Mountain sheep, including bighorn sheep in south-west and west-central parts of North America and thinhorn sheep (referred to also as Dall’s and Stone’s sheep) in north-western North America, were abundant in the mountainous parts of territories inhabited by various cultures [41, 45, 47, 48].
Bighorn sheep were hunted by, among many other cultures, the Salish of the Western Plateau, Okanagan, Lillooet and Thompson (N'laka'pamux) [49-52]. Bighorn sheep were particularly numerous in the Similkameen region inhabited by the Salish and, of the larger animals hunted, was one of the most important . The Thompson hunted bighorn sheep with bow and arrow. Lillooet are reported to have hunted bighorn sheep in the Fraser River region of their territory  and to have used their meat, skins, sinew, and horns [51, 52]. Bighorn sheep were also found in the Upper Kalispel region [12, 20, 22, 24] Bighorn sheep became scarce in the Thompson (N'laka'pamux) region in the late 1800s .
Dall’s sheep were found in the territories of many north-western cultures, including on either side of the Yukon in the Han region, in the mountains of the Tanana region and in the alpine tundra of the Tutchone region [12, 20, 22, 24]. Dall’s sheep were also found close to the alpine regions in the Nahani and Loucheux (Gwich’in) region, the North Alaska Coast, on the mountain slopes of the cordilleran region of the Tahltan, along Telegraph Creek in the upper regions of the Iskoot, and around the Narlin, Sheslay and Teslin in the Tahltan region [5, 16, 24, 27]. The Yukon Indigenous Peoples, Upper Tanana, Mountain (Sahtu), Koyukon and Ahtna consumed Dall’s sheep as a major animal food source [13, 39, 54-56]. The Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone likely ate it as a major animal food prior to the arrival of moose to the region . Dall’s sheep was also eaten by the Kutchin (Gwich’in), Tanaina and other Alaskan Indigenous Peoples [58-61]. Dall’s sheep was also a minor part of the Vunta Kutchin (Gwich’in) diet. They were sparsely found on rock hills and alpine pastures in the mountainous region by the headwaters of The Porcupine and Miner Rivers. In summer, they remained high in the mountains, but when they descending in winter they were hunted . Champagne and Aishihik, Teslin Tlingit and Inuvialuit of Aklavik are also reported to have consumed Dall’s sheep [37, 40-45, 63]. The creation of the Kluane Park reduced access to mountain sheep for the Champagne and Aishihik .
Stone’s sheep, a darker-colored thinhorn sheep, are reported to have been consumed by the Tahltan of the Stikine Plateau. These sheep were found in alpine meadows above the timberline .
Mountain sheep were hunted in all seasons, but most often in summer or fall. Kaska hunters and their families and Tagish groups of two or three families, relocated to the mountains in late summer to hunt for sheep [40, 47, 48]. The Micmac hunted sheep in fall . The Okanagan-Colville hunted sheep in spring, late autumn and late winter . The Tanana and Inupiat of Kaktovik and Anaktuvik Pass hunted sheep in late summer and autumn. The Nicola hunted mountain sheep in winter, and the Peel River Kutchin (Gwich’in) hunted year-round [6, 13, 15, 22, 29]. In the Tahltan region, mountain sheep were usually found around streams in spring and summer .
Dall’s sheep was usually hunted in summer by Yukon and Alaskan Indigenous Peoples, Upper Tanana, Mountain and Tanaina [13, 56, 60, 61]. The Upper Tanana also hunted Dall’s sheep in autumn . Yukon Indigenous Peoples often hunted the sheep in late summer when they were fat and the flesh was in good condition . The Tanaina would journey into the mountains to hunt mountain sheep. They usually traveled as families, but for the Kenai and Inland Tanaina, only the men travelled . The Mountain culture would travel from valley to valley and along streams to favored feeding grounds .
Snares, bows and arrows, and more recently guns, were used to hunt mountain sheep [2, 5, 11, 12, 15, 26, 28]. The Sekani used snares; the Thompson used snares or guns [2, 28]. In earlier times – at least before the early 1900s – the Tahltan shot mountain sheep with bow and arrow; later, guns replaced the bow and arrow . The Shuswap, Peel River Kutchin, Tutchone and Yukon Ingalik used snares or bows and arrows [11, 12, 15, 26]. The Peel River Kutchin attached boulders to the snares. They also used bow and arrow, stalking the animal from above given its tendency to climb upwards to safety .
Snares were used by the Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone, Yukon Indigenous Peoples, Mountain and Ahtna [39, 55-57, 61]. The Tlingit and Ahtna used bow and arrow to hunt them [39, 65]. Numerous Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone men would drive the sheep into snares made of plaited or twisted babiche . Yukon Indigenous Peoples snared the sheep using babiche snares attached to drag poles or big rocks and positioned in narrow places for the hunters to drive the sheep to the snares. They were stalked from above since sheep usually retreat upwards. If the sheep approached close enough, they used bow and arrow to kill the sheep . The Ahtna used a drag-pole snare and placed them in stone fences . The Mountain culture snared them in brush fences set in these feeding grounds. Small dogs were also used to pursue sheep up the mountain . The Tlingit also used trained dogs, but they used them to pursue the sheep down to hunters who were standing by in a narrow canyon. If a sheep was slaughtered in the mountains, they would butcher it and dry the meat on-site to make it easier to carry . The Mountain culture would butcher it on-site, but carry it to a nearby camp where it was eaten. Leftovers were dried and stored for winter .
Men usually hunted mountain sheep, but Nicola men often hunted with their wives [1, 2, 15, 22, 24, 29, 31, 38]. In the Plateau region, mountain sheep were likely pursued by groups of Plateau hunters under the direction of leaders . Subarctic Indigenous Peoples embarked on hunting expeditions to the mountains for mountain sheep . Tanana bands moved to the mountains in late summer since mountain sheep were then found in the upper mountains . The Tahltan “stalked them individually” over the mountainous terrain with bow and arrow (at least before the early 1900s), and in latter times (around the early 1900s), guns [5, 16]. When hunting mountain sheep, the Nahani and Loucheux climbed higher than the mountain sheep and then pursued them from above . When the Tlingit hunted them, a group of hunters pursued the mountain sheep towards the best hunters who were stationed at key vantage points .
When hunting mountain sheep in thick timber or other areas where the sheep were not very visible, the Shuswap used game calls: they imitated other rams by striking together two dry hollow-sounding poles [11, 34]. The Shuswap also used snares and hunted them by drive hunting. Mountain sheep were driven by huge numbers of hunters to small mountain tops where they would be surrounded and slaughtered . The day before the hunt, the men would go up the valley to see the number of mountain sheep on the mountainside . In particular, the hunters looked on mountains which had a small, round, open peak, which would make it impossible for the mountain sheep to escape when ambushed . The following morning, the hunters gathered at the bottom of the mountain and waited until the mountain sheep appeared. As soon as they did, the men slowly drove them to the peak, where they closed in on them and slaughtered them [34, 38].
The Kalispel stalked and hunted mountain sheep from hidden areas, the Tutchone encircled and snared them or shot them with bow and arrow, and the Yukon Ingalik caught them using tether snares, three types of deadfalls, and bow and arrow [12, 20, 26]. The Nicola hunted them by driving them and slaughtering them, and they also used dogs to hunt mountain sheep, as did the Tanaina [16, 29].
The Yukon Kaska caught sheep by setting free toggle snares made of four or five-stranded braided babiche line along sheep trails located in mountain gulches. They also used sheep surrounds constructed on fairly low ground placed close to sheep trails. They would ascend the mountain and then pursue the sheep toward the surround .
Mountain sheep were typically partially or fully butchered, or skinned at the site of the kill [1, 11, 14, 15, 24, 38].
After killing the mountain sheep, the Peel River Kutchin hunter butchered it, then cached the meat, usually hanging it in a tree. He started the butchering by severing the head, slitting the skin from neck to stomach and down each leg, and then pulling the skin off. The shoulder was cut, followed by the legs and brisket. The viscera, loins and ribs were removed, and the backbone was cut in half. If there was immediate need for food, the hunter carried some of the flesh back to the camp; otherwise, he returned without the animal. If he had a family, he informed all the people that he had slaughtered a sheep and then gave some of the flesh to a respected hunter, normally a member of his wife’s clan, but at times, a member of his own. If the hunter was not married, he informed his father about his success and his father made a commendation speech in honor of his son in front of the community. Later, the father distributed the meat freely. Either way, the hunter was obligated to send his friends to carry the carcass back into camp and have a feast for everyone .
Once a sheep was slaughtered, the Nahani and Loucheux hunter took the tongue and other favorite pieces and came back to camp. Others returned to carry the meat. This was usually the hunter’s wife or other women from the camp. This was so that the hunter could keep his energy for pursuing the sheep and preparing his weapons .
The Han hunter skinned the sheep, and after taking some of the flesh for his immediate consumption, the remainder was cached in a tree. The hunter “offered” the animal to a respected man in the opposite clan in the village. This man then fetched the meat or sent someone else to fetch the meat. The meat would then be cooked for a village feast .
The Chandalar Kutchin butchered the carcass on the spot and, if camp was close enough, the sectioned flesh was carried there, but usually the camp would be moved to the slaughter site and remain there until the flesh was consumed or readied for storage. This was done because it was less labour-intensive .
Some Shuswap are reported to have cleaned and skinned the carcass on site, cut it into nine pieces, quartered the head and neck, and halved the back piece at the shoulder . Other Shuswap, after killing sufficient sheep, are reported to have carried the carcasses back to base where they were cleaned and dried. When hunters returned to base everyone received a portion .
Mountain sheep flesh was dried, roasted or frozen [1, 11, 13, 17, 38]. The Kutenai (Kootenai) dried it for winter sustenance, while the Shuswap roasted it over a fire of red willow so that it would not blacken [11, 17, 38]. The Nahani and Loucheux sun-dried the summer catch and froze the winter catch . The Upper Tanana dried some of the flesh in summer; they considered the ribs a delicacy because of the rich tallow . The Tahltan highly prized mountain sheep flesh . The Yukon Kaska, Tagish and Kolchan dried the meat for later use [40, 41, 47]. Prior to drying it in fall, the Yukon Kaska gutted, boned and sewed the body .
Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone cut the sheep into seven major cuts: the forelegs, brisket, hind quarter, ribs, head, back and side piece. The liver, kidneys, heart, stomach fat, guts, eyes and feet were also saved . The Southern Tutchone air-dried the meat. If it were to be consumed at that time, it was boiled; however, if it was well-dried, it was eaten without boiling. The Tlingit, Tagish and Southern Tutchone rendered sheep fat [57, 65]. The Yukon Indigenous Peoples usually dried and cached the flesh for later use in winter and the Upper Tanana dried some sheep flesh in summer [13, 56]. Ribs were a favourite of the Upper Tanana .
Uses other than food
The Puget Sound Indigenous People  and the Tahltan  used sheep horns to make dishes and ladles, and knife handles by boiling the horns until soft and then molding and pressing them into desired shapes. The Plateau Indigenous Peoples and Kutenai used the horns to make bows [23, 32]. The Yukon Kaska used sheep horn to make bows and utensils [32, 40].
Beliefs and taboos
The Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone believed that the couple who survived the first great flood snared mountain sheep as their first animal. In earlier times, strict rituals were obligatory of sheep hunters and their spouses. For instance, when the Southern Tutchone sheep hunter was away, his wife was not allowed to move around unnecessarily, consume hot food or heat water. If she did not follow these rules, they believed that the snow and ice would start to melt in the elevations, causing snow slides and endanger the hunter’s life. The Inland Tlingit sheep hunter had to refrain from sexual intercourse with his wife and consume only cold food the day before he planned to hunt. While away, his wife had to keep a rock on each edge of his blanket and not move it. She also had to avoid combing her hair, so that she would not “comb” her husband over the cliff. Coastal Tlingit had similar rules .
The Ahtna had various taboos associated with game animals. Sheep’s bones were burned and never fed to dogs . Also, the meat and hide were prohibited from being brought through the door of a house. Rather, they had to be brought through a smoke hole and in later times through the window . They also believed that for three days after the sheep’s death, its flesh and hide were “still associated with its spirit”, and that if a baby came in contact with the flesh or hide during this period, the baby would become ill .
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