Eight bighorn sheep, all rams, were struck and killed by a recent lightning strike on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials arrived at the island Monday after receiving a report of dead sheep and determined that the rams were killed in the last week to 10 days.
“It was evident that the lightning struck a large Ponderosa pine tree and the group of sheep, which were bedded down around it,” Warden Captain Lee Anderson said in a press release. “The hooves and legs on several sheep were burned.”
Six of the sheep were found within 15 feet of the tree while another two were found a short distance away. There were fresh burn marks on the tree and pieces of it were blown up to 75 feet from the base of the tree, Anderson said.
Lethal lightning strikes on groups of bighorn sheep are not uncommon.
“Bighorns often congregate at high rocky places, making them vulnerable to strikes,” FWP Wildlife Manager Jim Williams said.
There are about 200 bighorn sheep on Wild Horse Island and the recent deaths should not have a significant impact on the island’s population, Williams said. He added that the sheep, ranging in age from 3 to 8 years old, was considered a “bachelor group.”
This spring, about 40 sheep were captured on the island and relocated in an effort to control the population and more may be moved in the coming year.
Wild Horse Island is one of the largest inland islands west of the Great Lakes, encompassing about 2,100 acres.