Grizzly bears are big cheese in Montana. The Treasure State’s apex predator is a free-ranging animal that, more than any other, reminds all who come to Montana to visit or live that the state is not a zoo. There are beasts here that you will encounter in your everyday comings and goings that will change your trajectory in an instant.
If you’re a prepper living outside of town in a fortified, storage container, buried 20 feet under and well stocked with provisions to help you ride out the apocalypse, I’m speaking to the choir.
For newbies, however, attracted to the relaxed, natural Montana lifestyle, where one can still enjoy their freedoms, it may be helpful to affix a warning sticker to their home deeds that reads:
There are large wild mammals roaming these parts. They are not trained to only appear alongside roadways in the region’s two magnificent national parks. They may also show up on your back porch, their nose buried in the bowl of kibble you left out for Fido. When finished, they’ll want more.
Authorities in the grizzly tri-state region are still negotiating a management plan that will result in limited hunting of the big bruins. That may check somewhat the increasing tendency for young griz to show up in places they haven’t been in decades — the Front Range of Montana, or the sage covered badlands east of Yellowstone. The big bears are common near Clark, Wyoming, where the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River carves its way off the Yellowstone Plateau in a steep canyon that also funnels roaming bears onto the plains.
Occasionally, one of these griz is seen way out in the Bighorn Basin, near Powell or Lovell, miles from better suited mountain habitat. Eventually, they are going to find their way to the Bighorns, about 100 miles east across that sagebrush and sugar beet covered plain.
When they do, I suspect those bears will find the game-rich Bighorns to their liking. Some may have made it already.
That was in the back of my mind as I trudged through the thick stands of willow that line the North Fork of the Tongue River. A 10-mile reach of the stream flows through a pretty meadow atop the Bighorns at about 9,000 feet. It’s a wild trout stream, cutthroats, and a delightful place to fish despite the pounding it takes from the Sheridan crowd, identified by their No. 3 Wyoming license plates. Only an hour away, the North Tongue is a pretty handy respite for those tres hombres when summer scorches the valley.
Between the trout and No. 3 plates things can get pretty crowded up there. And I haven’t even mentioned moose, which linger about the river bottom as thick as the valley people. As I walked through the willows yesterday, working my way to a favored pool, I started singing at the top of my voice — “Peg” in this case, I’ve been on a Steely Dan thing recently — so as to alert any moose to my presence.
I love those gangly, oversized deer, but I have no desire to startle one.
As I sang a couple things occurred to me: I have a terrible singing voice, and, the time will come when singing terribly in the Bighorns, or otherwise making noise to announce your presence, will become normal practice to alert griz, the way it is in Glacier and Yellowstone parks. There’s going to be a griz sighting in the Bighorns before long.
Whether that’s bad or good I’ll leave for another discussion. What is certain is that once griz establish themselves in that range, the nature of recreation will be permanently altered. For now it’s a playground, as decent a place as any for unvarnished newbies to avoid trouble.
Though I suspect moose may have something to say about that.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.