War Horse National Wildlife Refuge

Sage grouse at War Horse National Wildlife Refuge

War Horse National Wildlife Refuge is a satellite of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a 1.1 million-acre property that extends from the Fort Peck Dam upstream along the Missouri River for about 125 miles. War Horse NWR is actually about 30 miles south of the Charles M. Russell NWR in western Petroleum County.

War Horse NWR is comprised of 3 sections, each section centered around either War Horse Lake, Wild Horse Lake or Yellow Water Reservoir. Yellow Water Reservoir is normally kept stocked with trout but the other 2 lakes are "ephemeral," shallow and often empty of fish. This refuge is essentially unstaffed and offers almost no visitor improvements. However, when the lakes and the reservoir are fully filled, this wetlands surrounded by sagebrush plain and stands of Ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain juniper makes excellent habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl. The wetlands areas themselves are fringed with sandbar willow and Great Plains cottonwood.

More than 100 species of birds visit this area on an annual basis. Among the native inhabitants are mule deer, pronghorn antelope and sage grouse.

War Horse National Wildlife Refuge: War Horse Lake Unit

War Horse Lake Unit is primarily a shallow, natural depression that contains water every now and then but not often. In previous years, the area was used as an irrigation storage reservoir for local farmers. Then the USFWS came into ownership and that practice ended. These days, the only water in the basin comes as natural runoff. The uplands are a mix of grasslands and sage brush with an stand of Ponderosa pines (part of the acid-shale pine forest of central Montana) to the south. There are no recreation facilities on the property but hiking, hunting (in season, non-toxic shot only), fishing and wildlife observation are allowed. To get there: Go to the old town of Teigen on Highway 200. From Teigen, head north on Blakeslee Road. You'll pass the refuge sign at 5.5 miles. When you come to the cement bridge, turn east on the dirt trail to the lake.

War Horse National Wildlife Refuge: Wild Horse Lake Unit

Wild Horse Lake is to the north of War Horse Lake and in a similar natural depression in the land. The only water that collects comes from natural runoff and there's precious little of that. The "wetland" is surrounded by sage brush uplands, the kind of vegetation and landscape that is ideal for wintering sage grouse and pronghorn antelope. Visitors will also find more than a few prairie dogs, mule deer and rattlesnakes. There are no recreation facilities available but the property is open for hiking, wildlife observation and hunting (in season, non-toxic shot only). To get there: For Highway 200 to the old town of Tiegen. Turn north on Blakeslee Road and go 10 miles to a four-way intersection. Turn east there and go 1.5 miles to the refuge.

War Horse National Wildlife Refuge: Yellow Water Reservoir Unit

The Yellow Water Reservoir Unit of War Horse national Wildlife Refuge is about 8 miles southwest of Winnett. The property abuts Yellow Water Reservoir, an impoundment of water used for irrigation by local farmers. Because of that irrigation usage, water levels fluctuate all the time and most of the shoreline is bare of emergent vegetation. Only the shallow flats at the west end of the lake have any amount of vegetation growing and that's where the shorebirds and waterfowl congregate. The surrounding uplands offer critical wintering habitat for sage grouse and the year-round population of pronghorn antelope, mule deer and rattlesnakes. There's also a large black-tailed prairie dog town just to the southwest of the reservoir. There is a boat launch site for small craft on the property but no other amenities. The property is open for hiking, fishing, wildlife observation and hunting (in season, non-toxic shot only). To get there: go south from the intersection of Highways 200 and 244 (near the town of Winnett) on Highway 244 for 7.4 miles to Yellow Water Road. Turn west on that gravel road and go 5.5 miles (go left at the "Y") to the reservoir.

War Horse National Wildlife Refuge area map
Photo of the sage grouse courtesy of Gary Kramer, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Other photos courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service
Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!