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Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are some of the last remaining wild places in the Lower 48, which is why it's such an appealing place to come on vacation. When you're in Big Sky country, it's not uncommon to spot a grizzly bear while you're hiking, have to change your plans because a moose is sleeping in your driveway, or get stuck in a bighorn sheep "traffic jam."
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We share our home and our vast backyard playground with large animals. It's important that people realize that Big Sky country is not one massive petting zoo. We all need to treat these wild animals with the respect that they deserve.
Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. No matter what. We can't stress this enough. Big Sky and the surrounding area may seem like a magical playground, but this is not Disneyland. Every year people get injured and even killed because they get too close to wildlife.
No matter how cute and cuddly or tame and calm an animal looks, do not ever approach it. The wild creatures that call Big Sky country home are WILD animals and can be highly unpredictable. It only takes a split second for docile bison to go berzerk or a wandering grizzly to turn and charge. Usually these wild animals have a fierce temper when they feel threatened by humans. And FYI - they can move WAY faster than you. No one wants to be mauled by a grizzly bear, gored by a bison, kicked by a moose, or charged by an elk. Yet it happens more than people realize.
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Our neighbors in Yellowstone National Park require that you stay at least 25 yards away from all large animals and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Did you know that in Yellowstone it "is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within ANY distance that disturbs or displaces the animal"?
Put yourself in the animals shoes for a minute. How would you like it if some loud and obnoxious human came up and approached you while you were eating? Or tried to pet your baby? You'd probably freak out - and no one would blame you. So what makes it okay for you to get up close and personal with Bison, Elk, Wolves, Coyotes, Moose, Grizzly Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lions, Wolverines, Black Bears, and other wild creatures? It's not ok at all. Whether you are in a crowd, in a car, or on a hike always stay a safe distance away at all times. No one wants to get attacked by a wild animal.
In the rare incident where you do randomly encounter a large animal, speak firmly and back away slowly. Do not run away. Every wild animal and every situation is different. For more information on encounters with different wildlife, you'll need to do more research because that's well beyond the scope of a single blog post. It's your responsibility to be prepared for anything you encounter in the Montana backcountry and that includes wildlife encounters.
Wild animals are no joking matter. A good general rule is if you don't terrorize the animal, they won't terrorize you. Use common sense around large animals and you'll get to see these animals in their natural habit. If you are attacked because you did something dumb, you'll remember your mistake forever and you'll probably be ridiculed on social media and mainstream news channels too.
Please treat wild animals with the respect that they deserve at all times. It's in your best interest.