Beartooth Ranch – Columbus, MT

Great article by in the Billings Gazette featuring quotes from Landon Phillips. The Beartooth Ranch was a great property, glad we could be part of the sale. View the full article at the Billings Gazette or read it here.

One of the primo properties in the Stillwater Valley, the Beartooth Ranch, has been sold after about two years on the market. Hall and Hall listed the 12,350-acre property about five miles south of Columbus in 2019 for $29.8 million. The ranch controls another 1,000 acres of state, private and federal leases, according to the listing. The sale price is confidential. According to Andy Rahn, of Montana Land Source, the ranch was the second large ranch transaction to occur this year. The sale follows record-setting land deals in Montana in 2021, with close to 1.2 million acres sold. Two ranches were the most expensive ever sold in state history, starting with the $136.25 million Climbing Arrow Ranch outside of Bozeman in September. That was followed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Matador Cattle Co. ranch near Dillon in December for $200 million. “The market is as strong as it’s ever been in history,” said Landon Phillips, of Phillips Realty in Lewistown, whose client purchased the Beartooth Ranch. “Everything on the market, if it’s blue chip property, moves pretty quickly.” And most of the buyers are carrying cash, so financing is never a problem.

Mad Max

The Beartooth Ranch gained wider attention in 1988 when actor-director Mel Gibson purchased the land from Vern Sanders, who was well-known for his cattle business. After the sale, a large rapid in the Stillwater River, just above the ranch bridge, was dubbed Mad Max. Gibson sold the property in 2005 to Kent and Pam Williams. Kent Williams founded Montana Silversmiths, a Columbus-based business that he sold in 1993. Phillips brought his Missouri buyer to the Stillwater Valley after searching across the state for nine months. Upon visiting the Beartooth Ranch, Phillips said it more closely aligned with what his buyer was looking for in terms of a well-cared for property close to town. It also provided the outdoor attributes the buyer was seeking, including elk, deer and gamebirds, along with four miles of the Stillwater River to fish. “It’s difficult to find something with trout to elk,” Phillips said.


Rahn speculated the property may have been slower to sell because of its location. “The ranch has multiple small private inholdings along the Stillwater River as well as two adjoining public fishing access sites,” he wrote on his website. “These factors negatively impacted the privacy and exclusivity of the ranch, which is what many buyers at the $30 million dollar range are looking for, and likely impacted the time it took the ranch to sell.” Randy Shelton, of Hall and Hall real estate, was the listing agent for the Beartooth Ranch. He said, “Two years actually is not a long time for a massive production ranch like this one to stay on the market.” The ranch also contains a 3,700-acre conservation easement at its south end, meaning development options are limited on that portion of the land. “The easement doesn’t have much impact on the value of the ranch, as the southeast portion is remote and would not be developable as its highest and best use,” Rahn wrote. The ranch is divided by Highway 78 and the Stillwater River. A private bridge provides access across the water to hay fields and upland acreage to the west. To the east the ranch extends through forested foothills and high prairie.

Top dollar

The sale was the largest Phillips has landed in his 12 years in the real estate business. “In the early days, I joined after the ’08 crash, at that time you really worked your tail off to make a sale,” he said. “Now, demand is so strong, and we’re seeing some properties double in price.” Last year’s hot market reduced ranch inventory by about half. So properties coming onto the market that are priced right and contain recreational amenities are quick to move, he said. There are still some large high-dollar properties on the market in Montana, including the 66,800-acre IX Ranch near Big Sandy listed for $66 million. Many of the buyers approaching Phillips are from the Midwest and Texas. A recent Missoulian story examining 2020 and 2021 tax returns showed newcomers to the state were often arriving from other populous western states including California, Washington and Colorado. “Montana just has an aura about it, it always has,” Phillips said.


Phillips praised Kent and Pam Williams for being good caretakers of the property. When they bought the land they converted it from a cattle operation to a horse ranch complete with stables. By combining Gibson’s adjoining 20,000-acre Beartooth Ranch to the property they already owned, the Williamses oversaw a spread of about 45,000 acres. “Pam and I were worried that if it got in the wrong hands, the valley would be subdivided and split up,” Kent told the Billings Gazette in a 2005 story. “We would like to maintain the valley and, if anything, improve it.” To the south for about seven miles runs the Joe Hill Creek valley. “It’s massive,” Phillips said, noting that when he drove his client onto the property two elk calves ran off from next to the cattle guard. The property includes the original 1949 one-and-a-half-story Victorian style ranch home, bungalow guest house, ranch office, shop and indoor riding arena. Other structures include a small show bar, new tack shed and two 30×30-foot garages. Subdivisions surround the ranch to the southwest, north and east along Shane, Whitebird and Countryman creek roads. Phillips said he preferred to look at the proximity of neighbors as a benefit rather than a detriment to the ranch. “It does give a nice community feel to the property,” he said. “As soon as you get off this property, to the west in the hills, you’re not seeing a soul. You can get as remote as you want pretty quickly.”

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