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Considering Buying a Ranch in Montana?

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Why are you interested in owning a Montana Ranch?

You may be searching for a Montana ranch for sale because you have become a fan of the show Yellowstone. Maybe your friends have recently purchased a ranch in Montana, and you want to learn about its appeal and what others are excited about. Perhaps you are seeking information regarding the ever-growing hype around Montana. Or you potentially want to invest in something tangible during uncertain economic times. I am Hyatt Voy, your Lewistown, MT Live Water Broker. I will walk you through the process of buying a ranch in Montana, highlight some of Montana’s offerings, things buyers ought to consider, the next steps, how to make money from ranches, and how a ranch broker like myself can assist you through the journey of buying a ranch in Montana.

What type of Ranch are you looking for?

      • A ranch for a retreat
      • A recreational hotspot
      • A family vacation property
      • A conservation project
      • An investment
      • A ranch to operate for making a living
      • A combination of the above

The answer or answers likely are the driving force for buying a ranch in Montana. Keep these desires in mind when looking at – things to consider and the best next steps.

Why Montana?

Montana is populated with historic ranches across a vast landscape, from majestic mountain views to sagebrush breaks and everything in between. The state is often referred to as Big Sky Country, God’s Country, The Treasure State, and other phrases, most showing evidence of the state’s greatness. There is a reason for all these slogans, but the reality is that it could be simplified by utter amazement and silent reverence once one has seen it. Home to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, positioned on the northern state line and the southern state line, respectively, the state has immense beauty that stretches between these parks and beyond. Montana is known for its tranquility, stunning views, wildlife, cowboys, ranches, great skiing, hunting, fishing, and low population.

When looking for a property in Montana, the primary aspects to consider are:

  • Location: Do you want to be near a town? How far is too far?
  • Size of nearby town: Do you prefer quaint historical towns or metro areas with plenty of business and service offerings?
  • Airports: Does a property’s proximity to a private or commercial airport make things easier or more attractive?
  • Hobbies: Do you ski, fish, hunt, golf, and/or wish to be surrounded by wildlife?
  • Onsite: What activities do you want to partake in on your property? Fly fishing, hunting, horseback riding, biking?
  • Turnkey: Are you willing to invest in home or habitat improvements to make it what you want, or do you want something ready?
  • Operational: Are you looking to have a production element – livestock or farming? These are commonly used for tax benefits and income streams.
  • Access: Are maintained county roads important?
  • Size of Property: What do you want it to offer? A broker can help determine the best property size based on location, livestock herd, tax advantages, budget, and what you intend to do on the property.

Recreational Opportunities in Montana:

The state, like anywhere, was not made equal – mountains, streams, ski hills, and lakes are not in every square mile of the state. If skiing is your thing, you’ll likely want to be near a powder-filled mountain. If fly fishing gets your blood flowing, you’ll likely want to be on a cold stream in Central, Southern, or Western Montana. If warm water fishing sets your hook, Central and Eastern Montana are areas for you. If hunting is what turns your crank, then you’ll likely want to be about anywhere…Not really, but every part of the state does indeed have its advantages. This is dependent on what species you’re hunting.

  • Snow Sports and Activities: Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, ice climbing, skijoring, hunting, and ice fishing.
  • Mild Weather Sports and Activities: Water sports, animal viewing, golfing, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, rodeos, national park visits, concerts, festivals, fairs, fishing, hunting, and many more.

Only found in Ranch Country:

Many people can agree that the backbone of Montana is still the working agricultural people of the state. Most of the Treasure State is still owned by operators – these are the working people who own land to make a living through farming or ranching. Yes, plenty of true cowboys are out checking cows, fixing fences, feeding their livestock, and haying hours before most people are awake and hours after many go to bed. Cows outnumber people in the state by more than double. Rodeo and cowboys go hand-in-hand, which is why you’ll notice large signs with rodeo dates near the entrance of many small towns.

Steps to bring your Montana ranch dream to fruition:

  1. Know roughly what you want based on hobbies and aspirations
  2. Create a list of questions for a broker
  3. Call a broker who knows the state well
  4. Visit properties and be educated on water rights, easements, privacy, property background, nearby amenities, etc. (a professional broker will make your life much easier on the journey to fulfilling your dream)
  5. Purchase a property

What types of properties are in Montana?

Operational farms and ranches, homes, investment properties, and recreational properties comprise the bulk of properties in Montana. With the demand for Montana growing, one could argue that all these are investments, but it depends on what drives one to buy in Montana. The secret is out, and Montana is the “last best place.” People searching a “Montana getaway property” is an upward trending ask on Google, varying from ranchettes to $150M ranches.

Price of land for sale in Montana?

The price of land for sale in Montana is variable, as it is anywhere. Raw ground (land without dwellings) can range from $300 to $50,000+ an acre. A broker that knows what you want can help give you an idea of your vision’s price range. Not all 100-acre or 100,000-acre properties are made equal. As the saying goes, “location, location, location,” but there’s much more to it than that. Below are some of the most common things that dictate pricing on farms/ranches.

  • Size: Typically, the smaller the tract, the more per acre. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a common rule of thumb.
  • Proximity to amenities: This certainly affects the price in Western Montana but not nearly as much in Central and Eastern Montana. You tend to see inflated prices closer to larger metro areas due to the convenience value, but not as much near small or medium-sized towns.
  • Beauty: A pretty subjective way of adjusting a ranch’s price. Is that view worth x to you?
  • Water rights: A fantastic seeming property isn’t worth much without water. This becomes more important the bigger a place is or the more livestock you need to water. Irrigating can help to increase production, sometimes by as much as 3 times compared to dryland (non-irrigated), but that’s not possible if you don’t hold the proper water rights.
  • Production: A couple of common production categories are livestock and farming. The value of how many cows, sheep, or other livestock a property can sustainably feed or raise. A value put on how many tons of hay or bushels of grain a property raises annually.
  • AUM capacity: This is the amount of air-dry forage a 1,000-pound cow and her un-weaned calf will consume (the ‘Animal Unit’) in one month. Essentially, it is the carrying capacity of a property based on grasses (feed).
  • Mineral rights: These vary from having a lot of value in places like NE Montana, where the Bakken oil field lies, to little value. Landowners value these rights even if they don’t have much in terms of dollars under the surface of their property. This is because a mineral right holder does not need permission to access your property in search of gold, mining gravel, or drilling for oil. This could result in a loss of privacy, habitat, and production, amongst other things. This is one of those things that is likely worth paying extra for peace of mind. Many properties are sold with conveying mineral rights but not all.
  • Recreational value: Again, it’s subjective, but it’s not uncommon for this to more than double the property price based on agriculture value. Five thousand acres of scattered timber with prairie grasses and 400-inch bull elk may only be worth $1,000 an acre for a working cattle operation. Still, the recreational value could easily be $2,500 an acre due to the quality of elk.
  • Improvements: These vary from updated fencing, lovely homes, new barns, wildlife habitat work, stream restoration, water development, etc. To some buyers, a $1M home has almost no value, whereas, to others, it is the deciding factor. Wildlife improvements will likely have more value to a hunter than they will to an operator (farmer or rancher).
  • Demand: Montana is a large state, so there are many different markets. We commonly refer to these larger markets as – Western, North Central, and Eastern Montana. Within each of these markets, there are hotter areas than others. These “hot” areas are driven by demand as they are anywhere else. As of this writing, we are seeing an increase in demand for what has historically been a quieter market, Eastern Montana. Having met with countless appraisers and brokers in the last week, most feel this demand will continue ramping up.
  • Inventory: There is no doubt that there are more buyers than sellers in much of Montana. It can take some patience to find everything you want in one property. Others want a piece of Montana so badly that they are willing to go through their checklist and make adjustments to find an active property on the market that meets most of their wishes.
  • Privacy: Again, quite subjective. In Montana, most people cherish having breathing room. Some things that may increase privacy on a ranch: are being in the mountains, in a low spot surrounded by rolling hills, bordering National Forest Service, the last property on the road, having no neighbors within miles, and not building on the property boundary. Typically, the larger the property, the more private it is.

How to make money from a ranch?

Agriculture – The fertility of soil changes a lot across the state. Growing wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils, hay, alfalfa, sainfoin, or other crops may be great on one property but not on the next. Not all ground can be farmed, but all ground can be grazed. Most ranchers make a living by grazing cows on the native grasses that grow and planting hay in areas where the production makes sense. Hay is then fed to livestock during the winter months. If you buy a property, here are potential revenue options:

  • Hiring a ranch manager to keep the property a working ranch
  • Leasing the grazing to another rancher
  • Leasing the tillables or farm ground to a farmer
  • Leasing the hunting rights to an outfitter or private party
  • Building cabins and renting them out
  • Selling the conservation rights (easement)
  • Carbon Credit
  • Logging

Many programs help farmers/ranchers financially through conservation efforts and habitat restoration. Someone like myself would be glad to assist in unlocking revenue potential on a property.

We at Live Water Properties would be happy to help answer any questions you may have and/or assist you through the process of buying a ranch in Montana. Let me help you find the property that best aligns with what you want and your budget. I am eager to find you a place, whether on or off the market. I keep my finger on the pulse of active buyers and potential sellers alike, actively knocking on doors to stir up additional properties for my buyers. I may know of a good candidate that isn’t being marketed now. Otherwise, I am ready to seek out that specific property for you.

Hyatt Voy is licensed in Montana and can be reached by email at

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