The window is short, but the display is worth the trip.
Every September through mid-October elk gather at the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area. More than 100 elk, mostly cows but a few bugling bulls in full rut, will gather for their fall courtship display alongside a road that parallels the Missouri River.
The river bottom is just off Highway 191 in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, roughly 140 miles north of Billings or just 52 miles south of Malta. Although archers may be pursuing elk elsewhere in the Missouri Breaks, if they want to see a lot of animals in a relatively small place they should gather here in the evenings.
Unlike Yellowstone National Park where elk may be spread out throughout dense timber, the elk at Slippery Ann are easy to view from the road. Bring a blanket, some hot cocoa or tea, a lawn chair, binoculars and your camera to witness a display worthy of a National Geographic feature.
Get there early if you want a good parking spot, because cars can line the roadway for a mile. It would also be a good idea to carpool, to lessen traffic on the route.
Elk flock to the site because years ago the area was where the CMR had built a station. To protect refuge employees, hunting was banned. The elk caught on quickly, seeking refuge there during the hunting season. When the station was moved south across the river, the no-hunting law continued to be enforced to protect the elk who had become habituated to the safe haven.
The name for the area has an interesting story. Old topographical maps show a nearby creek as "Cyprian," possibly in reference to an early Christian bishop. Over time the spelling became "Siparyann." Because no one could understand refuge staff when they said the word on the phone, it was finally changed to Slippery Ann.