019 and updated November 2022
We saw our first close-up bighorns in Radium and have seen them butting heads in TV documentaries. It must be wild [pun intended] seeing them ram each other in real life – and I imagine it is loud.
Love that play on words too. Yes a very cool thing to see them doing their thing. Apparently the day of arrival they were really going wild so we admit they were looking a bit tired after a day of head banging previously. Wonderful that you saw them in Radium all those years ago. Love to see that the wildlife are still a prominent part of the community.
Stunning big horn sheep AND hot springs! Sounds like an irresistible combination… Such beautiful creatures ~ and your photos are simply fabulous.
Brings a whole new meaning to butting heads ~ sounds very dramatic.
Peta this is one of Canada’s hidden little gems to be sure. We visited in the spring and enjoyed the hot springs very much. We even saw the Bighorns on the cliffs while in the outdoor pool! https://traveltalesoflife.com/things-to-do-in-radium-hot-springs/
This time the pool was closed for off season maintenance. Too bad but more time for that head butting business.
I’ve seen the bighorn sheep in the Colorado Rocky Mountains but never witnessed head banging season with them. However I have seen the rut season with the massive bull elks in Colorado and Yellowstone National Park when I worked there. It was always amusing to see some idiot stop to take a photo and watch the bull ram their car but it was scary when the idiots got out of their vehicles to try to get close to them. Saw many a tourist chased. Also the bison would get into the head butting. Did you go into the hot spring pools? Now that’s something I really get into!
Ginger your description of the tourist shenanigans in Yellowstone makes me cringe. I would think watching the elk would be a very similar spectacle. Must have been fabulous to see.
Sadly the hot springs were closed for maintenance as this is off season but we did enjoy them very much during our spring visit. We even saw the sheep on the surrounding cliffs while we were in the hot springs! https://traveltalesoflife.com/things-to-do-in-radium-hot-springs/
Had me laughing regarding the “Headbanger Festival”. Here in Ontario my mind does conjure up images of heavy metal music. So much fun reading of what the festival entails.
This is such an informative post Sue. I have seen Bighorn Sheep. They were perched precariously on the sides of mountains. It would be amazing to see them close up like in your picture on the golf course. But that is going back 35 years ago for me. The last time I was in the Rocky Mountains. Thank you for sharing such an amazing post! 🙂
Carl it is clear that the time has come for a trip out west. I bet we could find you some wonderful trail races out here in the Rockies. That’s awesome that you saw the sheep all those years ago. You are the second person to report seeing them decades ago and that is wonderful to know they continue to thrive. Thanks kindly for sharing the post on Twitter. Very much appreciated.
My pleasure Sue. Yeah would love another trip out west. Some incredible trail races out there! 🙂
If you ever head out this way Carl we have a spare room for you to use as home base. Consider it a standing offer.
I have yet to see a Bighorn Sheep so I am thrilled to see them here! Gorgeous pictures!
And now I know that there is an ACTUAL festival! Who knew? Well Sweet Sue did!
Nancy I think a trip to Canada is in order!After all you need to see these gorgeous sheep right? To be honest it was just this year that we learned about the Headbanger Festival. What a delight.
Awesome animals! I recall seeing them around Radium. Those horns look pretty solid, almost like a helmet to protect their heads.
Darlene that is very true they are solid and can absorb a lot. much different than antlers that fall off.
Thanks so much for the share on Twitter. I’m ever so grateful.
So interesting to read about this, and great photos. I’d love to see this, I’m always a sucker for wildlife, but can’t imagine we’ll head to radium any time soon 🙁
Well Alison if you are ever in the area, especially spring or fall, it’s a must see. Dave and I were saying if we had out of country visitors who truly wanted to see wildlife Radium is the spot.
Never seen a big horn sheep but love the sound of the Headbangers Festival. Like you say it does sound like like a heavy metal gig but the Radium Springs one sounds far better to me. Radium Springs is a great name for a town too. You live in such a wonderful part of the world.
We do have so much natural beauty out side our door, or at least close by. I too am far more fond of Headbanging that includes sheep rather than heavy metal. 🙂
I would love to go and see this!
Amy with your photography skills I think you would be very busy. I hope you get to Radium Hot springs one day.
I’ve seen the Bighorns on my travels West but never during the Headbanger Festival! Sounds like it would be a whole lot of fun although I wince at the thought of impact of those horns hitting 😲. You managed to capture some fantastic photos, I particularly love the one of the Bighorn with his head down, kind of says it all!
I love that one too Lynn. He would look up and then as if he just couldn’t possibly manage it he would rest those horns again. All that headbanging must be exhausting. 🙂
I’ve seen them in the Colorado Rockies and wondered why they don’t suffer more injuries. Now I know. Personally, I can relate to the ram who has had too much headbanging. I love that photo!
Thanks Wendy. I chuckle every time I see that photo. He would briefly get his head up ( see the Instagram photo) but then it would be just too much to bear and down he would go again.
Thank you for introducing the bighorn sheep to us, Sue. I haven’t seen this creature other than the zoo.
I want to apologize for missing your comments, I just noticed a couple of hours ago. I normally check the comment for the most recent, and forget to reply the ones a few days old. I will be more careful from now on. Thank you so much for your visit!
Oh that’s no problem at all Amy. That happens to me as well.
Happy to show you these wild Bighorns. Such incredible animals.
They look amazing but I wouldn’t like to meet one in the street.
You definitely want to give them lots of room. Very powerful animals.
I’m VERY glad humans don’t have to bang heads for the right to mate! I’ve never seen them up-close, but would love to. Sounds like 2 trips to Radium are in order; one to visit the springs in the spring and one for the fall festival!
Laura that made me laugh out loud. Yes let’s be grateful for non head banging rituals. Yes unfortunate that the Hot Springs were closed but another hot springs is about a 30 minute drive away. I have to say though in the springtime when we were in the Radium springs and the sheep were on the cliffs it was a sight to behold.
My head hurts just thinking about the banging! Do they ever get their horns all tangled up? That seems even worse to me.
Lexie I have not heard of nor came across in my research any incidence of them being tangled. However I just saw a video and have heard more than once of deer having their antlers become entangled. I suppose with all of those branches it would be more likely to happen.
Nature is fascinating, Sue, isn’t it? Mostly I’m glad to have been born female 🙂 🙂
There are some advantages to be sure Jo! I wonder if the female sheep feel the same way? 🙂
So many things went through my head reading this. All I can say is Thank Heavens we don’t go through this type of ordeal to mate. I always believed charm goes further than brute force!!
Great post, great pics and beautiful animals. I would love to see them up close and personal as I have always thought they were truly impressive creatures away from the mating habits:)
Kirt that made me chuckle. Being a human can be complicated but yes this head banging is one thing we can do without.
I imagine you would have a marvelous time photographing the mountain sheep. Radium is the one place you can be quite sure to have great wildlife photography opportunities.
Thank you for featuring Bighorn Sheep, Sue. I have never seen one. They are such beautiful animals and very interesting. The Headbanger Festival sounds fun but it must be hard for the animals. 🙂
Aren’t they incredible animals? Happy to share them and their Headbanging festival with you. From what I have learned it seems the sheep are built for that kind of force. to me it looked headache inducing that’s for sure.
I didn’t know they were frequent there… I haven’t seen them for several years. There was a herd by Lake Minnewakwa.
Great blog post.
Thank you Jean. It’s wonderful to see so much wildlife thriving. We have also seen some Bighorn sheep on the road up to Mount Norquay.
Sue, bighorn sightings have been rare in my outdoor life, but I still remember my first. Years ago on a business trip to Calgary, I rented a car and drove up to Banff, where I saw a few bighorn males wandering around the slopes. I pulled over to gawk, and was surprised that they just stood there gazing into the distance. I suspect they took one look at me and thought: “He doesn’t have the mojo to scramble up this scree before I’m long gone,” which was true. And BTW, kudos to the person who came up with the “Headbanger” festival name. ~James
James I am delighted to hear that your visit to Calgary and areas west provided you with mountain sheep viewing. They definitely have the ability to out stare most anyone. Probably knowing one slam of those horns and the contest would be won.
As to the Radium Headbanger organizers a round of applause for their clever festival. I smile every time I say it.
Perhaps before the golf course was there, the big horns’ ancestors went to that area to butt heads, eh? They are grand creatures.
Now that could well be GP. The hills surrounding the area is where they go other times of the year. Seeing them is magnificent.
Interesting .. I have seen the Big Horns but did not know about the head banging. The Ewes must be priming around to be fought over like this.
The ewes seem to take it all in stride as far as we could tell Indra. Definitely far quieter than the rams.
I’m intrigued by how the village got its name because what I know Radium is a radioactive metal. Headbanger Festival sounds like aptly named for a place known for its headbanging rams. I wonder if they’re going to revive it or if they think leaving things more quiet is better.
For many years I cooked in wilderness big game hunting camps in the far north of BC and Yukon. I’ve seen plenty of wildlife in the wild – brown bear and grizzlies, mountain goats, moose, caribou, porcupine, mountain sheep, but never a big horn sheep. Your post makes me want to get to Radium stat! And to meet you guys too of course! One day . . . .
Sue, I’ve always wondered why their skulls didn’t shatter. The answer gives a whole new meaning to “hardhead!” And I do love the name of the festival. I’m certainly intrigued and will add Radium to the ever-expanding list. Thanks! ~Terri
Terri isn’t that a great name? Hopefully the festival will be brought back to life in years to come. There are so many beautiful spots to visit in western Canada. If you happen to be here in late October, November you are sure to see some head banging.