Bighorn sheep have begun their annual rut in the Rocky Mountain region, which means there's no better time for wildlife watchers to get a glimpse of Colorado's official state animal.

An estimated 7,000 bighorn sheep live in the Centennial State, which is more than anywhere else in America. While these majestic creatures can be seen in certain places more frequently, they are still pretty elusive and not as common to spot as other mid-size mammals, like mule deer and elk.

For the most part, Colorado's bighorn population remains up in the foothills, canyons, and high mountains, just coming down for the occasional drink. But from mid to late November through December (and sometimes into early January) it's a battle of the rams throughout Colorado. During the mating season or winter rut, bighorns are far more active during the daytime, which lends itself to prime viewing opportunities.

Typically, rams will stay in separate bachelor bands, away from the lambs, yearlings, and ewes, but during the annual rut, all of the bighorns come together. Once courtship efforts begin, the male sheep will follow the females around, constantly testing to see if they are ready for breeding. Additionally, rams will compete with each other by displaying their curled horns, shoving, headbutting, and charging at each other with intense force. The winner of the contest is then accepted by the ewe as a mate.

According to Colorado Outdoors, the winner of the battle usually tends to be the largest and most experienced of the rams. Rather than shedding them at some point, male sheep grow their horns throughout their entire lives. The violent clashing of horns can be heard from miles away during the rut.

Some popular places to see bighorn sheep in Colorado are the Big Thompson Canyon, the Poudre Canyon, within the Mummy Mountain Range and Sheeps Lake area inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, and Waterton Canyon, where the resident herd makes their presence known on a regular basis.

Always keep a safe distance while viewing bighorn sheep, or any type of wild animal in Colorado. They can be unpredictable and aggressive, especially during mating season.

The Bighorns of Colorado's Waterton Canyon

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