Deer and Elk and Bears Oh My - Tips for Living with Montana's Abundant Wildlife
I've lived in Montana most of my life but it wasn't until we moved to our property that borders thousands of acres of Lolo National Forest that I learned about the joy and frustrations of living with wildlife.
We love our connection with nature from living in Montana and that we are able to wake up and find deer in our yard, have wild turkeys pass through on their way to the creek, and see Elk and Moose on the hillside or along the creek. It's an amazing experience and you never know what you may see.
Living so close to wildlife can also be frustraing at times when your freshly planted garden is dinner for a deer, or your garbage is spread across the road by a hungry bear, or you end up with a skunk living in your back yard. We've experienced all of these things but have learned ways to prevent most of these situations.
- Garbage - If possible, store your garbage inside the garage or a shed to prevent bears from getting into it. Fortunately the garbage disposal company in our area requires us to use their garbage cans which are large and have a lid. They prevent some wildlife encounters but will not deter a hungry bear.
- Fruit Trees - Fruit Trees encourage wildlife to come into your yard and are prohibited by the covenants of many neighborhoods that border wildnerness. Our property came with beautiful mature plum and apple trees so that is a issue for us every year. We end up with broken branches on our plum trees from the bears trying to get the fruit.
- Bird Feeders - It's great to see all the varieties of birds we have but it's best to remove bird feeders in the early spring and in the fall since they will attract bears.
- Pet Food - Dog and cat food outdoors attracts lots of animals - bears, coyotes, and skunks. Skunks will even try to gain access to sheds or outbuildings if they smell cat food so it's best to feed your pets inside if possible. Our dog was sprayed in the face by a skunk the first summer we were in our house and it took a long time to get the skunk to leave, so it's best not to attract these unwanted visitors.
- Garden - We enjoy having a garden and have put up a 6 foot fence to keep the deer out. This seems to be fairly effective if you use wire that is small enough to also keep out rabbits and other small animals.
- Flowers and Plants - If you enjoy having flower beds or other landscaping around your home, it is best to select plant varieties that are somewhat "deer proof". You can find these plants by talking to the experts at your local nursery or this list of Landscaping Plants Rated by Deer Resistance.
- Pet Safety - Protect your pets from wildlife by having an enclosed yard. Dogs can chase deer and other animals and may also be in danger if they enounter wolves, coyotes, bear, or moose. Cats can also be targets for owls, bald eagles, and other animals. We have been fortunate not to have any episodes with our pets and wildlife (other than the skunk spraying).
If you have additional questions about living with wildlife, or specific animals, contact your local Extension Office, they have lots of great free resources.