Discover the Fastest Animals in North Dakota

Written by Alan Lemus
Published: October 25, 2022
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If the state is North Dakota, you already know wildlife is involved. More than any other state in the US, North Dakota has 63 wildlife refuges, making it the dream destination of animal lovers. North Dakota is home to plains, prairies, and mountains, all of which offer a range of ecosystems that sustain a wide variety of biodiversity. From moose and grizzly bears to bald eagles and prairie falcons, the state is home to all forms of species. 

Rugby is a North Dakotan city that is believed to be the geographical center of North America. As a result, the state experiences long winters and sweltering summers. This is another reason the state is a habitat for diverse fauna and flora.

So, from mammals to birds, there are many animals in North Dakota. Sometimes, you wonder which ones are the fastest. We did the work, so you can stop wondering. Here are some of the fastest animals in North Dakota.

#1 Pronghorn – 55mph

The pronghorn is the fastest animal in North Dakota .

With the ability to reach an astonishing 55mph, pronghorns are one of the fastest animals in the world!

©matthieu Gallet/

Pronghorns are the fastest land mammals in North America, with top speeds exceeding 55 mph. Typically, they travel an average of 44 miles between their summer and winter ranges. However, they have been seen to go as far as 157 miles. Incredibly, they are actually vying with cheetahs for the title of the fastest animal in the world!

Many people mistake pronghorns for antelopes, but they are not. Pronghorns are the only living members of the Antilocapridae family, and all other mammals with hooves in North America are members of the Bovidae family.

Male pronghorns, have black horns formed of a permanent boney core covered in a keratin sheath. If present, female horns are merely bumps, whereas male horns have a characteristic shape with a sharp point and a forward prong. After the rut, males shed their horn sheaths, which grow back the following year.

The backs of both sexes are covered in a cinnamon-brown coat with white underfur and three to four white stripes under the neck. Pronghorns usually live in herds larger in the winter than in the summer. Breeding males set up tiny territories in the fall to attract adult females. Since pronghorns can’t thrive in heavy snow, their populations suffer greatly during harsh winters if herds can’t move to regions with less snow.

In North Dakota, pronghorns are most active at daybreak and sunset but are often spotted outside all day. The Bowman and Slope counties in the far southwest of the state are their primary range.

#2 Elk – 40mph

boiling river yellowstone

Adult elk are capable of running at 40mph!

©Cody Linde/

Elk are the second-largest member of the deer family, with an average weight of 700 pounds for bulls (males) and 500 for cows (females). However, do not assume an elk is slow simply because of its large size. A fully grown bull is capable of running up to 40 mph. They have even beaten horses in short races.

The antlers on male elk are shed and grown back yearly. The growth of antlers starts in anticipation of the mating season, predominantly in September and October. Large antlers signal dominance and the capacity to fight off predators and other bulls. As a result, female elk usually choose a dominating bull with big antlers. It is important to note that bulls are often alone or in small bachelor groups except during the breeding season. The females can be found in groups of ten or more.

In North Dakota, the Killdeer Mountain region, the Little Missouri National Grasslands, and Cavalier County in the northeast are excellent places to watch elk going about their everyday activities. Dawn and dusk are usually the best times to see them.

#3 White-tailed Deer – 35mph

A white-tailed deer standing in a meadow

Despite being the smallest deer species in North America, white-tailed deer are still fast.

©Paul Tessier/

In North Dakota, white-tailed deer are the most prevalent large game mammal despite being the smallest deer species in North America. Bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes all prey on white-tail deer in the wild, especially the young ones. They sprint up to 35mph to escape predators while maintaining their agility.

White-tailed deer typically live in fields and meadows during hot summer months. However, in the winter, they stay in the woods because of the forested stands that offer protection from the chilly weather. Their coat is reddish in the summer and brownish-gray in the winter, with white patches on the throat, belly, and underside of the tail. Bucks, or mature male deer, are identified in the summer and fall by their distinctive antlers produced annually and shed in the winter. They engage in territorial battles with their antlers during the mating season. Like elk, bucks spend time alone or in small bachelor groups outside the breeding season.

White-tailed deer are often seen throughout North Dakota, but the eastern two-thirds have the highest concentration. In western North Dakota, these mammals prefer the aspen woodlands and tree-lined river bottoms. 

#4 Bison – 35mph


American Bison are the largest mammal in North America.

©O.S. Fisher/

Bison symbolize the Great Plains and the Old West. They are huge and the heaviest land animals in North America. Female bison can grow to a height of 4-5 feet and weigh up to 1,000 pounds, while males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and grow as tall as 6 feet. Bison are swift runners despite their bulky size. They can run up to 35 mph when the situation calls for it.

Look out for them in the early hours before daybreak in Prairie Dog Town, where they may wallow in the loose soil and find a steady supply of fresh grass shoots. Alternatively, over 400 bison wander freely in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

#5 Moose – 35mph

bull moose

Although they are the largest deer species, moose can run at speeds of 35mph!

©Harry Collins Photography/

Moose are the largest deer species. Males are easily identified by their massive antlers, which can measure 6 feet in length. They can run up to 35 miles per hour over short distances, but they may appear awkward because of their size. 

You can find them in the Prairie where forested river bottoms and tree rows give protection. State forests and forested areas along the Canadian Border are other places to check for moose at sunrise and sunset.

#6 Bald Eagle – 30mph

Fastest animals in North Dakota - the bald eagle can reach 100mph in descent

Bald eagles can consistently reach 30mph, but can achieve 100mph in descent

©Jack Molan/

Despite their name, bald eagles are not bald. Instead, they are much more remarkable because the lovely white features around their heads make them stand out. The bald eagle can fly up to 100 miles per hour, but only as it descends toward its prey. Bald eagles typically soar at a consistent rate of roughly 30 mph throughout the day.

Their populations in North Dakota have increased over the last 15 to 20 years. Summer months are your best bet if you want to see bald eagles because they are migratory birds. In addition to Lake Sakakawea, other notable nesting locations for bald eagles include the Souris River, Heart River, Red River, Sheyenne River, Devils Lake basin, and Cannonball River.

#7 Bobcat – 30mph


Bobcats are fierce predators and can achieve speeds of up to 30mph


Although bobcats have a cuddly appearance, they are ferocious predators. They have been known to kill far larger animals, like young deer, by leaping up to 12 feet to seize prey. Bobcats have medium-length, silky fur reddish to gray with varying amounts of black spotting. These wild cats are considerably faster and nearly twice as big as home cats. They are adept at swimming and can run up to 30 miles per hour.

Bobcats are solitary and nocturnal animals, making it difficult to see them often. However, they can adapt to different habitats, including swamps, woods, marshes, deserts, and even suburbs. North Dakota has a stable bobcat population in the southwestern region and a growing population in the far northeastern area. Although they are predominantly located in the badlands, bobcats are often seen along the rivers and streams in the southwestern terrain. 

#8 Bighorn Sheep – 20mph

Fastest animals in North Daktoa - the bighorn sheep can reach 20mph

Despite their large size, bighorn sheep can reach 20mph.

©Warren Metcalf/

Bighorn sheep are the most endangered large game species in North Dakota. Around 500 animals make up the whole population in the state, which is the highest number in the region in at least 150 years.

Bighorn sheep have white muzzles, rumps, and stomachs, and their fur is tan or brown. The big horns of the male species can weigh up to 40 pounds, or more than 10% of its entire weight. The weight range for the males is 125 to 300, while the females weigh between 75 and 200 pounds. They can run up a mountain at a quick 15 mph and go as far as 20 mph when fighting for dominance. Outside the mating season, rams are often in bachelor groups and do not build long-term ties with ewes. Ewes and lambs are usually left in groups of 10 or more.

Bighorn sheep live in mountainous regions, so the west mountain region of North Dakota is a great place to check if you want to see them. They are also found along the Little Missouri River in steep badland areas. The sheep spend most of the day foraging and sleeping near open spaces where they can quickly flee from predators.

Up Next…

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Charles Lemar Brown/


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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