SHERIDAN — People frequently encounter wildlife in the Bighorn Mountains and other state and public lands. Moose, black bears and rattlesnakes make appearances just as often as human recreators go to enjoy the luxurious landscapes the area has to offer. Throughout the summer, one can often see vehicles bunched together on the side of the road with passengers likely gawking at a moose cow and its calf or a beastly moose with its rack. Bears wind up in trees of Sheridanites and rattlesnakes surprise even the most cautious hiker.
Local outdoor experts share their best tips on how to prevent possible interactions with the unique creatures.
While moose look like large, sluggish animals, they are actually quite fast. And anyone who knows Newton’s Law knows large, fast-moving animals can inflict some damage. Combine that with a mother cow moose and its new calf and a complex issue is quickly created. U.S. Forest Service Powder River Ranger District public affairs officer Suzan Guilford said accidents happen most often when humans get in between a cow and its calf.
Late in the season the issue of getting in between mothers and their babies lessens, but being aware of one’s surroundings is integral while recreating in the Bighorns.
“If you see them, enjoy them; take some pictures, but do it from the safety of your vehicle,” Guilford suggested. “If you are out hiking and you see something, slow down, look around and see where other moose might be and try and get out of their way.”
Other threats like dogs escalate potential issues because the moose will likely feel threatened and may charge. If one chooses to get out of the vehicle and take photographs of moose, Guilford advised to take a look at the surroundings and do not get anywhere near the wild animals.
At least two black bears have been extracted from homes within Sheridan city limits this season, and bears are typically in search of food. Guilford said while most bears tend to avoid confrontations with humans, they are fully motivated by food.
“They’re used to seeing people out and about and hunting, so they have a respect for humans,” Guilford said. “But at the same time they’re very enticed by smells and by food.”
While hiking near bear habitats, make noise either naturally or with a bell or other noisemaker.
Christina Schmidt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department public information specialist for the Sheridan office, said campsites create some of the biggest issues for black bears. Storing food and anything with a sweet smell like toothpaste in bear-safe containers, in a tree or secured in a car or hard-sided camper helps keep bears from rummaging through human goods. Keeping campsites clean of trash and cooking supplies helps deter bears from making an unexpected visit. Not only do these preventive precautions keep humans safe, they keep bears safe from growing accustomed to a deadly lifestyle.
“It also puts that bear’s life in jeopardy because once a bear is food conditioned, it’s not something that is safe to have out on the landscape,” Schmidt said.
“It does threaten that bear’s existence as well when people have allowed it to repeatedly receive a food reward.”
People are less likely to approach a rattlesnake to snap a photo, but it is easy for the critters to surprise a hiker underfoot. Rattlers are cold-blooded and will often be seen sunning out on hot rocks. A common area to have an unwanted interaction with a snake is on the Soldier Ridge Trail maintained by the Sheridan Community Land Trust northwest of Sheridan, as well as the Bud Love Wildlife Management Area in Buffalo and Amsden Creek Wildlife Management Area near Parkman.
If a hiker meets up with a rattlesnake, Guilford advised to back up and get away from the area.
Also, some dogs fear snakes, while others are curious about them. Guilford advised to always keep dogs on leashes while on a hike through snake territory.
“You just have to be aware when you’re out there,” Guilford said. “While you’re enjoying the scenery, you have to make sure you’re looking around and staying safe.”
Guilford suggested groups plan designated meeting locations and times even if there is no plan to split up. Also bringing and blowing a whistle will help in a search and alleviates the chance for a lost voice.
Knowing how to read a map or GPS, even on a cellphone, is essential to staying safe in the mountains.
Finally, Schmidt said binoculars are the best way to view wildlife.
Regardless of where you recreate, planning ahead and being aware of the fantastic beasts with whom you share the great outdoors could help prevent serious issues.