From shows like Yellowstone, the most dangerous creatures in Montana seem like ranch hands and dandies. But the fourth largest state in the country has more than just drunk cowboys to contend with.
Pristine mountain lakes and otherworldly hot springs aside, some of the critters in the area mean serious business. Folks unused to the wild west, beware; there’s danger in the woods.
Today we’ll explore the majestic landscapes of Montana and the threats that keep locals and tourists on their toes.
Let’s hit the trail!
All About Montana
Known as America’s last best place, most of us don’t know much about what makes it so appealing. In the mountain west, Montana looms large. But with just around one million people, their impact is more imagination than reality.
This state joined the union in 1889, just a few years after the last of the Indian Wars died down. More outpost than civilization, it wasn’t until gold, silver, and copper discoveries that folks paid attention. One of the largest open pit mines in the world, the Berkely Pit, attracted immigrants worldwide.
Mining still occurs in the Treasure State, but tourism is the cash cow. Epic skiing in fifteen areas, fifty-five protected forests, and plenty of backcountries entice visitors. For folks wanting wide open spaces, Big Sky Country doesn’t disappoint.
Yellowstone and Glacier National parks preserve the majestic natural habitats of the last apex predators on the continent. Increasing contact with dangerous creatures in recent years highlights the vital work of preserving habitats. But the more we encroach, the more likely we’ll get in the way of the most dangerous creatures in Montana.
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5 Most Dangerous Creatures in Montana
Wild creatures, antelope, elk, moose, and bison abound in this state. They’re almost impossible to miss, even driving down the highway. But others are much more dangerous; if you’ve seen them up close, you’re lucky to be alive.
Here are the five most dangerous creatures in Montana.
#1 Grizzly Bears
Nearly twice the size of their black bear cousins, grizzlies are the most lethal killers on our list. Topping out at 1500 pounds, the behemoths regularly attack humans invading their habitat.
Grizzly bears mostly live in the backcountry, but that unspoiled land draws tourists too. While encounters are rare, they can be deadly. You’ve probably seen the video from 2016 posted by Todd Orr documenting a double attack that nearly killed him.
Protecting yourself is pretty simple in most cases. Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and have conversations with your hiking partners. Luckily, they recognize humans talking as non-prey sounds. If you must go alone in the woods, a “hey” every few minutes lets them know you’re coming.
These animals are most likely to attack if you surprise them, so identify yourself with lots of noise.
#2 Mountain Lions
You’ll probably never see one of these dangerous creatures in Montana outside of the zoo. But it might already be too late if you find a mountain lion in the wild. Common in the western part of the state, these big cats are majestic and deadly. At seven feet long and 150 pounds, these solo hunters easily take down much larger creatures.
Hikers regularly encounter lone mountain lions in the mountainous regions around the state. They usually travel alone and live their whole lives in the same territory. Hikers entering their territory beware; they’ll hunt anything that moves.
Experts say the best thing to do when encountering one is to identify yourself and slowly back away. Never hike alone, and if you’ve got little ones with you, keep them close.
Only one venomous snake is native to the Montana wilderness, the prairie rattler. Their reputation precedes them in stories that get bigger every time. But don’t think they aren’t scary. A big prairie rattler may reach four feet long and pack a powerful punch if threatened.
Even though zero fatalities have been reported for the last ten years, these bad-tempered reptiles are no joke. Found curled up under rocks and beside a trail, the rattle they make is your first warning. These serpents can strike up to ⅔ of their body length, so keep your distance.
If you encounter a prairie rattler, stop moving forward and back away. Dogs off-leash in rattlesnake country are easy targets, so keep them close. As much as you might want to throw something at a rattler to scare it off, don’t. They’re more likely to stand their ground than leave.
From massive grizzlies, we move to the small end of the spectrum. If these little arachnids don’t scare you because of their small size, don’t be fooled. Ticks cause Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, making them one of Montana’s more dangerous creatures. These illnesses can impact your health for the rest of your life.
American dog and Rocky Mountain wood ticks are common in the mountainous west. They both carry pathogens that impact your health. They can even get you in your front yard when they’re most active in the early spring.
Prevention is key here. Pre-treat your pants and shoes with spray and tuck your pants into your boots on hikes. When you get home, toss your clothes in a dryer on high for 15-20 minutes to kill any hitchhikers. Shower and check your body for intruders.
Finding a tick on your body isn’t a reason to panic. Use sharp tweezers to pull it straight up. Once removed, send it in a plastic baggie for testing. Labs can identify pathogens so you can seek treatment if necessary.
Montana is known for snowy, brutally cold winters. You might think that spiders avoid the area, but people built convenient spots to wait out the cold. You’ll likely find these eight-legged hunters in houses during the winter, and some of them are dangerous.
Black widows and brown recluses are both native to the region. You’ll find them both indoors, and they’re easy to identify. A red hourglass on a black thorax should cause red flags to go up. One of the most venomous bugs in the region, bites contain a neurotoxin that can affect heart rate and blood pressure.
Brown recluse bites are exceedingly painful. They inject a toxin that causes blisters and tissue death around the wound. Healing is the worst part of a brown recluse bite. Sometimes it takes weeks for the lesion to become the ugly scar left behind.
Keeping your home clean is one way to prevent a spider surprise, but it’s not a sure thing. Generally, don’t reach into dark corners or under debris. A bite may require medical attention, so you should monitor anyone bitten by either of these creepy crawlies.
Pro Tip: Give yourself a haunt while exploring these 5 Spooky Ghost Towns in Montana.
Don’t Let Montana’s Dangerous Creatures Keep You Away
Big Sky Country is a place of infinite beauty. Endless mountain ranges give way to rolling hills and grassy plains. When you’re out in this natural playground, be prepared. Nothing in Montana is tame, not the land or the dangerous creatures. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time.
If you’re heading out into the wilderness, check in at the ranger station first. They’ll have the most recent information about bear and mountain lion activity. Locals usually have the best advice for their areas, so don’t get cocky. Ranger Rick just might save your life.
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