Wildlife Photography on Colorado Ranches

By: Cody Lujan

One of the most attractive attributes of any ranch is its wildlife. From songbirds and quail to white-tailed deer, elk and moose, a diversity of animal life inhabit ranches throughout the country. While experiencing dramatic landscapes and peaceful settings are certainly integral aspects of ranch ownership, photographing the wildlife that resides on one’s own property is truly rewarding.

Piedra Valley Blue Heron_preview

Some of the most knowledgeable landowners I’ve met seem to have an impeccable understanding of the wildlife residing on their properties. They know what animals will be where and when they will be there – regardless of the season. Through patient observation and diligent photographic documentation, these individuals have patterned both their resident wild denizens as well the itinerant migrators who may pass through, only utilizing their land for a day or a few weeks. In short, many landowners will agree that wildlife photography is not only an enjoyable aspect of ranch ownership but also an important stewardship tool that enhances the overall understanding of their land and its wild inhabitants.

Photo 3 Ghost Ranch_preview

My favorite time to photograph wildlife on Colorado ranches for sale comes during a three-week window in the fall. This window of opportunity opens immediately after Colorado’s archery elk and deer season and closes the day before the 1st rifle season. A combination of peak leaf color on aspen trees, cool temperatures, a lack of human activity, and the peak of the elk rut provide the perfect setting for days spent in the pursuit of wildlife photography.

Piedra Valley Jeff 2_preview

One of the best days our Colorado ranch broker team recently experienced was at the Ghost Ranch. We were surrounded by bugling elk for nearly an hour before the sun broke over Mount Werner and the Steamboat Ski Resort to our east. With the golden hour of morning light in our laps, we began to call and the elk participated in earnest, with bulls running literally right up to our cameras. After close encounters with a number of elk herds and bugling bulls, we headed back down the mountain to the ranch’s stretch of Yampa River – capping the day with an afternoon of shooting still and drone imagery of fly fishing for trophy trout.

Photo 1 Ghost Ranch_preview

Factors such as weather, lighting, and the wary nature of wildlife can dictate the level of success one experiences when out on a large ranch with a camera. Colorado partner Jeff Buerger and I spent several days photographing wildlife on the Piedra Valley Ranch during the last week of September. Conditions ranged from warm and sunny to cool and overcast. While we were able to photograph raptors, waterfowl, turkey, and deer throughout the day, our best results were predictably achieved during the first and last hour of each day.

Piedra Valley Turkeys_preview

These “golden hours” typically provide the optimal shooting light for cameras, as well as the best opportunity to locate animals as they transition between bedding zones and feeding, watering, or rutting areas. In addition to capturing excellent photography of the ranch’s abundant animal life, we gained an in-depth knowledge of herd size, feeding and watering habits, roosting and bedding areas, and located areas of the ranch we might have otherwise not discovered, all of which are important details that will be shared with every potential new ranch owner.

Piedra Valley Jeff 1_preview

Pronghorns on Ranches in the American West

By: Cody Lujan

The diminutive pronghorn or Antilocapra Americana (American antelope goat) is one of the most unique but under-appreciated North American mammals. Generally referred to as antelope, the pronghorn is neither antelope nor goat. In fact, it is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. Found throughout ranches of the American West, this tri-colored speedster enjoys an expansive range and unique set of physical characteristics that set it apart from other horned animals. A fact that is surprising to most is that the pronghorn is the only horned animal in the world that sheds and regrows its horns each year. Not only does it shed and regrow its horns, the pronghorn is also the only horned animal in the world that possesses branched horns.

pronghorn, rocky mountains ranches

While they are often thought of as denizens of prairies and deserts, pronghorn can be found summering at surprisingly high altitudes and will regularly seek shelter in wooded areas. Indeed, antelope on Colorado Ranches can often be found at elevations in excess of 9,000 feet. With a range that extends north from Mexico and into Canada, it is no wonder that the pronghorn boasts one of the widest temperature range tolerances and is capable of surviving temperatures as high as 130 degrees and as low as negative 50. Possessed of keen eyesight, the pronghorn can detect predators at great distances. Not only can it out-sprint any predator it has spotted, a pronghorn can also maintain high speeds for miles without stopping. Interestingly, certain pronghorn herds in Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho are also highly migratory, engaging in migrations exceeding 100 miles in length.

Lope Desert

Though relatively quiet compared to the bugles and vocalizations of the elk rut, the pronghorn rut or mating season can be as equally dramatic and entertaining to witness. Bucks will typically maintain a specific territory throughout the spring, summer and early fall. During the October rut, mature bucks will gather does to breed – focusing their efforts on maintaining their herd. Many mature bucks will move their harem into an area that is less visible to other pronghorn and will spend hours chasing and herding any does that attempt to leave. Younger bucks and mature bucks looking for does will cruise ridge lines and open areas searching for companionship during the rut. They will cross into the territories of other bucks until they locate does, often challenging the herd buck for control. Witnessing two pronghorn bucks compete over does can be very exciting. The two bucks will confront each other, often walking or trotting side-by-side before one of the bucks is intimated and breaks away from the more dominant animal. Occasionally, two like-sized bucks will square off, trotting and then breaking into impressive sparring matches that are interrupted by brief chases. This violent sparring and sprinting can last for several minutes before the most dominant buck returns to the does and the loser melts to the fringes or is chased away.

pronghorn, rocky mountain ranches

Both beautiful and resilient, the pronghorn is threatened by the fragmentation of habitat and increasing frequency of barriers throughout its historic migration corridors. In short, the future of the pronghorn and many other species hinges upon the conservation-minded landowners that are preserving and enhancing native habitat throughout the American West.