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Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area is Better Than a Drive-In Movie

The changing colors leave many Montanans focused on one thing: elk.

Elk season — arguably the best time of the year here in Big Sky Country — is in full swing. During our near daily treks to the mountains, we welcome the cold air of our extended winter. With hair rising on the backs of our necks as we call in an elk to 15 yards, we can almost taste the fresh meat in our freezers.  

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A large bull elk bugling at Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.

 

Living in elk country is arguably one of the top benefits of being a Montanan. Each fall, we have the opportunity to stock up on healthy, sustainable, local meat, harvested from the most wild of places.

But harvesting elk isn’t the only thing that makes us tick. We are also drawn to their eerie bugle and the way in which these beautiful ungulates interact with one another as they show off their impressive tenacity and evasiveness that all too often allow them to give us the runaround.  

Let’s just come right out and say it — we love elk.  

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Bulls fighting.

A front seat view

To see an abundance of 6×6 bulls — and not just their tailends sprinting from you as you stand with your bow drawn, your head bowed in defeat — check out the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge near Glasgow. North of Lewistown and south of Malta, Slippery Ann is in the middle of nowhere. And it is the epicenter of elk activity.

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Cow elk amongst the brush.

 

Although hunting is allowed in parts of the CMR Wildlife Refuge, it is forbidden within the confines of Slippery Ann. The elk seem to be wise to these boundaries. Like clockwork, they file into the area each year on nearly the exact date of opening day. As they pass through this mosaic landscape of aspen groves and meadows, they create quite a spectacle that persists for a month or more.

You can watch the entire scene unfold from the front seat of your car, or your camper, or your camp chair. The viewing area sits on a hill, offering a panoramic view from any vantage point.  

The largest number of elk typically appear during breeding season, which usually occurs in September and October. So grab your spotting scope, binoculars, and a cooler full of cold ones, throw them in the pickup, and go. Now!   

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A bull covered in mud after wallowing.

It’s showtime

The best time to view this double feature is either when the first light hits the morning air, or as the sun starts its rapid descent to below the horizon. Enjoy the anticipation in the air as you sit back, relax, and wait for the actors to slowly make an entrance.

 

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A bull amongst his harem of cows and calves, bugling.

Chilling calls from the distance foreshadow their arrival. First come the hoards. Otherwise known as harems, these are groups of cows and calves that a particular bull or two consider their ladies exclusively. The docile females meander around the meadow together, awaiting their suitors.

Next come the bulls, whose stature alone will knock your socks off. Safely tucked away in this no-hunting sanctuary each season, where they are able to grow big and strong, many of the male elk are what one would call, “a bull of a lifetime.” These massive men spend hours chasing the gals in an enchanting game of tag.

If there is one thing to put on your bucket list for this time of year, it’s viewing the elk at Slippery Ann. But, things are winding down for this season. If you can’t get there this weekend or next, put it on your calendar for next year. It will be worth the wait.

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A harem and their bull at nightfall.  

Find more information about Slippery Ann, including directions, here.

~Brooke Reynolds

All photos taken by Craig Miller.  Thank you, Craig, for the beautiful photos.

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