The Big Wild Mammals You Might See When Visiting Montana

Montana is known for its wildlife. Among other species, it has quite a few big mammals. The large wild mammals shown here are all fairly common in Montana.

This is a large state; the fourth biggest in the US after Alaska, Texas, and California. The west part of the state is mostly mountains and river valleys and the eastern section of Montana is primarily prairies. There can be a substantial difference in what kind of big mammals a visitor is likely to see, depending on what part of the state they go to. However, virtually all of the animals listed here are found in the mountainous western part of the state and fewer of them are found in the east.

If a visitor is observant and takes the time, it is likely that they will see one or more of these creatures, especially in the summertime. It is even quite possible that if they visit western Montana, they may see all of them. Which of these would you like to see in the wild?


Bighorns are relatively common in Montana, though they constantly seem to be on the move. These stocky animals can be seen in herds of 20-30 and occasionally more. They are animals that range from the mountains to the lower-land of the river valley. When driving in Montana, please be careful because these animals aren't afraid of car traffic and too many are killed in collisions with cars every year.

Rocky Mountain Elk

These animals have a limited migration and the herds sometimes number well over 200 individuals. When a large herd starts crossing a road, motorists have been known to need to wait for over an hour for the entire herd to cross, prior to being able to drive on. This is a large species of deer and a weight of 700 pounds isn't uncommon. They are also surprisingly tall at the shoulder; over five feet.

Gray wolves

Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, are primarily creatures of the forest. There were large numbers of wolves in Montana historically, however, they were hunted relentlessly in the past and the population fell. Restrictions on hunting were put in place and well-meaning but uninformed officials sought to increase the population by importing timber wolves from Canada. The Canadian wolves were a much larger subspecies, though, and they actually preyed upon the native wolves. Today, the evidence is that there are no longer any native wolves in the state. However, there is a healthy population of the Canadian subspecies and they occasionally seen, especially near Yellowstone National Park.

Wild Horses

There is a population of wild horses in Montana. In fact, one town in Montana is named for them. The town is usually known as Plains, Montana but the full name of the town is Wild Horse Plains. The town is located in a river valley in Northwest Montana. 

The population of wild horses in Montana has never been large and wild horses aren't often seen, though there is still a population.

Grizzly Bears

Substantially larger than its cousin, the black bear, grizzlies are endangered. However, there is a breeding population in Montana. Although they are apex predators and the largest bear species in the lower 48 states, grizzly-human encounters aren't common and attacks are quite rare. This said grizzlies can be more dangerous than black bears because when startled, black bears tend to run. If a grizzly is startled, they are prone to attack. It is fairly safe to view them at a distance, but they should never be provoked.

Rocky Mountain Goat

This is a creature of the high country. It is capable of climbing up an apparently sheer rock face with ease. These creatures are sometimes seen in lower country when they are moving from one place to another, but the best place to see them in the state is Glacier National Park.


Cougars, also known as mountain lions or pumas, is the largest cat in the state. Along with bears, they are the apex predators and are capable of bringing down a deer or elk. However, they are more apt to dine on rabbits or hares.

These cats aren't often seen but it isn't because there are so few of them. Rather, they are somewhat shy of humans and they have coloration that allows them to blend in so well with their surroundings that a person is often not even aware of the cougar, though it might be less than 100 feet away.


Moose are the largest species of deer. It is quite common for an adult bull to weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds and it can stand over six feet at the shoulder. This makes it the second largest land animal in North America, surpassed only by the bison.

Much of time, moose can be seen in lakes, ponds, and rivers. It is adapted to cold temperatures and can die of the heat if the temperatures get much above 70 F. It is surprisingly fast and can slip through the forest so quietly that it is amazing, for such a large animal.


Although there aren't many wild American bison left, they still exist in Montana. This is the largest land animal in North America. The wild bison herds are mostly found in Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and on the National Bison Range in Northwest Montana. Seeing these huge creatures is a particular thrill.


What do you think?

Written by Rex Trulove