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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hall and Hall Featured in Mansion Global Ranch Real Estate Story

We were pleased to see two of our Partners, Jeff Buerger and Jim Taylor, prominently featured in a Mansion Global story about the ranch real estate market. The piece highlights Stealey Mountain Ranch, a new Colorado ranch listing. Excerpts from the story entitled, “Home on the Range: Multi-Million Dollar ‘Lifestyle’ Ranches Are a Strong Draw For Wealthy” can be read below.

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“We have a long list of people who will quickly buy something really super [that are] under the radar at a top price but won’t even consider places that aren’t quite super,” said Hall and Hall’s Jim Taylor

Though not the most common method of sale, Mr. Taylor said that this year, his firm sold four premium recreational ranches—ranging from about $10 million to $40 million—without ever formally listing the ranches.

Putting a premium on the beauty and recreation value of a ranch really began in full-force in the late 1980s, Mr. Taylor said. In 1989, he helped broker one of the largest and perhaps most well-known recreational ranch sales of the time: Ted Turner’s purchase of the 107,000-acre Flying D Ranch in Montana for $21 million. “After that, the floodgates opened,” Mr. Taylor said. “People were then really willing to pay for the scenery, for the trout fishing, it was much more than just about a ranch.”

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“What makes a premium recreational ranch can really depend on the buyer, but when it has a lot of those bells and whistles—really beautiful views, privacy, great hunting and fishing, tucked up near a national forest, and not too far from civilization, it’s something people who can afford it will buy,” said Jeff Buerger, a Hall and Hall broker who represents the Stealey Mountain Ranch—a $24,950,00 Colorado property at the foot of the San Juan mountains, a soaring and rugged range of the Rocky Mountains. Along with wildlife and expansive views, the more than 2,100-acre property, bordered by the Uncompahgre National Forest, also features an 8,079-square-foot main residence, perched on a hilltop, with an indoor saltwater pool. The seller of the property, which has been on the market for about three months, declined to comment.

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While the demographic of the top-tier lifestyle ranch buyer is generally someone from the Baby Boomer generation, “someone who maybe grew up watching John Wayne and really put value in that old-fashioned Western way of life,” Mr. Buerger said, he’s also seen a growing number of younger buyers, especially from the tech world, looking to invest in the land and the lifestyle.  

“A beautiful ranch can really be like buying a beautiful piece of art,” Mr. Buerger said. “It can be a be a long term investment, and it’s also very subjective.”