For Sale

Blacktail Mountain Ranch

$14,700,000 Dillon, MT 11,745± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is a 20,338± acre (11,745± deeded) native mountain landscape located in a well-guarded region of southwest Montana near the Idaho border. The topography extends from gently rolling sage-covered lands where dozens of flowing springs converge to form the upper watershed of Sage Creek, to the high alpine steppe environment to the north which hosts large pockets of conifer and aspen with snow-filled coulees that often last well into summer. The higher elevations adjoin the Blacktail Wilderness Study area and are pristine. The solitude is inviting for wildlife and it is very common to find elk, antelope, deer, black bear, Sage Grouse and some very large antlered moose. It is a region coveted by ranchers and conservationists. This is within the connective corridor that brings three wilderness complexes together and is critical to transitioning wildlife. The region is rich in nutritious forage and is reliable summer range for area ranchers which is demonstrated by the ranch’s ability to comfortably stock the ranch with upwards of 1,000 mother cows. The ranch is well-watered as emergent springs can be located in virtually every coulee providing ample stock water to keep livestock scattered. This water collectively forms Sage Creek which hosts a very pure population of native Westslope Cutthroat trout. The lands are accessed via a graveled county road stemming from Dell, Montana which is a 70-minute drive south of Dillon. Two small “cowboy” cabins have been nicely improved in recent years providing a comfortable place to stay and jump off into the higher elevations of the ranch. Views of the surrounding mountain ranges near and far are sweeping from the ranch and it is becoming increasingly rare to find places such as Blacktail Mountain Ranch that offer greater solitude in a vastly undisturbed landscape. It’s an ideal combination of summer grazing, recreational pursuits and conservation.

Just the Facts

  • 20,338± acres (11,745± deeded) covering a sprawling alpine environment
  • Miles of flowing springs provide ample stock water and converge to form the headwaters of Sage Creek
  • Summer grazing for upwards of 1,000 mother cows utilizing the deeded ground and BLM allotments
  • Strong mix of rolling topography including creek bottom, sage hills, timber stands and a high alpine basin which collectively creates diversity in plant species
  • Two small “cowboy” cabins that were tastefully remodeled in recent years
  • Stable surrounding private landownership with some of the country’s most reputable and large-scale operators
  • 70-minute drive to Dillon, two hours to Idaho Falls offering commercial air services
  • Active conservation play with adjacency to the Blacktail Wilderness Study Area and a corridor for Absolute solitude in a remote unsung basin of southwest Montana

General Description

As one approaches the ranch from the south off the graveled county road, the Sage Creek drainage broadens, and the topography begins to ascend into the Blacktails. Sage Creek begins to divide into smaller tributary streams erupting from the earth as springs in the vast array of coulees scattered throughout the basin. Neighbors are scarce and aside for a few cultivated fields and fences, the lands are in a pristine native state uninterrupted by humans.  

The county road terminates just inside of the ranch providing decent access most of the year. Aside from the depths of winter, the road remains in reasonable shape allowing access to the cabins on the south end of the ranch.  

Upon entering the ranch, the landscape begins to rise and fold over multiple valleys extending over the horizon. Two-track roads course through the lands providing 4-wheel drive and ATV’s convenient access to all corners of the ranch and through the large pastures that bifurcate the lands.  

The lower elevations begin at roughly 7,200 feet in elevation and rise to over 9,000. Heavier sage in the lower elevations dissipate as the topography rises giving way to pockets of dense timber and open meadows with subalpine fescue grasses. The creek bottoms are lined with stands of willows as springs emerge in great abundance from coulees, gathering as they flow downslope forming Sage Creek.  

The ranch is a natural canvas, abundant in beauty and native flora. This is a cowboy ranch, producing outstanding summer forage for the wildlife and livestock that reside there. One has a greater sense of privacy and isolation, far extracted from the influences of human development.

Broker's Comments

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is a large, high-elevation landscape positioned in a hanging valley at the headwaters of Sage Creek in extreme southwest Montana. The Blacktails are an “off the beaten path” mountain range with very little influence from the modern world. The private landowners have large-scale operations on some of the most noteworthy cattle ranches in the Northern Rockies. This area remains a very native state where cattle feed naturally through the season alongside volumes of wildlife. Total neighbors can be counted on one hand, while human influence is only noted by the roads one travels and the fencing that keeps livestock in the large pastures. It’s a place locked in time with a handful of ultra-wealthy landowners controlling the vast majority of private lands demonstrating good land stewardship through operations managed at a higher level. This region of Montana is off radar, extraordinarily quiet and naturally spectacular. The ranch is an amazing place to escape to during the summer and fall months, and a robust grazing operation ensures that one finds purpose in ownership on this magnificent landscape. 

Learn about the locale

Location

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is located 24 miles northeast of Dell, Montana, accessed by a graveled county road that terminates in the property. Commercial air service is provided in Idaho Falls, which lies roughly 100 miles south of Dell. Dillon resides 40 miles north of Dell and is the county seat for Beaverhead County offering a wide range of services including a fully equipped hospital, grocery stores, legal services, fly shops and banking. Dillon is also home to a small college, equipment and auto dealers, as well as a broad selection of saloons and restaurants. The small towns of Lima and Dell lie along Interstate 15 and cumulatively offer a handful of services such as a church, motel, gas, a school, and a surprisingly good selection of “home cookin’” restaurants. Dell also features a beacon- lit 7,000-foot paved airstrip with a private fuel depot. The airstrip was originally built to accommodate World War II bombers transferring across the U.S. to the Pacific theatre. It was fully reconstructed and brought up to modern standards about 15 years ago. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Bozeman, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park are all within a two-to three-hour drive.

Locale

The area is comprised of larger traditional livestock operations, with recreational properties coming on the scene as a broader cross-section of landowners have begun to appreciate the area’s amenities with its natural beauty and remoteness, well away from the more traditional recreation areas in Montana and Idaho. 

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is generally encapsulated by very large private holdings inclusive of some of the prestigious ranches of Le Cense, Matador, Turner, and others. Amidst the privately held lands is an abyss of state and federal lands that also include the Blacktail Wilderness Study Area which includes 17,479± acres of sensitive wildlands. Wilderness study areas (WSA’s) have many of the same characteristics as designated wilderness areas; the difference is that they have not been granted wilderness designation by Congress. WSA’s are protected from development, although not as stringently as wilderness areas, and contain ecologically important, beautiful, and untrammeled wildlands that rival those found in designated wilderness areas.   

South of the ranch lies the Centennial Valley. The valley expands east to west from Yellowstone Park for over 50 miles and is highlighted by the 45,000-acre Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The region is a centerpiece for conservation efforts, wild and rare species which are further preserved by the handful of multi-generational land stewards who dominate the private lands within this region.   

Climate

Annual precipitation averages 14 to 18 inches, usually coming as heavy winter snowpack which results in lush green summers with ample water reserves. The precipitation throughout the area varies from high amounts in the upper elevations, to a semi-arid environment in the lower basin floors which are often relatively snow-free in the winter. The ranch, located at 7,200 to 9,000 feet in elevation, has a short growing season and boasts comfortable summer temperatures and cool nights. 

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is comprised of roughly 20,000 acres with 11,745± of those deeded. The balance of acreage includes 640 acres of State of Montana and 8,895 acres of BLM leased lands that are part of a collective grazing allotment. 

Deeded Acres: 11,745±
State Leased Acres: 640±
BLM Leased Acres: 7,953±
Total Leased Acres: 8,593±
Total Acres: 20,338±

Improvements

The ranch is adequately improved as a summer cow camp with ancillary recreational use. Two small cabins on the south end of the ranch along the creek bottom recently were fully and tastefully restored to accommodate a “cow boss” and any additional summer labor or guests. The cabins are located adjacent to a set of working corrals.

The main cabin was built in 1900 and is approximately 748± square feet. This one-room cabin with entry porch includes a single bedroom and bath with full kitchen and pantry. Rough-sawn fir flooring was installed throughout and the main living area is highlighted by a large wood stove that supplements the heat. Rusted corrugated metal roofing caps both cabins maintaining the structural integrity and rustic appearance.  

The bunkhouse cabin is three bedrooms and one bath with a kitchenette and living area. This structure is utilized to pile a few people in when there are guests or additional workers on the ranch. Built in 1909, this building was similarly remodeled in recent times and serves perfectly for its intended use.  

The cabins are serviced by overhead utility with a spring box providing potable water from a source located immediately adjacent to the cabins.  

There are effectively five historical cow camps throughout the ranch that have various remnants of old cabins utilized by cowboys and hunters over the last century. Although these are not necessarily in usable condition, it may be appealing for a new owner to resurrect these camps for off-grid usage.  

Taxes

Annual taxes are approximately $7,586.

Learn about the recreational amenities

Wildlife Resources

The wildlife that inhabits the ranch and surrounding landscape is beyond ordinary both in quantity and diversity. Species such as sage grouse, which are ever decreasing in population throughout the west, thrive in this basin and are commonly found in large flocks all summer and fall as they return to their leks to raise their broods. Although not common, it would not be unheard of to see a grizzly bear roaming through the hills. Black bear are quite common in the timbered hills and along the creek bottoms during the fall. Antelope are always present throughout the region. Elk roam the Blacktails in strong numbers. In the spring when the snows recede, the elk are found in strong numbers on the ranch as they calve in the sagebrush hills on the lower elevations. Sagebrush is critical habitat for calving and the ranch serves the elk well during this time of year. They retreat to the higher elevations as summer burns on and can be commonly found during the fall rut in and around the stands of timber. As winter sets in, all the wildlife will migrate to lower elevations on winter range. For the hunter or wildlife enthusiast, there is a richness of game and non-game species alike.  

The water moving through the basin is a collection of small flowing springs that ultimately feed into a larger system that is the upper tributaries of the Missouri River. Genetically pure westslope cutthroat exist in these sensitive waterways. They can be easily caught in areas where the dense stands of willow open, allowing anglers to cast to these eager fish. The presence of westslope cutthroat speaks to the ecological value of this ranch.  

Recreational Considerations

For the avid equestrian, one could spend endless hours riding for work or pleasure. As a ranch, this is cowhand heaven being idyllic for daily operations to utilize horses to access all parts of this enormous landscape. Going beyond the ranch boundary is always an option as the public lands extend for thousands of acres and include the wilderness study area which will remain roadless.  

Although the use of a 4-wheel drive vehicle will allow passage on dozens of miles of two-track roads that bifurcate the ranch, the preferred method of wheeled travel would be a motorcycle or ATV. Adventure rides though the ranch and surrounding lands are quite enjoyable, and one can spend days or weeks exploring the landscape where motorized vehicles are permitted. Further, being remotely located far from any meaningful population centers, it is common to see few, if any travelers.  

The ranch is located in and around an abyss of public lands. One could spend a lifetime just exploring the immediate region to the ranch and always discover something new. To the south, resides the Centennial Valley which generally runs east to west. Within the valley the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge becomes the centerpiece of interest. This 45,000-acre refuge hosts multiple spring-fed lakes that are shallow enough to almost consider to be wetlands. The refuge is ecologically critical to the migration of the trumpeter swan acting as a staging area during their migrations. Joining them are tens of thousands of ducks and geese typically arriving in late October and early November. When these birds are encamped, the refuge is magical with the sheer volume of waterfowl that inundates it with over 250 bird species recorded. And of course, traveling with the migration are the raptors. Hunting and fishing are allowed on portions of the refuge for both waterfowl and big game. During the summer months, ornithologists travel from all parts of the earth to view the unique species commonly found here.  

Winter activities include Nordic skiing and snowmobiling. Alpine backcountry skiing in the Centennial is also quite popular.  

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

Blacktail Mountain Ranch is a summer grazing operation.  

There is a BLM grazing lease allowing for upwards of 4,455 AUM’s, and a section of state lease land adding 225 AUM’s totaling 4,680 AUM’s generally beginning in May through November. These allotments are separated into ten pastures of varying size combining with portions of the deeded lands. A large tract of deeded lands extends north to south through the ranch holding, generally following Sage Creek into the higher elevations and are excluded from the grazing allotment acting as the “base property” for the leased lands maintaining it accordance with the federal regulations.  

The ranch will typically ship 1,000 mother cows into the southern reaches of the ranch beginning in late May to early June. Of course, seasonal grasses are dependent on the weather conditions coming out of winter, so the start date will often vary. As the grasses progressively come on stronger into the higher elevations, the cattle are moved up chasing the oncoming grasses. By mid-October, the cattle are worked back down to the south end where the calves are weaned and shipped. Weather permitting, the bred cows will remain on the ranch through November working their way back north where they are trailed back to ranch headquarters on the north side of the range.  

The range is in outstanding condition and the seasonal stress from weather provides that the forage is packed in protein. Relatively cool summer temperatures offer an ideal climate for the herd to reside in and with an abundance of water, the livestock make efficient use of the forage and do not have to travel far to drink. Pasture fences are well-maintained, and new fencing is applied where needed most annually. Typically, calves will gain 2½ to 2¾ pounds daily off the strong mountain pasture grasses.  

There are roughly 120 acres of lands on the southwest end of the ranch that have historically been irrigated and still have tame grasses. A water right is associated with these lands and could be put to beneficial use on any given year. This is a simplified operation and has been under the sole oversight of a livestock manager who vastly operates the entire holding on his own. With little supplemental help, one cowboy with a strong work ethic, a truck and livestock trailer, a couple of good horses and an ATV attends to operations in a very low overhead manner.

It is possible that the stocking capacity might gain 20 percent or more if one were to add additional pasture fencing into the deeded lands and further develop the water resources to service them.   

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