I was out hunting last weekend (end of October) near Yellow Pine, Idaho. While walking up a hill during the late morning with moderate timber coverage (thin enough to ski comfortably but thick enough to prevent grass from growing) I spotted a large owl sitting on a branch about 20 feet above the ground. It was really fun to see the owl. The owl was large (roughly 18 to 24 inches tall) with a white face. The feathers appeared to be white with light brown tips giving the bird a banded look. It had a large wingspan too at approximately 4 to 5 feet wide. We tried to take a picture of the owl with my father's cellphone but the picture didn't turn out because the bird was in the shadows.
This morning I turned to the internet for help identifying the owl. In this Owls of Idaho resource the only owl that looks close is the Snowy Owl. The owl we saw seemed to have a wider/bulky body, and more dense brown banding. When I did a photo search on snowy owls I found a National Geographic Kids picture that looks much closer to what we saw. The owl in the NatGeo picture looks smaller than the bird I saw but that could just be a trick of the camera.
Normally I'd be comfortable declaring I saw a Snowy Owl since that NatGeo picture looked reasonably close to what I saw. My only lingering doubt is because we saw the bird in a moderately dense pine forest. All the resources I've seen on the internet state that snowy owls prefer open terrain. Here is a quote from the Owls of Idaho resource:
When snowy owls come south, they may be found on open ground (such as marshes, meadows or prairies)
The NatGeo article states:
These large owls mainly live in the Arctic in open, treeless areas called tundra. Snowy owls perch on the ground or on short posts. From there they patiently watch for prey.
It seems like the terrain that I spotted the owl in doesn't fit with these descriptions of the snowy owl's preferred territory. Are there any other owls that can be found in Idaho that I might be confusing for a snowy owl? Alternatively are snowy owls known to frequent moderately timbered hill sides in Idaho instead of more open terrain?