Wildlife Watching in the Bitterroot Valley
of Western Montana
Quiet. Hear that rustling through the trees? Look: three elk two cows and a yearling are chewing sage in the clearing through the pines. Its late spring and the snow is all but melted from the ridge tops. There is plenty of snow still up high, on the tops of the peaks, but here, about halfway between the valley and the peaks, the snow has been replaced by bright green shoots of grasses, forbs, bushes, trees and about every other growing plant, and the animals are hungry. This is a great spot from which to watch.
Ask any hunter what their favorite aspects of hunting are, and almost all will tell you that watching the animals ranks up toward the top. So it's a bit surprising more people, hunters and non-hunters alike, aren't tromping around the mountains looking for animals, especially since there are so many to see in western Montana. Maybe that's because some people confuse wildlife spotting with wildlife watching, but they are different: spotting can happen at any time, while hiking, paddling, skiing; any activity that puts you in the outdoors. But wildlife watching is the activity; its a deliberate effort to find animals in their natural habitat and watch and observe from a safe distance.
You likely wont bag any peaks or make many river miles if you're just out to find the animals, but you will be rewarded nonetheless. Little beats looking for, and finding, that moose along the willows of Bear Creek at dusk, or finding a rookery of blue herons along the Bitterroot River in the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge.
Watching animals can be thrilling. Watch long enough, and you will see them do something you never imagined, from funny to fascinating. But to find them, you have to know a bit about their behavior, and all animals act differently. Many birds, especially once that live along the water, can be seen all day. Bald eagles, for instance, can sit still on a perch for long stretches of time, but if you know to look about half way up or higher on a dead tree near the water, and to search for their dark body and white cap, you may have an easier time finding one.
Some animals lay low during the brightest party of the day they literally will lie down among the tall grasses or in the thick woods. But come dusk, they are actively looking for food and water. Moose like swampy areas. Elk and deer like places with plenty of fresh, green shots to chew on. For those more adventurous, bears can be incredible creature to watch. Many bear-gazers will head up to Glacier National Park, where the animals live in higher numbers though black bears, smaller that Grizzlies, live all over western Montana. Watching bears should only be done carefully you can have problems if you approach to close.
And with all wild animals, from the tiny chipmunks to the larger bison and bears, you should never feed them. It is not only dangerous to approach them, but also dangerous for them to develop a taste for human food for once they do, they'll keep coming back.
To learn more about watching wildlife, you can find numerous books at bookstores and outdoor shops. And local land managers with the state or the U.S. Forest Service are always willing to help. Don't forget the binoculars!
Discover Montana Bitterroot Valley Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping in the Bitterroot Valley | Canoeing in the Bitterroot Valley | Conservation in the Bitterroot Valley
Cross Country Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Downhill Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Farmers Market in the Bitterroot Valley
Fly Fishing in the Bitterroot Valley | Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley | Horse Care in the Bitterroot Valley
Hunting in the Bitterroot Valley | Look outs in the Bitterroot Valley | Wildlife Watching in the Bitterroot Valley
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