Official Montana Hunting Safety Course Link to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Hello, hunter! Montana's online hunting course has moved. Click here to go to the latest version of the Today's Hunter in Montana course—the official hunting safety course of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

The following course material is for reference only. Please go to the new course to complete your Montana certification.

Wildlife Identification

One of the principal rules of firearm safety is: Be sure of your target and beyond. In other words, you must be able to identify what species of wildlife you are looking at.

Imagine you are hunting in an area where both white-tailed and mule deer live, but hunting regulations allow you to take only white-tailed deer. You spot what is clearly a deer, but you can’t tell definitively which type it is. Before you shoot, it is your responsibility to make absolutely sure that the deer you are looking at is not a mule deer. Can you tell the difference? Can you tell the difference in the field with your heart pounding and a big buck ready to leap away at any second?

In Montana, it’s illegal to take female pheasants. When a pheasant flies up in front of you, you have only a split second to decide if it’s a rooster or a hen. Do you know what to look for?

Wildlife identification is a skill. The best way to practice and develop it is to look for live animals in their natural habitats. Once you’ve found them, study them for a while, and see how they behave.

Below are some commonly-hunted mammals. View the Montana Wildlife Guide in PDF format to see more.

Moose tracksSize: length to 10 ft. (3 m); shoulder height to 71⁄2 ft. (2.3 m); male weight to 1,400 lb. (635 kg); female weight 600-800 lb. (272.1-362.9 kg).

Habitat: wilderness forests near shallow lakes, marshes, and swamps.
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep tracksSize: shoulder height 21⁄2-31⁄2 ft. (.8-1.1 m); male weight 125-275 lb. (56.7-124.7 kg); female weight 75-150 lb. (34-68 kg).

Habitat: rugged mountain slopes in high country with sparse timber and bushy plants.
Grey Wolf
Size: head and body 51-71 in. (130-180 cm); tail 17-18 in. (43-45 cm); weight 67-110 lb. (30-50 kg).

wilderness areas: plains, forests, and tundras.
Grey wolf tracks
Grey wolf tracks

Good Hunters Are Good Scouts

To locate a particular type of animal, do a little research to find out what sort of habitat that animal likes. Then find detailed maps of areas where you think that type of habitat exists. Keep in mind the things all wildlife need—food, water, shelter, and space in a particular arrangement. Circle likely spots on your map, and then go out and see what you can find.

Learn to look for natural signs that animals leave. Learn what a particular animal’s track looks like. Animal droppings can tell you a lot about what kind of animals are around, what they are eating and when they are using a particular area. The skills you acquire in looking for wildlife come in handy during hunting season.

When you’re trying to identify wildlife that’s far away, it can be helpful to use binoculars or a spotting scope. Never use your riflescope to identify an animal. Remember, when you are pointing your scope at an animal, you are also pointing your rifle at that animal. What if the “animal” turns out to be another hunter? Use your riflescope only to aim and shoot.

To be absolutely certain of the identity of your target, always look for more than one identifying characteristic before taking the shot.

Montana is home to many species of wildlife. Use the Wildlife Guide menu to the right to find a few of the species you need to be able to positively identify.

Montana Fish, Wildlife,
& Parks
White-tailed deer tracks
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Official hunting safety course for Montana hunters last modified: November 16, 2011
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