Each winter when the snow deepens in the high country, about 150 elk descend to their winter home on the Blackleaf. The Blackleaf joins the Sun River, Pine Butte, Ear Mountain and the Boone and Crockett Ranch to form a network of snowfree refuges for thousands of elk. Here, chinook winds often swirl the snow from the bunchgrass, willow and aspen that elk feed upon.
At the turn of the century, only 300 elk lived along the entire Front. Elk and other wildlife had suffered greatly from the advance of settlers in the 1880s. Some, like the bison, would never recover. The turnaround for elk started in 1912 when an alarmed Montana Legislature drew the borders for the Sun River Game Preserve. More such preserves followed over the next several decades. Ensuring that elk have room to graze and find shelter on the Front continues to be a cooperative success story.
Hunting opportunities: Archery, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, bear, upland game birds, and waterfowl hunting are open to licensed hunters during open seasons. Special deer permits and B-tags required for mule deer hunting last two weeks of hunting season. Antlerless and either-sex elk permits are available through the statewide drawing.
Wildlife viewing: Elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer can be seen from the county road during winter with binoculars or a spotting scope. Black and grizzly bears can occasionally be observed along streams or forest margins. Bird-watching opportunities begin in spring with a variety of songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Furbearers such as beavers and muskrats are active in lakes and streams. Coyotes are common in all habitats.
If you are visiting between December 1 - May 15, vehicle travel is prohibited within the borders to protect wildlife during stressful winter months. From May 15 to July 1, the road to Antelope Reservoir is open to foot traffic only.
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