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National Bison Range – Montana

30 Oct

Bison are huge…

We recently visited the National Bison Range in Montana with some very good friends

It is in a beautiful setting with jagged mountains as a back drop and rolling tall grassy hills

I was excited by the prospect of seeing Bison in the wild for the first time

I was also looking forward to seeing the many other animals who live on the Range.

I was very impressed by the display of hundreds of shed antlers on display near the Range’s Visitor Center

Living on the East Coast most of my life, I have seen white tail deer but seldom anything as large as a mule deer, much less an elk or Bison.

We were only a few hundred yards into the Range when we spotted our first wildlife

“Oh those are pronghorn (antelope)” shared out hosts.

Pronghorn were new to my life list of mammals! They were colorful, muscular and near the road.

In about a mile we spotted out first Bison downhill in the grasslands. My thinking… Wow!!

They were grazing in an amazingly beautiful setting.

This side of the range neighbors a lake and some beautiful ranch land.

Next we saw two or three pairs of mule deer (they grow about twice the size of white-tail deer).  I had seen then several times  before on trips to the western U.S. Each pair appeared to have a mother (doe) and fawn (perhaps 6 months to a year old).

We turned away from the lake and farm land and turned towards the rolling hills of grass and sometimes woods.

We saw a young mule deer (Buck)

We went around a few more bends and then saw two bull Bison very close to the road. We stopped the van, opened the windows and the sliding door to take a few shots, but they were only about 10 or 15 yards away. “Don’t startle them,” my host advised quietly. Bison are huge up close and could do significant damage to a car. One of the bulls, pawed up dust from its wallow and gave us the evil eye to ensure we were not getting any closer.  We respectfully kept our distance.

A few more long looping turns around high hills and we were looking through a bit of fence, we saw two more bull Bison grazing in the woods, but what really got our attention was the Black Bear, walking past them… very respectfully, perhaps they are old friends and neighbors. We got out, stayed on our side of the fence and snapped pictures of the black bear as he ambled up the hill and away from us. Wow!!!

We turned away from the woods and angled around a high hill so we had a view of the lake and farms again, now well below us.  We had climbed up several hundred feet in altitude.

We stopped for several minutes to watch another mule deer doe and likely a yearling grazing on the ridge above us.

But then, we were pleasantly surprised to see a huge mule deer buck with massive antlers rise out of the grass.

We heard him call, and then he trotted quickly up hill chasing the doe and yearling. My hosts, “Wow, that is the biggest mule deer we have ever seen!!”

We took one last look as he galloped over the ridge, we hoped to catch a glimpse of him again on the other side of the ridges, he was that impressive.

We did see another young mule deer buck with a small rack, but by this time we were not impressed, not after seeing the magnificent buck on the ridge.

We continued along spotting solitary or small groups of Bison and mule deer in the distance.

We came over the top of the ridge and started down. Turning to the north and a bit east.

We continued to see bison and another young mule deer buck.

We turned into a side lane and parked to observe two more Bison.

As we walked a few feet towards them though, we discovered a small herd of older mule deer bucks.

Many of these also had impressive racks, but none quite as impressive as the one we saw climb the ridge following his family.

By now we were about halfway through the Range and realized, looking at our map that we had a long way to go to reach the exit gate before it closed at sundown. So, we speeded up our traverse for the second half of our loop through the Range.

We stopped only briefly to take a few snaps of near-in deer, and hurried along, the sun was heading down. But suddenly, we look across the meadow and saw a good-sized herd of elk!!!!

Elk are impressive, large even from a distance and they are about twice the size of the mule deer, often over 700 pounds.  Elk were also a new addition to my life list of mammals seen in the wild:)

Equally impressive, in the distance, way beyond the elk, was a large herd of Bison, grazing at the base of the high hills to the south.  Up until now we had only see single or pairs of Bison, mostly males.  This must be the main herd with the females and the younger Bison.

We really needed to hurry now, the sun was behind the ridge. We spotted a lone mule deer up on the ridge enjoying the early evening moon glow.

We spotted our first white tail deer sipping water by a stream as we continued west towards the exit. We stopped briefly behind a line of cars and heard an elk bellowing in the distance.

We were definitely in the “gloaming” as we made the last turn before the road to the exit gate.

We had one last treat, a good-sized group of pronghorn crossed the road in front of us, then they looked back to wish us a safe journey home. What an amazing afternoon!!!


Bruce Summers is a blogger and Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com, also former Regions and Chapters Chair of the Association of Personal Historians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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