Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads!

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In the Field

The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads! Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. April 1, 2017.

Behavioural ecologists examine animal behaviour from an evolutionary perspective and try to understand both the ultimate causation of a behaviour and the proximate causation of that same behaviour. The ultimate causation concerns itself with the survival value of a behaviour and how that behaviour will contribute to the reproductive fitness (think in terms of "genes left to next generation") of the animal. Proximate causation is the "here and now" immediate motivation that drives the behaviour (so, for example, an animal is motivated to eat or forages because simply because it is hungry).

The ultimate causation of male wild sheep - such as Bighorn Sheep and Dall Sheep - to engage in head-butting clashes is very well-studied. In the simplest terms, the victors "win" the right to mate with more of the receptive females (thus ensuring more of their genes are represented in the next generation than those "subordinate" sheep that lost the butting contest).

But what is the proximate causation of the head-butting? What motivates the sheep to rear up and charge at its competitor and violently clash heads? Well...this image holds the key to understanding this complex behaviour. Turns out the rams are rude as hell and stick their tongues out at their competitors. And, those competitors have very short fuses (AKA bad tempers). Mystery solved! ;-)

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this proud but very rude dude...

The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 MB)


1. This image was captured while scouting an area for possible inclusion in a future photo tour. Long story short, we liked what we saw and experienced (a LOT)! We are hoping to include this location in photo tours as early as late 2017. Those who think they might be interesting in joining us should contact me at and I will forward details to you as they become available. But please note that this trip should only be considered by those that are highly mobile, in good physical condition, and are willing to "pay the price" (physically!) to capture some pretty unique wildlife photos!

2. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads! Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. April 1, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 100.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor AF-S 300mm f4 PF VR prime lens. Hand-held. VR On and in Sport mode.

1/1250s @ f6.3; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads! Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. April 1, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Two raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.25 stop total difference between the variants) and highlight retrieval settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the two output files from the raw converter, minor selective curves (contrast) adjustment, very minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The REAL Reason Rams Butt Heads! Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. April 1, 2017.

Species Status in Canada*: Not listed as of Special Concern, Threatened, or Endangered.

The Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli) is a species of sheep native to northwestern North America. They inhabit the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the MacKenzie Mounntains in the Northwest Territories, and both central and northern British Columbia. The more southern form is known as the Stone Sheep and is slaty brown in colour with some white patches on the rump on the inside of the hind legs. Dall sheep are found in comparatively dry country and tend to be found in a unique combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged ground (usually referred to as escape terrain) in the immediate vicinity. This escape terrain allows the sheep to escape from predators that can't travel as fast as these sure-footed sheep. The primary predators of Dall sheep include wolves, coyotes, black and grizzly bears and, during the lambing season, both golden eagles and wolverines.

While not technically endangered in Canada this Stone Sheep was photographed in the southwest portion of the Yukon Territory - and in this region poorly regulated and poorly managed hunting has reduced many local populations by over 50% compared to historical levels. In some populations local extirpation is likely imminent if hunting practices are not radically changed or completely suspended.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada