Preserving the Timeless Prairie on a Family’s Montana Ranch

The ring-necked pheasant burst out of the sagebrush and streaked like a psychedelic comet toward the far bank of the Milk River. The flight was glorious but brief, for Jim Range swung his shotgun and fired. The bird tumbled and dropped into a stand of buffalo berry, under a transparent moon that lingered in the sky.

Tench, a German wire-haired pointer, and Bear, a golden retriever, boiled about at our knees and repeatedly plunged into the dense brush as Range, Bill Klyn and I pondered what might have become of the bird. Finally, I bulled my way into the thicket. I eventually found the pheasant. It lay gracefully curled into a nest of branches, five feet above ground.

The ring-neck is not native to the northern Montana prairie, yet this one seemed an apt symbol of the place where we were hunting, a 17,000-acre spread perched on the United States border with Alberta and Saskatchewan, and home to five generations of the Aageson family. To many – including some descendants of the homesteaders who routinely had their backs or hearts and sometimes both broken by the duress of farming – the prairie may seem a dry and God-forsaken place, painted in unrelenting tones of brown and dusty gray.


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