Whether you are a committed big game hunter, a wildlife photographer, or simply a nature enthusiast, understanding a property’s wildlife population is an important issue to consider when searching for ranches for sale in Colorado. Elk, deer, sheep, moose, and pronghorn are some of the most iconic and unique species in the American West, and many ranch buyers would prefer to have several of the species either living on or regularly visiting their future property.
While there are numerous methods to determine the quality and presence of big game on a ranch, the state of Colorado has a very convenient and user-friendly tool that is an excellent starting point for preliminary research on a property’s wildlife and big game: Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado Hunting Atlas. As you can tell from its name, the Hunting Atlas was designed primarily to assist hunters with planning their hunts for elk, deer, pronghorn or other big game. However, even for a non-hunter, the site is a treasure trove of useful information on wildlife, habitat, migration patterns, and other interesting data.
On its most basic level, the Hunting Atlas allows you to zoom into any specific area of Colorado, and then, by toggling through a series of map “layers,” the user can see which big game species frequent the area in question. You can also toggle between Google street maps, high resolution satellite images, or USGS topographical maps. Just recently, the site introduced the option of viewing U.S. Forest Service Motor Vehicle Maps, which can be helpful information not just for hunters, but for hikers and ATV riders as well.
For example, above is a screenshot from a Hunting Atlas search around Red Hill Ranch, one of our listings located near Fairplay, Colorado. On this particular map, I zoomed into the ranch’s general vicinity (it is located in the middle of the screen, just north of Highway 285), toggled the map to an aerial satellite image, and selected the elk layer on the right hand side of the screen. As you can see, the area is prime elk habitat year round: The blue layer represents elk winter range, the pink represents elk summer range, the purple layer shows an overlap of the winter and summer ranges. You’ll also notice a blue striped section in the bottom right corner, which shows a winter elk concentration area (a “concentration area” designates a location where the animal density is 200% higher than surrounding areas). Finally, the red arrows show elk migration patterns, which indicate that elk have historically moved through Red Hill Ranch during their seasonal migrations.
Above is another screenshot showing the presence of moose at the Jensen Ranch, a listing near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. By zooming in near the ranch and enabling the moose layer to the left, you can see that much of the Elkhorn Creek drainage is a “Moose Concentration Area.” While it is always nice to have photos and stories of large moose frequenting the Jensen Ranch, it is also very beneficial to have third party validation of the animals’ presence. I always recommend that buyers double-check all claims of “trophy wildlife” against this atlas, as it isn’t uncommon for people to exaggerate or overstate the game population.
The two examples above only scratch the surface of the capabilities of the Colorado Hunting Atlas. My recommendation to ranch buyers wanting a better understanding of the wildlife in their area of interest is to spend some time getting to know this site. The tutorial video below will help you get started and will educate you as to some of the main features of the atlas: