5 Iconic Montana Animals
For this post, we’re channeling our inner David Attenborough to bring you some of Montana’s most iconic animals, and, honestly, getting the list down to five isn’t easy (and very subjective). I’m sure I ruffled some feathers leaving some beloved critters off. Big Mike at Museum of the Rockies doesn’t count. Are dinosaurs even considered animals? Either way, he died well before Montana was a state. Well, here we go, 5 iconic Montana Animals.
Have you ever been in Yellowstone, seen a bunch of cars at a pull-out, and decided to check out what everyone is looking at? You get out of your car and ask somebody squinting through fisher-price binoculars and they tell you there are wolves. You look, ask “where?” and they point at the coyote in the clearing. You look at the cars in the pull-out and they’re all rentals and you think, “well, it is a dog…” Once you’ve seen a wolf, you know everything you thought was a wolf was a coyote. I think it’s pretty similar with the Golden Eagle. Maybe you catch a red-tail at a glance and think it was pretty big. Maybe an osprey shoots above your car while you’re driving along, “Was that a golden?” No. It wasn’t. You’ll know because you'll say “Holy S%&t! That’s a giant a** bird!” The Golden Eagle can be seen all over Montana, but they are listed as a species of concern, meaning their numbers are in decline making them a bit of an uncommon sighting. These big birds eat mostly jackrabbits, ground squirrels, and carrion, but will snag the occasional deer and pronghorn (because they’re massive birds). If your dog is in the “toy” category, maybe keep an eye skyward on your walks.
My first thought when somebody mentions Glacier National Park are the mountain goats. They don’t just live at the Crown of the Continent--I’ve seen these majestic ungulates hiking up Sacajawea, skiing up at Big Sky, and backpacking in the Beartooths (I was doing the hiking, skiing, and backpacking, not the goats). I love these guys because they’re so powerful and seem so comfortable on nearly vertical walls casually munching on some lichen. You know what makes you a good climber? Awesome hooves, you opposable thumb flaunting fool! They also have fun names; females are nannies, males are billies, and kids are, well, kids.
If you have a dating profile in Montana, you’re literally required to have a photo of yourself holding a trout. I don’t make the rules. Montana is the mecca of fly fishing and the different species of trout are what everyone’s after. These guys are more than just a tasty, albeit bony, entree, they’re about wading out in cool water, soaking in some sunshine, and doing summer right. I guess you can keep your fly game strong all year, but for many, when the skis come out the rod gets put away. The trout in Montana are so iconic they even make their favorite bugs iconic.
The Pronghorn is North America’s fastest land mammal and looks like an alien. You may know the classic western folk song “Home on the Range,” well, this is the antelope they were talking about. The pronghorn, though, is not an antelope; it’s the only member of the family Antilocapridae and it’s closest living relatives are the giraffe and okapi. But you can call it an antelope and I’ll know what you’re talking about. You can see pronghorn in most parts of Montana. They have an extensive migratory range to find more moderate temperatures in the winter. For the hunters out there, the pronghorn season just started, so make some room in the freezer.
Of course, the Grizzly Bear made the list. The scientific name for the griz is Ursus arctos horribilis, which basically means big angry horrible bear. This time of year these guys are gearing up for their big winter hibernation by packing on the pounds. Before you start calling a particularly corpulent griz fat, know that a chubby bear is a healthy bear in the fall. The grizzly is probably the most iconic Montana animal and for good reason. Hiking, biking, and hunting in Montana requires reverence to this predator and proper preparation. Grizzly’s can be found in much of western Montana. While your first thought of what a Grizzly bear eats might be Leo DiCaprio’s face, that’s not really the case--more than half of their diet is vegetative and their long curved claws are more designed for rooting up plants and insects than ripping you or me apart. But they aren’t picky eaters and are more than happy to shoo away wolves from a kill. Give all of these iconic creatures their space and be proud to share this great place with them.
Apologies to all the Montana animals I left out off our list. If you see me out and about, know it wasn't anything personal.
Written by: Stephen McNeal