As the chopper's noise receded biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, as well as other personnel from MT FWP and several volunteers, all scurried to process the sheep as quickly and efficiently as possible. There was little chit-chat. Biologists wanted to keep the bighorns' stress levels low--so talking was discouraged.
The processors job wasn't as dangerous as the helicopter crew's, but it was just as exacting. Each bighorn had its temperature checked, at least 30 ccs of blood drawn, its nose, throat and ears swabbed, fecal pellets taken, body condition checked, and checked for overall health.
While there was no specific order to the operations, checking each bighorn's temperature was usually one of the first procedures. Any sheep that had a temperature over 104 degrees, or was panting, was doused with water. Temperature and panting are indications of stress, and the biologists wanted to stress the sheep as little as possible.
Neil Anderson, 43, MT FWP Wildlife Laboratory Supervisor gave each bighorn what would appear to be some sort of massage. It wasn't a massage, by palpating the back and loin areas of each sheep Anderson could estimate how much body fat a sheep carried and know their general body condition.
Most of the testing was paid for by Utah DWR. However, Anderson said some was paid by Montana. Many discussions developed between breaks of arriving bighorns. In relation to the costs of testing, retired MT FWP wildlife biologist Terry Lonner said, "Without knowing the health of each species there is no way to estimate the health of the entire ecosystem."
Terry Lonner, his son Brent Lonner, who is the current area biologist for the Choteau/Augusta area, Region 4 Acting Supervisor Graham Taylor, and Game Warden Dave Holland spent much of the "down-time" untangling and repacking the capture nets. Region 4 Wildlife Area Manager Mark Schlepp checked-off operations on his clipboard to ensure that every sheep was tested, tagged and radio-collared (half of the sheep were radio-collared.) Schlepp joked when he said, "I can run a pencil, so I must be qualified for this job." Maintenance workers, Tim McWilliams and Stan Buresh did all the "heavy-lifting."
At the end of day one, there had been a problem with the emergency beacon for the chopper. A different but more taxing problem developed at the end of day two. After two long, cold days everyone was ready to have a shower, food and a good rest, but one more obstacle remained. The 60+ knot winds on day two had built a four-foot high by 30-foot long snow drift at the entrance to Sun River Canyon. After an attempt by one pickup, which had to be retrieved with chained-up pickup, a route was found through the ditch and over a hill.
During the 40 minute trip back to Augusta, everyone stripped off hats, mittens, neck-gaiters and face warmers. There was little talk.