Beartooth Ranch is one of Montana’s reputation ranches known and respected throughout Montana’s ranching community. Currently owned by the founder of Montana Silversmiths and previously owned by actor and director Mel Gibson, the ranch has had a grand history as one of the state’s largest purebred Angus operations under Mel Gibson and previously as one of the earliest adopters of embryo transplants in the purebred industry. Always known as the “Beartooth Ranch”, this 1,000 animal unit operating ranch consists of over 12,350 deeded acres and 1,000± acres of lease situated in the heart of the Stillwater River Valley just five miles southwest of Columbus. The center of the ranch lies in the valley floor and consists of hundreds of acres of productive irrigated meadows and four miles of protected riparian corridor along the Stillwater River punctuated by multiple small spring creeks that provide open water year-round. Adjacent to this rich central corridor, the ranch runs up through the breaks and pine foothills on both sides of the valley to offer huge expanses of lush, well-watered summer pastures and hundreds of acres of improved pastures. The wildlife and fisheries on this diverse ranch are extraordinary beginning with nearly four miles of “Blue Ribbon” quality trout fishing and moving to huge populations of mule and whitetail deer plus very good and improving elk numbers. Pheasants, waterfowl and upland birds are at home here as well and their numbers are only limited by judicious seeding of grain crops and predator control. Improvements include two comfortable homes, indoor riding arena, and complete shops, barns and other operating facilities – ideally set up for a 1,000 AU operation. In summary, this is a virtually all-deeded contiguous operating ranch in a prime location looking up at the dramatic Beartooth Mountains – Montana’s highest – offering, in addition, a complete package of recreational amenities from big game and birds to a quality fishery.
Just the Facts
- Location – Five miles southwest of Columbus and 45 miles from Billings.
- Acreage – Approximately 12,350 deeded acres plus 1000± acres of leases (primarily State and BLM).
- Acreage Breakdown – Currently estimating over 400 acres of irrigated land. Balance is native range with large areas of improved pastures that are normally cut for hay.
- Improvements – Two comfortable homes plus extensive shops, barns and small indoor arena originally set up for a purebred operation.
- General Operation – This is a well-balanced operating ranch estimated to support around 1,000 animal units. Currently, the owner leases out the various components of the ranch.
- Wildlife – Because of its lower elevation, Beartooth offers a diverse selection of wildlife from huntable populations of elk, deer, waterfowl, pheasants, and other upland birds to smaller mammals, raptors and extensive birdlife.
- Fishery - It is unusual to have both trophy quality elk and trophy quality trout on the same contiguous ranch. With nearly four miles of both sides of the Stillwater, Beartooth Ranch can make that claim.
- Conservation Easements – Less than 17 percent of the ranch is encumbered by a conservation easement. The balance of the ranch would be a major candidate for a conservation easement.
- Summary – A balanced and well-located historic 1,000 head working ranch with a complete set of recreational and scenic amenities.
The Beartooth Ranch is a classic Montana ranch loaded with aesthetic, operational, and recreational amenities. The headquarters is located just north of Highway 78 and is situated beautifully between the verdant irrigated farm ground and the canopied riparian corridor of the Stillwater River. The irrigated hay lands are located primarily along the river bottom area and historically have been planted in alfalfa and rotational pulse crops. The vegetation along the riparian corridor consists of shrubs, willows and cottonwood trees. The 4,700± acre River Unit encompasses nearly four miles of the Stillwater River. A private bridge at the Beartooth Drop allows access to the elevated grass country that runs two miles north to Huntley Creek. Enlightened timber management has taken place over the past decade to harvest a significant amount of timber to improve the native grasses and consequently increase the carrying capacity. By doing so, the habitat for the deer and elk has also been greatly enhanced. This northerly unit runs approximately three-and-a-half miles by three-and-a-half miles. A well-designed network of roads allows convenient access throughout.
The remaining 7,600± acres of the ranch lies south of the highway and is accessed from Joe Hill Road which traverses in a north-south direction along the easterly border. There are approximately 3,340 acres located in the southeastern portion of this unit that is encumbered by a conservation easement. Overall the south unit is well blocked and runs approximately five miles in length from north to south and generally two to three miles east to west. Joe Hill Creek runs through the heart of this unit for more than five miles and provides excellent water and cover for a plethora of wildlife. Most of this unit is partially timbered and has features considered to be desirable within the rural ranch market of Southwestern Montana. The native rangeland on the ranch is comprised of primarily western wheatgrass, bluebunch grass, prairie June grass, and gamma grass. In addition to the native range, almost 1,000 acres is in wild hay, which can, depending on the year, produce over one ton per acre, which can either be cut for hay or grazed. The ranch is perimeter fenced with numerous cross fences, all of which are in good condition. Stock water is abundant and supplied by springs, creeks, and wells throughout the ranch. Additionally, the ranch has developed a stock water system with a well, which provides water to two 5,000 gallon holding tanks, which then pipe water to various pastures.
It is almost impossible to find a ranch that actually “has it all”- much less one that has it all AND is for sale. The Beartooth Ranch is primarily deeded and contiguous, is balanced between summer and winter country, runs 1,000 animal units, is well-located, has appropriate but not overdone improvements, is in good condition throughout, has minimal conservation easement impact, offers outstanding trout fishing, offers excellent big game and bird hunting, includes enormous diversity in habitat types, is highly scenic, AND the list goes on. This is truly a rare opportunity. We have not seen one like this for sale in a long time!
The Beartooth Ranch is located about six miles south of Columbus and lies on both sides of State Highway 78. Various county roads run off Highway 78 directly onto the ranch and tend to run on the borders or edges of the property. Columbus has a good airport (Woltermann Memorial) with a 3,814’ X 75’ asphalt strip. Billings is approximately 50 miles from the ranch and is the major trade center for all of Montana and northern Wyoming. Billings Logan is one of Montana’s largest airports providing air service through American, Delta, United, Horizon, Frontier, and Allegiant airlines.
Columbus and Absarokee provide a friendly place to purchase all the staples needed to operate the ranch. Columbus, which is closest to the ranch, has a population of approximately 2,500 and is the county seat of Stillwater County. It has a small community 23-bed Critical Access Hospital with Emergency Service 24/7. Less than an hour’s drive, Billings has the largest cluster of medical facilities between Salt Lake City, Denver, and Boise, employing nearly 5,500 in two major medical complexes.
Stillwater County extends north from the Beartooth/ Absarokee Wilderness Area towards the Yellowstone River Corridor which runs through Columbus in an east/west direction. Stillwater County has a population estimated to be near 10,000. The county has grown consistently over the last ten years due to influences from the ex-urban development associated with Billings as well as the development and growth of the Stillwater Mine.
The immediate area around the ranch has a diverse and aesthetic flavor with small to medium-sized foothill ranches and river homes along the banks of the Stillwater River. These are owned by a mix of both full and part-time residents. The area is regarded as a stable and prosperous community that experiences large influxes of tourists and part-time residents during the summer and fall months. The activities in this part of Montana are world-renowned for fishing, hiking, rafting, camping, and skiing.
The average annual precipitation is approximately 15 inches with nearly 60 percent of it falling during May through September. The growing season averages a frost-free period of 121 days. The average daytime temperature in the summer is 78 degrees and 21 degrees in the winter. Fall produces the multitude of color one would expect in a four-season area with stands of riverfront deciduous cottonwood trees. One can expect some snow cover in the winter. The area is known for its warm spring rains that bring the blessing of new growth as the Stillwater Valley erupts in green grass and wildflower bloom.
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
- Deeded: 12,350± acres
- Private lease: 320± acres
- State Lease: 640± acres
- BLM Lease: 80± acres
Conservation Easement is held by Montana Land Reliance, recorded 12/24/2008 as Document No. 338738 and covers approximately 3,700 deeded acres surrounding the “Stone House” on the southeast portion of the ranch.
Subdivision: One split permitted with no acreage restriction. This unit can be sold as two parcels.
New Residences: Only two permitted - each within a five acre building envelope.
Building Envelopes: The two permitted building envelopes may be located within one of the two permitted parcels, or one may be located in each parcel.
“Stone House”: May be restored as a primitive cabin /dwelling; no electrical power may be brought to the house (via the grid), but electrical power may be generated on an as-needed basis with a portable generator, and propane may be used for heating.
Indoor Riding Arenas: Only two permitted on the property. Only one permitted on each parcel in the event the property is subdivided into two parcels.
A copy of the full conservation easement documentation is available upon request.
Main House: This classic home was originally built in 1949. It has always been the main home for the ranch. This one-and-a-half story house is situated conveniently at the headquarters and is only a short stroll to the river. It has a classic Victorian look with wood siding and an asphalt shingle roof. It has approximately 4,174 square feet of living space and a 1,600± square foot basement. The home has been well cared for and is in excellent condition. There are three bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half baths.
Guest House: This one-story bungalow is located nearby and has a view of the river’s tributaries. The 1,100± square foot two-bedroom, one bath home was originally built in 1928 and remolded in 1970. It is in excellent condition.
Ranch Office: This one-level 2,000± square foot building built in 1984 has two private offices, conference rooms, kitchen, and bath.
Indoor Arena: This building is approximately 150’X50’. It is wood frame construction with insulated walls and ceiling. The access is a 14’ overhead door and man door. In addition, there is a lean-to area with pipe turnout pens.
Shop/Lounge Building: This building is in two sections. The Lounge section is approximately 50’X50’ which is heated and has bathrooms. There is a 14’ overhead door and man door for access. The shop portion is approximately 80’X40’ with overhead door. The building has a metal roof and siding.
Show Barn/Storage: This 40’X40’ building is of wood construction and is wood-sided building with three indoor stalls and tack room. The adjoining storage section is approximately 20’X50’.
Machine shed/Hay Storage Pole Barn: Approximately 154’ X 72’, this pole barn is used for farm machinery and hay storage.
Lower Tack Room: This building is approximately 72’X36’, of wood construction, and has metal siding and a metal roof. Approximately 720 square feet is finished. It is insulated and heated and serves as a tack/saddle room.
Small Show Barn: This building is approximately 90’X30’. It is a wood frame building with metal siding and roof.
New Tack Shed: This building is 24’X30’ and is an off-site building on concrete foundation.
Two 30’X30’ wood frame garages: These buildings are universal in purpose.
Two Grain Bins: These bins are 56’ in diameter and are 26’ in height.
Cattle Facility (South Unit): This building has a good set of corrals, Powder River tub, and an office. There are several hundred feet of feed bunks and pens.
Hay Barn (South Unit): This is approximately 90’X30’. It is an opened sided pole barn with a metal roof.
Equipment and Machinery: The shop comes complete with tools, weed spraying equipment, miscellaneous fencing supplies, portable corrals, and miles of gated irrigation pipe. The rolling stock includes four-wheelers, pickups, a water truck, and a fire truck. Everything one would need to operate the ranch is inlcuded, with the exception of the major farm machinery.
Stillwater River Frontage: approximately four miles, with additional tributaries off the main channel.
Joe Hill Creek: a productive spring-fed perennial stream that remains open in the most severe of cold temperature conditions.
Wells: Seven, including domestic and stock wells.
Irrigation: All irrigation water is diverted from the Stillwater River via the Beartooth Ditch (exclusive ownership), Scott Ditch (majority ownership), and Whitebird Ditch (multiple ownership). Irrigation water rights are recorded and are more than sufficient under all conditions.
The mountains provide a stunning backdrop to any fishing or float trip. In the lower reaches of the river, as it meanders through the ranch, excellent fly fishing can be experienced. Trout are plentiful as rainbows and browns populate the river. It is estimated that there are nearly 3,000 trout per mile. Brown trout average 12-14 inches, but one can expect at any time to hook into a specimen exceeding 20 inches. Rainbow trout in this section of the Stillwater River average about 12 inches, although they are routinely caught over 18 inches. This is definitely a dry-fly fishing river. Insect hatches begin appearing as early as April and May. The advantage during spring is the opportunity to hit rainbows running up the river out of the Yellowstone to spawn. This is a perfect opportunity to catch the really big fish. The first big hatch of the year is very close to Mother’s Day. The water clears by late June and warms to nearly 50 degrees. Fishing the hatches at this time can be highly productive. Next, in mid-July, a major caddis hatch begins and usually lasts about three weeks. A PMD hatch comes off in mid to late July and can be great dry-fly fishing as does a hatch of brown drakes. By late July, trout start looking for grasshoppers. And in late September, the browns begin to spawn. Big browns are frequently taken on streamers as they move up from the Yellowstone River.
Wildlife is abundant on the Beartooth Ranch, thanks in part to extremely diverse habitat and keenly sensitive ranch management. The meadows, along with the live water corridor, native range, and timbered ridges, offer habitat for antelope, whitetail deer, mule deer, and elk. Depending on the time of year, it is not unusual to have elk numbers from 100 to 300 in a single herd. The hunting has been limited during the last decade, and in return the elk have flourished, allowing for the potential harvest of trophy quality bulls in the 350 class. In addition, turkey are found on the ranch along with ducks, geese, and upland birds. As you would expect from a ranch located within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, many raptors and predators frequent the area throughout the year.
The Beartooth Ranch is expansive with wide-ranging terrain to allow exploration on horseback, ATV, or by foot. The current owners most recently used the ranch as a horse boarding facility where they built nearly 100 miles of trails allowing full access to the magnificent beauty of the ranch and its views of the Beartooth Mountains for riders or hikers . Additionally, the nearby Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness has more trails to explore than anyone might ride or hike in a lifetime. The wilderness designation means no motorized vehicles, which makes it ideal for horses and hiking. The Beartooths include the highest peaks in Montana with 25 peaks exceeding 12,000 feet. They are considered the most biologically unique mountain range in North America with over 400 species of plants. This wilderness area has over 300 mountain lakes - many loaded with trout.
The ranch had been operated as horse boarding facility prior to being brought to the market. The owners offered pasture and stable accommodations for as many as 140 boarders, with monthly rates ranging from $135 to $275. Much of the infrastructure is in place to reestablish this model if a new owner desired to do so.
Haying consists of two cuttings followed by aftermath grazing. Hay yields from the top producing fields average up to six tons per acre in normal years. Production typically includes 30,000± small square bales for horses plus large round bales for outside hay sales. In the past, the horse boarding operation required approximately 15,000 small squares bales annually. Typically, the hay production approaches 2,000 tons annually. There are additional dryland acres that can be hayed in years of adequate rainfall.
In addition to hay production, the ranch has taken in pasture cattle under various lease arrangements with local producers with rates varying from $29/AUM to $39/AUM depending on the type and breed of cattle. The number of cattle has ranged from 400-700 during the grazing season over the last several years.
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