The Big Horn River Nature Retreat - Opportunities
Recreational & Sporting Opportunities
The riverfront acreage is the heart of the property, making up roughly half the deeded land, perhaps 240 acres, primarily in the southern and eastern portions of the Big Horn River Nature Retreat. The property includes lush bottomland with huge stands of mature cottonwoods, grassy hidden meadows, wetlands areas and heavy brush cover. In some areas, this habitat runs a half-mile deep, leading down toward the Bighorn River.
The main block of this native pasture is in the south-central portion of the property beyond the irrigated crop ground and behind long rows of trees and brush that parallel irrigation canals. Several large sheltered meadows have been tilled and leveled for flood irrigation. These hidden parks are ideal as wildlife feeding grounds. Flanked on the west is a large waterway, a side channel of the Bighorn River. Across this channel is (leased) island land, thick with trees and brush, which includes the State island lease.
Further south are more cottonwood stands and a scattering of juniper, together with Russian olive and other trees and shrubs. These uncounted hidden parks include multiple wetlands and dense areas thick with willows and brush. Fronting on long stretches of the Bighorn River, these areas form extraordinary bottom-land habitat for wildlife.
Most of the Bighorn River frontage is readily accessible, with several sites suitable to launch a canoe or drift boat. The riverbank varies, but recreational possibilities abound. Notice that the deeded land, in addition to bordering the main channel of the Bighorn River for nearly two miles, also borders a major river side channel for another mile.
The Yellowtail Dam was constructed roughly sixty miles upriver from the property in 1965. This has “tamed” the Bighorn and serves to establish and maintain a stable water flow.
A Variety of Native Wildlife
Wildlife is abundant both on and around the property. Numerous whitetail deer and lesser numbers of mule deer are present throughout the year. Also, several elk make this area their residence throughout the year.
The Big Horn River Nature Retreat offers the privacy and seclusion necessary to maintain high wildlife populations, with heavy cover both on the Big Horn River Nature Retreat (between the River and Highway 47) and east, across the Bighorn River, where native bottoms quickly climb into rugged foothill country with no roads, homes or improvements for several miles. While to the west is Pine Ridge, a vast block of rugged timbered country, known for trophy-class elk and mule deer hunting.
There are few areas of Montana that offer the abundance and diversity of wildlife as do the lower reaches of the Big Horn River. The Big Horn River Nature Retreat delivers as a recreational property, due to its unique layout with over 2 miles of river frontage bordered by cottonwoods and its highly productive irrigated cropland and game fields which attracts and is home to a diversity of native wildlife.
The deep backwaters of Yellowtail Dam form Big Horn Lake, providing excellent fishing as well as countless miles of water recreation. The tail waters of the dam create an outstanding trout fishery for 20 or more miles. The Big Horn River Nature Retreat is located within an one-hour drive of the world famous trout fishing on the upper Big Horn River and the Big Horn Lake where a variety of public boat access and guide services are available. The 21 miles from the Yellowtail Dam tail waters to Saint Xavier, is considered to be one of the finest trophy Brown and Rainbow Trout fisheries in the lower 48 states. The dam has had a profound and beneficial impact on the rest of the river as well. The Yellowtail dam has "tamed" the river, enabling it to achieve a stable water flow thus providing landowners with a reliable, abundant, and inexpensive source of water.
The Bighorn River is an excellent fishery as it flows past the Ranch. For brown and rainbow trout, best times to fish are primarily during cooler weather while during summer months for warm water species: smallmouth bass, sauger, catfish, shad, burbot or ling and carp all common catches.
The Yellowstone River is just 16 miles north. While to the south, between Hardin and Fort Smith, the Bighorn River is classified as a world-class trout fishery. Beyond Fort Smith, backed up by the Yellowtail Dam, Bighorn Lake dominates a spectacular mountain valley.
A Multitude of Bird Species
The confluence of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Rivers is known throughout America for its waterfowl populations. In the spring and fall, the lower Big Horn and mid-Yellowstone rivers host one of the central flyway's largest migratory waterfowl populations. Lying at the lower end of the Big Horn Valley, its fields are among the first stopping points for waterfowl on their daily feeding flights coming off these two rivers. During peak migration, over 100,000 Canadian Geese, which include four subspecies, and 150,000 Ducks, pass through this area. And, it is especially notable that there are two producing bald eagle nests on the property.
The Big Horn Nature Retreat also has Ring-necked Pheasant, Partridge, and Wild Turkey. The Big Horn River is also recognized as an area of importance to wintering Bald Eagles. Wild turkeys are common; several flocks can often be sighted during a drive through the property. Along with an abundance of pheasant, huns and sharptails can often be seen feeding in the irrigated lands, along with a variety of other game birds.
And for the horseman, the property itself is ideal for family use and horseback riding. While nearby wild lands in Custer National Forest offer convenient backcountry opportunities to the more experienced rider. Also, note that the Prior Mountains to the south are home to one of our nation’s largest and most viable wild horse Mustang populations.
The Big Horn River Nature Retreat is located in the center of one of Montana's most productive irrigated farming regions, and is in an area known for its outstanding recreational features. The area's fertile river bottom soils produce a variety of crops.
Approximately 230 acres are currently under irrigation. The bulk of this is in tilled farm ground; with an appealing mix of alfalfa, sugar beets, corn and grain crops. The deep river bottom soils found along this stretch of the Bighorn are very rich and fertile. Also included is some irrigated livestock pasture.Sugar beets, corn for silage, pinto beans, wheat, barley and alfalfa are commonly grown. Farms and ranches in this area have been tightly held and the few recent changes in ownership involved individuals seeing a solid agricultural and or recreational holding.
The ranch has been leased for several years to a neighbor on a crop/cattle share lease. Presently some of the irrigated land is being utilized for pasture, as is the river bottom and native range. There is also a small feed lot on the ranch.
Water rights are utilized out of the Two Leggins Canal, allocated to 244 acres. Currently used for flood irrigation, with water dispersal achieved via a series of ditches and canals. Also included are forty-eight 30-foot sections of (movable) irrigation pipe. Two Leggins Canal was constructed in the 1950's to improve water use efficiency; some maintenance fees are required. The (2011) annual water district charge was around $3,200.00.
The DNRC web page shows the Ranch holds Reserved Claim Water Right # 43P-5447-00 for 20.0 Cubic Feet per Second out of the Bighorn River for Irrigation, dating to 07 May 1868.
The irrigated ground is primarily located in the northern half of the property. This is in the more open land, where the Ranch borders State Highway # 47 and County Road # 147A (Sorrel Horse Road). It is noted that some minimal amount of the acreage lies further north, adjacent but across these roads. Primarily dryer grassland, along some sandstone rims, with a scattering of juniper and brush.
For 2011, the recreational field acreage is planted in alfalfa, corn, barley, milo and millet.
Climate and Soils
Average annual precipitation is estimated to be in the 13.25-inch range with a frost-free growing season of approximately 125+ days. The Nature Retreat on the Big Horn River has good quality irrigated land, and inherently fertile soils. Temperature and moisture are the limiting production factors. The soils are alluvial in nature and vary from sandy clay loams on the upper bench, to heavier silty clay loams on the bottom-land.
The Big Horn River Nature Retreat has irrigation rights in the Two Leggins Irrigation District, out of the Two Leggins Ditch, for 244 acres. These water rights date back to incorporation of the district in the 1950's. The 2011 district water charge was approximately $3,200.