Last week I spent several days at the National Bison Range. It is one of America’s treasures, a wildlife refuge, administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It was established two years before Glacier National Park. I think the Bison Range is one of those under visited places out there, and probably suffers more so because visitors to Montana are much more likely to visit Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. It really is sort of half-way between them. It is tucked in the Mission Valley, and is situated on rolling range land, surrounded by the fantastic Mission Mountains. It has a small visitor center that is well worth the stop. There you will learn about the history of what this place is all about, but also can find out what and where folks are seeing wildlife. Take a few minutes to talk to the staff about that before you head out to your car for the self-guided tour.
What I think I was most amazed about is the amount of wildlife I saw, and not in prime wildlife viewing hours. I think wildlife refuges are somewhat of a hard sell to the public because when John Q. Public drives through they want to see wildlife like they were visiting a zoo, but in their natural habitat. That is a sort of oxymoron to me. If you want a sure thing, go see the animals in cages. If you want to see them in nature be prepared to possibly arrive early or late in the day when they are most active. Bring your binoculars or long distance lens for your camera. Take your time. Most wildlife refuges you are restricted in the areas you visit, or where you can get out of your car (it is a safety thing), so driving through isn’t likely going to give the animals enough time to come out as you pass by at 30 miles an hour.
I spent a lot of time in the collecting biocontrol agents in some of the “back road” sections, but I used the public roads to move between those places. I was amazed at what I saw there in the heat of the of the day. I of course saw bison, adults and calves. I also saw baby pronghorn antelope, which I had never seen before this trip. I saw mule deer and elk, both of which still have the velvet covering their antlers. Many visitors had reported seeing bear, but I did not. I was part of a group that put out signs warning visitors about a mountain lion. Now that I did not see, but sure wish I had. It is one of those things I have always wanted to see, but they are stealthy, that seeing them is rare, though they are likely watching you.
I was there to work, but it made me wish that I could have had some time and my personal vehicle so I could have visited in the evening after work. I would have loved to taken more time and hopefully more photos of the Bison Range.