Winter is arriving at the ranch and we’re taking time to reflect on some of our favorite things about being here when the snow starts falling. Cozy fires, hot cocoa and winter sports adventures are some of the things we’re looking forward to, but perhaps one of the more unexpected things is viewing native wildlife.
During winter, colder temperatures and lack of food drives wildlife into areas more accessible to people. There are fewer crowds, which make trail areas more inviting for shy creatures of all kinds. Lack of vegetation also makes it easier to spot our animal friends. And, of course, most bears hibernate through winter, which eases one concern about seeking out woodland creatures.
It’s common to hear someone say they see as much wildlife in eight hours of winter as they’d see during an entire week during summer. Types of wildlife you are likely to encounter will vary, but documented sightings include moose, elk, mule deer and big horn bucks, bison, coyote, and possibly a reclusive wolf pack or mountain lion (or at least their tracks). Smaller animals include fox, owls, osprey, hawks, bald eagles, sage grouse, and Western Tanagers.
Good winter wildlife viewing locations
Moose: frequently gather in loose groupings around Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park.
Bison: are scattered throughout Jackson Hole but can usually be found on the National Elk Refuge or on the eastern foothills of the Gros Ventre range north of Kelly, WY.
Wolves: best time to catch them is early in the morning and late evening north of Jackson to Moran junction. They frequent open grassland without tall sage or trees in places like the Elk Refuge, Antelope Flats and Elk Ranch.
Deer: hundreds of mule deer gather to graze on the relatively snow free slopes of east and west Gros Ventre buttes.
Elk: thousands of elk spend the winter with the largest herds found just north of Jackson on the National Elk Refuge.
We can also suggest a winter adventure for you that will be likely to include wildlife viewing if you desire.
As you can see, we frequently spot wildlife in winter just driving around the ranch, so whether or not you set out to see them, it’s a good idea to know the best practices for observing wildlife.
- Always keep a safe distance when viewing wildlife: whether in your vehicle or on foot, maintain a distance of at least 100 years from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Use binoculars, spotting scopes, or long lenses for close views and photographs.
- Never position yourself between an adult and its offspring. Females with young are especially defensive.
- It is illegal to feed wildlife. This includes ground squirrels and birds. Feeding animals makes them dependent on people, and animals often literally bite the hand that feeds them.
- Do not harass wildlife. Harassment is considered any human action that causes unusual behavior, or a change of behavior, in an animal. Repeated encounters with people can have negative, long-term impacts on wildlife, including increased levels of stress and the avoidance of essential feeding areas.
- Nesting birds are easily disturbed. If an adult bird on a nest flies off at your approach, or circles you, or screams in alarm, you are too close to the nest. Unattended nestlings readily succumb to predation and exposure to heat, cold, and wet weather.
- Allow other visitors a chance to enjoy wildlife. If our actions cause an animal to flee, we’ve deprived other visitors of a viewing opportunity. Use an animal’s behavior to guide your actions.
Little Grizzly foraging in the first real snow fall around here, making the surroundings have a feel of winter. Lots of berries still to be eaten, and the bears will be in full on fattening up as much as possible before they head to hibernation. Super hard to get a good focus through the snow, but I feel lucky to see such a cool thing. Wyoming never ceases to amaze me
We hope your winter stay at the ranch is a good one, and that this post has given you ideas of what to expect for winter wildlife. Of course, if you have any questions, you can always ask us, either in advance, or when you reach the ranch. We’re happy to help plan your perfect winter adventure.