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6 Things To Consider When Buying a Ranch in Wyoming

November 4, 2020
  • Tips For Buying

Wyoming has many attributes that make it unique as a state and as a place to own land.  Hunting, fishing, and open spaces are abundant.  Financial opportunities come in the form of low taxes, cheap grass, and even secondary education. There are many benefits to owning land in Wyoming, depending on what you might be looking for in land ownership.  Below are 6 things to consider about Wyoming when looking for a ranch investment.

1.  Landowner Tags For Big Game Hunting

Wyoming has some of the best elk, deer, and antelope hunting anywhere in the US.  The problem with getting a chance to hunt these trophies is they are often found in areas that are very hard to draw a tag.  In Wyoming, if you own 160+ contiguous acres in the draw area, you are allowed 2 tags per family per said species per year (also including wild turkey).   There are some requirements that the land provides food, cover, and water for any species that landowner tags are applied for.  There must be demonstration that 2000 days of use has been utilized by the species in a 12-month period.  The complete information on landowner hunting regulations can be found in section 9 on the following link to chapter 44 of the Wyoming hunting regulations.


2.  NO State Income Tax

If you are searching for a place to buy a piece of land, it is worth noting that Wyoming does not collect personal state income tax!  This can be a huge advantage if you choose to make Wyoming your permanent state of residence.   Some states have a double-digit state income tax (California being the highest at 13.3% at the time of this writing).  Wyoming is one of 7 states that do not have a state income tax.

3.  A Great Place to Buy Space

Ranch-land per-acre prices vary widely around the country, and even within Wyoming.  They are determined by many factors including productivity, location, the overall size of a parcel, aesthetics, hunting, fishing or other recreation, water resources, etc.  Parts of Wyoming can have some very large ranches that seem relatively inexpensive compared to ranches in other areas and other states.  This may be because the land is not as productive, is a long way from a major town, and may have limited water or other resources.  This might not be desirable if you want to have a lot of income from grazing or farming, or if you like the country life within a short drive to many city amenities.  BUT, if privacy and seclusion are what you are after, Wyoming has it, and often at a seeming bargain price compared to surrounding states!   According to the 2019 USDA Land Values Summary, Wyoming has some of the cheapest dollar-per-acre land values in both pasture and cropland in the country.  Finally, having a lot of space implies fewer inhabitants.  Wyoming has the lowest population of any state in the country with less than 600,000 people.  It is the second least densely populated state with 6 people per square mile on average, second only to Alaska.  Over half of the land in Wyoming, around 55%, is public land, either state or federally owned.  This includes state parks, wilderness, forest service, and other land that is available for the public to hunt, fish, camp, and hike on.


4.  Surface Water Rights and Appropriation

Before buying land in Wyoming, a thorough search of water rights, if any, is very important to the value and sustainability of ranch production.  If water is available through a well for irrigation or stock water, it is important to find out how much the well will produce in gallons per minute (GPM).  This will help determine the value of the well water resource.  Surface water is different.  Instead of GPM, it is measured in cubic feet per second (CFS).  It is measured in a flume as it leaves a creek or river and enters an irrigation ditch.  The important thing to remember about surface water is the date or order of appropriation.  This tells you in what order you will receive your water.  Unlike underground water where anyone can access it at the same time, surface water may only run for a certain time of the year.  More importantly, each water right has an appropriation date as to when the water was filed for use.  If the water right is the oldest (or first one filed) on a particular stream, the owner of this right will be ‘first in line’ to use the water when it becomes available.  If it is a fairly new water right, even filed in the last 50 years, it may only come available after all other rights on the stream have received their water.  In particularly dry years, there might not even be enough water to satisfy all the rights on the stream, so the most recent claims may get no water at all.  Speak with a knowledgeable ranch broker or someone from the Wyoming State Engineer’s office if there are any questions about the appropriation of water on the land.

5.  Schools

Wyoming has some of the most affordable secondary education opportunities anywhere in the country.  Many out-of-state students attend the University of Wyoming because it is less expensive than paying in-state tuition in their own state!  Wyoming residents can enjoy even more affordable in-state tuition.  The Hathaway Scholarship is another financial incentive available to graduates from any Wyoming school and to any student who meets the minimum requirements.  Combine all of this with a relatively low cost of living, and Wyoming definitely has an advantage for the low cost of continued education.

6.  Weather Patterns

It is important to note the climate in Wyoming.  Because the Rocky Mountains cut right through the middle of the state, much of the land is at a high elevation ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level and even higher in some places!  It might come as a surprise to some people that corn and other crops will not grow in much of Wyoming’s short growing season, even with abundant water.  Alfalfa is a marginally successful crop with only one or two cuttings in some cases.  This will explain much lower cropland value, even under pivots with great water.  Cattle breed is another important consideration for high elevations.  High altitude sickness or ‘Brisket’ disease forces producers to carefully consider the breed of cattle they run, especially for long-term genetic input through bulls and replacement heifers.  Winters can also be harsh in Wyoming.  A lot of snow equates to higher winter feeding costs than some surrounding areas.  This can be offset, however, by cheaper summer grazing relative to Wyoming’s neighboring states.

Wyoming is very unique and diverse in landscape.  If you enjoy hunting, fishing, and wide open spaces, then Wyoming is a great place to look for land.  Lower living costs, education costs, and opportunities for cheaper grazing will add to the appeal!