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10 Top Animal Viewing Tips

There are some fundamental rules to follow when seeking out wildlife.

1. Keep a safe distance. If you’re close enough that the animal pays more attention to you than its food or its young, you’re too close.

2. Hike at a leisurely pace, so you can look and listen for animal signs.

3. Take long breaks. Stop at vantage points overlooking (and downwind of) meadows, watering holes, and likely travel corridors, like game trails, and wait for wildlife to appear.

4. Hike in the right weather:
>> Overcast Many animals are most active on cloudy days, since scorching sun drives them into the shade, while rain sends them to their dens or bedding grounds.
>> No wind Your scent isn’t as likely to reach wildlife. Plus, animals, like people, tend to hunker down in high winds.
>> Stable Some animals react to coming fronts by bedding down.

5. Call wildlife biologists (at a park or college) and rangers; ask where animals concentrate. Most public agencies also post wildlife guides online.

6. Keep binocs/camera handy. Rooting for them will scare off the animal.

7. Look for parts and portions. You’re more likely to spot a beak, tail, or antler than the entire animal.  

8. Practice "scatter vision." Keep your eyes moving without letting them settle on one focal point (like the trail). This improves your ability to take in the whole scene and spot motion.

9. Sneak up ridges.
“When you’re about to crest a ridge, slow down, get quiet, and peek over the edge,” says Taylor Phillips, owner of Wyoming’s Eco-Tour Adventures, so you can spy on animals on the far side.

10. Observe prey animals. If all the elk in a herd suddenly look in one direction, “it’s an obvious sign that a wolf or bear is nearby,” says Phillips.

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