It’s no secret that Wyoming is a wildlife watching paradise. Visitors come from all over the world to see our robust herds of wild bison, elk, pronghorn antelope and mule deer, along with bighorn sheep, grizzly and black bears, wolves and hundreds of bird species. Enjoying our diverse wildlife comes with a responsibility to do so safely while stewarding this incredible resource. Take a look at these tips for safe and fun wildlife watching in Wyoming.
Avoid disturbing animals by using optics.
When viewing wildlife in Wyoming, we must remember that we are visitors to their homes. Stressing animals can reduce their survival and be dangerous to us. As a result, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park guidelines require people to remain 100 yards from predators like grizzlies and 25 yards from other mammals such as bison or elk. Sometimes wildlife ends up closer to us, but in these cases, it is just as important to keep a safe distance. For example, if you are stuck in a bison jam on the road (a common occurrence in Yellowstone), please remain in your vehicle for your own safety.
The wide-open landscapes of Wyoming make for great opportunities to view wildlife with a good set of binoculars or a spotting scope. These types of optics allow us to view wildlife from afar and better observe their natural behaviors. At EcoTour Adventures, we also use adaptors to take video and photos through our optics during tours of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
Pro Tip: Photography enthusiasts will need telephoto lenses to capture images from afar; we recommend at least 400mm of zoom, and don’t forget to crop in while editing!
Don’t feed the bears (or other wildlife).
Did you know that as recently as the 1970s, bears and other animals were routinely fed in Yellowstone National Park? This practice was phased out due to the danger it posed to both animals and people. Today, we work hard to avoid food conditioning bears and other animals so they don’t seek food rewards from people. Unfortunately, when bears are fed they can become dangerous to people and are often removed. Please help us keep bears and other animals wild by not feeding them. This includes properly disposing of waste and always storing food in a locked vehicle with windows rolled up, in a bear canister or in a bear box. A fed bear is a dead bear.
Listen and enjoy the sounds of nature.
With only around 560,000 people, Wyoming is the least populated state in the country. That means it’s easy for the sounds of civilization to fade away when you adventure here. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to enjoy our beautiful outdoor spaces without speakers or headphones. We highly recommend this wildlife watching tip, since getting to hear elk bugle in the fall, the eerie call of a Swainson’s thrush in conifer forests and the howl of wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley are all magical experiences.
Be bear aware.
Wyoming is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. While black bears live throughout the state, grizzlies are mainly found in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Taking steps to avoid a negative encounter is especially important when traveling in grizzly country. Follow these bear wildlife watching tips to enjoy a safe experience:
Travel in groups of four or more.
Grizzlies are unlikely to attack groups of people. If you encounter one, be sure to stand next to each other so the bear can see multiple members of the party. Talk to the bear with arms raised to let it know you are there. DON’T RUN; it may provoke a chase response. Slowly back away while facing the bear even if it charges. Bears frequently bluff charge, stopping short of their target or veering away at the last second.
Pay attention to your surroundings and make noise.
Making noise in low visibility areas and being alert to your surroundings (like enjoying the sounds of nature instead of music) can reduce the likelihood of surprising a bear. If bears know people are nearby, they will often move away without conflict. People can also safely move around bears they observe from a distance or retreat to another location. Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park guidelines require people to remain 100 yards from predators like grizzlies and 25 yards from other mammals such as bison or elk.
Store food properly.
Keeping human food away from bears is key to preventing encounters in bear country. Both the National Park Service and US Forest Service require food storage in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem during months when bears are active. Grizzlies can smell food over a mile away! Most developed campsites have bear resistant containers to store food and other odorous items like sunscreen and Chapstick. Backpackers must carry bear resistant canisters or hang food four feet out and ten feet above the ground. Additionally, keeping a clean camp, cooking away from sleeping areas and never storing food in tents will help prevent bears from entering camping areas.
Carry and know how to use bear spray.
We always recommend carrying bear spray, which is comprised of capsaicin powder, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Bears have extremely sensitive mucus membranes and research has shown spray is up to 98 percent effective when used properly. In contrast, research currently in press by bear biologist Tom Smith found that 40 percent of people who use firearms to defend against bears are injured or killed.
We’re fortunate to share Wyoming’s wild landscapes with a diverse assortment of North American Wildlife. I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for safe and fun wildlife watching in Wyoming and will do your part to WY Responsibly when you visit!