Still in Love
In January 1970, the Game and Fish Commission completed the purchase of the 7,900-acre Bud Love Wildlife Habitat Management Area eight miles northwest of Buffalo. Located on the eastern flank of the Bighorn Mountains and created from a portion of the historic UM Ranch, it has long provided a winter home to elk, mule deer and other wildlife, and was once the summer home of one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars.
“The Bud Love WHMA is a premier property owned by the Game and Fish Commission,” said Sheridan Region habitat and access coordinator Seth Roseberry. “It is unique with its geology and topography, providing lots of mahogany ridges with large, grassy areas and creek bottoms to provide habitat for a variety of species. The area provides fishing, upland bird and big game hunting, photography, hiking, horseback riding and access to federal and state lands, all while providing critical habitat seasonally and year-round for a variety of native wildlife.”

Bud Love WHMA, located 6 miles northwest of Buffalo, is open to hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. (Photo by Patrick Wine, WGFD)
Push for purchase
The local hunting public began advocating for purchase of the property as early as 1962 when the UM Ranch was offered for sale by owner Mildred Tarbet after the death of her husband, Clarence.
“This ranch…has the most appropriate winter pasture to be found anywhere on the Bighorns. We wish you would make the utmost attempt to purchase this ranch…,” wrote Harry Washut with the Johnson County Sportsmen’s Association to state game warden James White in July 1962.
“(It) is the greatest desire of all sportsmen in this area to at least be able to maintain the present elk herd if not increase them.”
Washut and fellow sportsmen members Larry Keffer and Robert Trebelcock followed up with an in-person visit to Game and Fish headquarters in  Cheyenne in March 1963 to White and Game and Fish lands manager Joe Zachritz. It is possible they carried with them a petition, as White noted in a letter soon after that he was in possession of hundreds of signatures of local and out-of-area hunters, urging purchase of the property.

Buffalo Game Warden Bill Morris compiled a biological report to White on April 2, 1963 providing information about the ranch and outlining possible benefits to wildlife, hunters and anglers if the property was acquired.
“A herd of between 100 and 200 elk are present upon the lands nearly the entire year…during the winter months this herd increases to about 400 animals,” he wrote. “The ranch is a very good winter area for these animals and includes some timbered slopes which the elk frequent during the daytime, working into the lower range at night and on stormy days. The ranch has been well managed and there is a good variety of grasses as well as the browse plants found in the Bighorn foothills.”
However, after much discussion the Commission decided against purchasing the ranch at their May 2, 1963, meeting.

“Our decision was that it would not be possible for our Department to consider purchase of the entire holdings because of the large amount of money involved, and because of improvements and irrigated lands which would be surplus to our needs,” wrote Commissioner Steve Jiacoletti to realtor Frank Long in May 1963. “In the event that it is decided to sell this ranch in parcels rather than in its entirety, we might consider buying that portion of the ranch which would be more important to us for game management.”
The UM Ranch was purchased the following year by Edward Kimbrough “Bud” Love. A St. Louis native, Love began visiting the Bighorns in 1914 as a young boy when he came with his family to spend time at the Teepee Lodge dude ranch near Big Horn.
“He liked it so much he wanted to continue to come out and he did,” said his daughter Christy Love, who continues to own and operate the UM Ranch adjoining the Bud Love property. “When he married and began his own family, he brought us to the Bighorns and we would stay at Paradise Ranch above Buffalo from 1948 until he bought the UM Ranch in 1964. He moved to the ranch and lived in the Taylor Cabin rather than the ranch house the Tarbets had lived in. The cabin had all the amenities and was in a spectacular location.”
Love died unexpectedly in January 1968. A portion of the ranch became available for purchase and the Commission began talks with the Love family to buy the property. An offer was accepted and on Jan. 21, 1970, the sale was finalized. The area was named Bud Love in his honor.
A wise investment
“It seemed to me it was in pretty darn good shape when we bought it,” said Roger Wilson, retired Game and Fish wildlife biologist who worked in the Sheridan Region from 1970-1995. “I got up there on horseback the first or second year after the purchase and I was impressed with it. It was a nice piece of land.”
Wilson’s initial impressions were validated in 1972 with a detailed range inventory and analysis done in early summer 1972 by Game and Fish habitat biologist Gary Butler that looked at carrying capacity, forage, habitat types, animal numbers and distribution, soils, geology and more. His report noted ample water supplies, range conditions that varied from good to excellent and documented 33 species of grasses, 74 forbs and lichens and 25 tree and shrub species.
Another study was initiated 15 years later at Bud Love and surrounding areas to determine where and when elk were using this diverse habitat throughout the year. Between February 1986 and March 1989, wildlife biologist Bruce Johnson trapped elk in areas near North Rock and
Shell creeks on the Bud Love and on the HF Bar and Paradise guest ranches. Radio-tracking collars were fitted on 31 elk and 38 additional elk were marked with white or yellow numbered, vinyl neckbands allowing for visual identification in the field. Fourteen of the collared elk and 28 of the banded elk were trapped on Bud Love.
In following years the radio-collared elk were spotted 888 times by Game and Fish personnel during flights or from the ground. In addition, U.S. Forest Service personnel and members of the public shared sightings of neck-banded elk. Johnson’s final report noted the majority of elk in the study used the Bud Love during the winter or early spring.

“Twenty elk were radio-collared on either the Bud Love or Shell Creek and data was obtained from 13 of these animals for more than one year. All of the radio-collared elk found on Shell Creek in fall moved to the Bud Love by December or January,” wrote Johnson. “All radio-collared elk on Hunter Mesa moved between winter range on Hunter Mesa and the face of the mountains both winters. Eight of nine were located on the Bud Love at least one time and only No. 2311 was never observed there.”
He wrote that one elk made an impressive 32-mile journey from Bud Love to the southwest side of Hazelton Peak.
Popular place
Bud Love WHMA has five man-made ponds, three of which are stocked with rainbow or brook trout. (Photo by Patrick Wine/WGFD)
Like most of Wyoming’s WHMAs, 75 percent of the money for the Bud Love purchase came from the federal government via Pittman-Robertson Act funds. The federal program, which began in 1937 and remains in effect today, collects a small excise tax on firearms and ammunition and distributes the money to states for wildlife conservation.
In accordance with Pittman-Robertson funding requirements, the property is managed primarily for the purpose of its acquisition, which is the conservation of big game winter range. To support this goal, it closes annually from Jan. 1-May 14 to protect wintering elk and other wildlife from unnecessary disturbance. Game and Fish personnel manage the property and it is owned by the Game and Fish Commission, which pays all applicable local taxes.
“One of the things that makes Bud Love unique is that it is so close to Buffalo,” Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman said. “From town, you can be there in 10 minutes. It is also a multipurpose unit. It is always very busy with hunters the first week of deer and antelope season in the fall, and the ponds are stocked by Game and Fish so there is good fishing access in the spring, summer and fall. Once it opens on May 15, I don’t think there is a day that goes by that there isn’t someone out there. Even in bad weather, someone is usually hiking, hunting, fishing or looking at wildflowers.”
Work continues
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and partners continue to remove old fencing at Bud Love WHMA to make the area safer for people, horses and wildlife. (WGFD photo)
The 50-year anniversary coincides with several habitat improvement projects that have taken place on Bud Love this year. In May 2020, in partnership with the Plank Stewardship Initiative, 30 young cottonwood trees and willows were planted in existing or newly constructed wildlife exclosures. The exclosures protect the young plants from hungry deer and elk and will be removed when the plants reach maturity.
A month later, a dozen volunteers from the Wyoming Wilderness Association, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers removed a half-mile of old barbed and woven wire corral fencing which was a hazard to wildlife, horses and humans. Future removal projects with other conservation partners are planned to remove an additional two miles of fence.
“Because the Bud Love was part of a working ranch until it was acquired in 1970, it still poses some of the annual maintenance and improvements all large-scale properties do,” Roseberry said. “The access roads and parking lots require repair, the hay meadows and water rights are still utilized to provide added forage and cover for wildlife, fences need to be maintained and old pasture fences that are no longer needed are still being removed.
“In a lot of ways we are no different than our neighbors that surround us. We manage invasive weeds to protect habitat, we irrigate to produce forage, we maintain roads and fences and we provide outdoor recreation to a variety of users. I feel our ability to maintain that working relationship with our neighbors and the understanding of each other’s operations is what makes the management of these WHMAs by the department unique and successful.”

— Christina Schmidt is the Game and Fish public information specialist in the Sheridan region. She is a regular contributor to Wyoming Wildlife.

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