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Most Dangerous Animals in Montana

It probably comes as no surprise that a large western state like Montana is home to some of the most dangerous animals in North America. With miles and miles of uninhabited plains, forests, and high mountains, wildlife is allowed to flourish, creating sensational scenery and pristine natural habitats for plants and animals alike.

Wild animal attacks on humans are relatively rare, but they do happen and it’s always a good idea to be prepared when spending time outdoors. We’ll cover the deadliest animals in Montana, what makes them dangerous, and how to stay safe in the Treasure State.

Grizzly Bear

Montana has the largest grizzly bear population in the continental United States (Alaska is the only state with more grizzlies). Still, bear sightings are rare, even in the backcountry.

These bears are large and powerful, with distinctive humped shoulders and silver-tipped fur. They inhabit remote areas such as forests, mountains, and grasslands across the state, particularly in protected areas like Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

Grizzlies are apex predators with formidable strength and sharp claws. While they typically avoid humans, surprise encounters or threats to their cubs can trigger aggressive behavior, potentially leading to attacks.

When hiking or camping in bear country, carry bear spray, make noise to alert bears to your presence, and store food securely. If you encounter a grizzly, remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Allow the bear to identify you as a human and not a prey animal by speaking calmly; do not make any loud noises or screams.

Mountain LionMountain Lion prepares to jump off a rock face

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are sleek and muscular cats with tawny fur and distinctive long tails. They inhabit a variety of habitats in Montana, including forests, mountains, and grasslands.

Interactions between mountain lions and humans have become more common in recent decades, as human development has encroached on the habitats of the big cats.

Mountain lions are skilled hunters and may view humans as prey, particularly if they are alone or vulnerable. The cats are also fairly large, weighing as much as 200 pounds. While attacks on humans are rare, they can be fatal.

When hiking in areas frequented by mountain lions, stay in groups. Make noise as you walk so that you do not surprise any animals. Keep children and dogs close by and avoid hiking close to dawn or dusk.

If you do encounter a mountain lion, maintain eye contact, stand tall, and slowly back away without turning your back. Do not bend over or crouch down. Speak loudly and firmly and make yourself appear as large as possible. After the encounter, report it to the local wildlife authorities.

Black Bear

Black bears are smaller and more slender than grizzlies, with rounded ears and a straighter profile. They inhabit forests, mountains, and other wooded areas across Montana‚ÄĒit is estimated that there are between 13,000-17,000 black bears in the state.

While less aggressive than grizzlies, black bears can still pose risks to humans and pets, especially if surprised or defending their young or food sources.

Store food securely when camping, and avoid leaving out attractants like garbage or pet food. Hikers, bikers, and runners should slow down and look ahead, especially in areas with dense vegetation or blind corners. Make noise as you move.

If you come across a black bear, speak calmly, back away slowly, and make yourself appear larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket.
Prairie rattlesnake curls up and shakes its rattle to warn off predators

Prairie Rattlesnake

Prairie rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes in Montana. They are found all throughout Montana in areas below 6,400 feet of elevation.

Their venomous bite can cause severe pain, swelling, and potentially life-threatening complications. Rattlesnakes may strike if threatened or provoked, but there have been zero rattlesnake-related fatalities in Montana in the last decade.

Wear sturdy boots and long pants when hiking in rattlesnake territory. Stay on designated trails, and avoid lifting logs or large rocks, as a snake could be hiding underneath. If you encounter a rattlesnake, back away slowly and give it plenty of space. Do not attempt to catch, hurt, or kill the snake.

If you suffer a snake bite, seek medical attention immediately. When properly treated, the prognosis for rattlesnake bites in healthy adults is good.

Bison

The American bison is the official national mammal of the United States. At one time, millions of bison (commonly called buffalo) roamed North America, with thousands of herds stretching from Mexico into Canada. They were hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s and they only exist still today due to conservation efforts by Native tribes and state and federal governments.

Bison are generally viewed as docile critters and, typically, they live up to their reputation. They can become deadly animals, however, when humans underestimate them. When a bison is threatened or provoked, it may act unpredictably.

Bison are the largest land mammal in North America. They can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds and have sharp horns that can gore humans and animals. 

Always maintain a safe distance from buffalo (at least 100 meters) and never try to chase or scare them. They can run up to 35 miles per hour and are extremely agile, so you will not outrun one.

Moose

Moose are the largest members of the deer family, with distinctive antlers and long, dark fur. They inhabit forested areas and wetlands across Montana, particularly in regions like Glacier National Park and along the Missouri River. They can weigh between 800-1,200 pounds and are accomplished swimmers. 

Despite their seemingly placid demeanor, moose can become aggressive, especially during the rutting season or if they feel threatened. Cow moose are very protective of their calves and will attack to keep them safe.

Give moose a wide berth, especially during the rutting season (September to October). If a moose displays aggressive behavior, back away and find shelter behind a tree or other obstacle. It is okay to run from a moose; it is unlikely that they will give chase. If a moose attacks, do not fight back. Curl up, stay still, and protect your head with your arms.

Black Widow Spider

Black widow spiders are found throughout North America and are perhaps one of the most easily identifiable spiders in the region, thanks to the red hourglass shape on their undersides. They are also extremely venomous.

Black widows can be found in dark, quiet spaces, such as wood piles, sheds, and attics. They will not bite unless they feel threatened, so keep your distance and do not try to pick it up with your bare hands.

Be careful when reaching into dark spaces or putting on shoes that have not been worn in a while. If you are bitten, wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice pack. Call Poison Control and seek medical attention.

Healthy adults rarely die from black widow bites, but children and adults over 60 are at an increased risk of complications.

Dogs

While not native wildlife, dogs can pose risks if not properly trained or supervised. Pitbulls, German Shepherd Dogs, and Doberman Pinschers are often seen as the most aggressive breeds of dogs, but even small dogs like Chihuahuas and Jack Russell terriers can cause injury if they bite.

Always ask dog owners before petting dogs you do not know. Avoid approaching dogs that are exhibiting aggressive behaviors, such as growling, baring their teeth, or raising their hackles. If approached by an aggressive dog, do not run. Back away slowly and avoid eye contact. 

Ensure that your own dog is well-trained and properly restrained when in public spaces. Even when in designated off-leash areas, you should be able to see your dog at all times. Make sure your dog has excellent recall skills if you plan on having them off-leash on dog-friendly trails or in parks.

If you are bitten by an aggressive dog, seek medical attention right away. Report the bite to Animal Control. Depending on the severity of your injuries, it may be a good idea to contact a personal injury attorney.

The dog bite lawyers with The Advocates have years of experience helping injury victims recover the damages they are owed. We have offices in Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, and Lewistown. Contact us today for a free consultation‚ÄĒwe will help you understand your legal options and get you on the road to recovery.