Making it in Big Sky: Covered Wagon Ranch
By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – When you stay at Covered Wagon Ranch in Big Sky, you’ll be sleeping in authentic, hand-built cabins constructed by original owner Vic Benson Senior back in 1925. The guest ranch has been functioning as a working ranch since then, and welcoming visitors seeking a unique Montana ranch experience ever since.
In 1992, Covered Wagon Ranch was bought from the Bensons by Will King, who developed the business’s horse program, and built the Main Lodge, the Rec Hall, the barn and several additional cabins. This allowed them to grow and offer their full range of dude ranch services through their decades in operation.
Today, the ranch is owned by Kurt and Melissa Puckett who operate the ranch alongside their sons Braxton, 7, and Sawyer, 4. Both from ranching families, the couple are devoted to sharing the passion they have for horses and the outdoors with their guests. Explore Big Sky spoke with Melissa about what the ranch offers and looks like today.
The following responses have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: Tell me a little about yourself, how did you end up in Big Sky?
Melissa Puckett: I am a native Montana girl. I grew up in central Montana. My family has been ranching and farming there since the early 1900s. I moved to Big Sky in 2011 when Kurt (my husband) and I had the opportunity to come in as a partner in Covered Wagon Ranch and bought the previous owners out in 2013.
EBS: Tell me a little bit about the history of covered Wagon Ranch? How did you first become involved?
M.P.: The ranch was started in 1925 by the Benson Family. Will King came into the picture in 1983 and created a horse program and built our main lodge. Kurt went to work for Will King in 1998 and continuing working through the change of ownership in 2005 and left in 2008. In that time frame Kurt did every aspect of work on the ranch including managing it. After he left, the ranch was missing something—Kurt. Everyone knows he is a big part of the Covered Wagon Ranch and when Debi and JT (the previous owners) decided they wanted to sell it they knew exactly who they wanted to sell it to.
In 2011, we came in as a partner and in 2013 we had the opportunity to buy them out. We are both social and love the outdoors but what we believe has made the ranch a successful one is that we both grew up in ranching families and horses were a big part of our life. I am both a Certified Equine Massage Therapist and [a pulsed electromagnetic field] Practitioner and Kurt prides himself in horsemanship and training to be the best in our industry. Over the last 10 years, we have built a horse program we are known for worldwide and are recognized for holding our horses at high regard. In addition, we are a family-oriented business and continue to keep the traditions the Benson’s, Will, JT and Debi alive.
EBS: What kind of services and experience does the ranch offer?
M.P.: We are a guest ranch that specializes in horseback riding. We are known for our trail riding and our horses. A lot of the guests that come to the ranch are experienced horsemen. We ride on a lot of different country and run three trucks and trailers every day, which allows you to see a lot more country. We have a lot of avid hikers and fly fishers that visit the ranch too, due to the location.
EBS: What is your favorite memory and/or favorite part of running the business?
M.P.: We have all walks of life that come to the ranch, people that normally wouldn’t interact in the real world, gain life-long friendships at the ranch and return year after year the same week with the same people. It doesn’t matter who they are at home, they all share a same interest, a love for horses and the outdoors.
EBS: Is there a story that stands out to you over the years of a guest that made you realize how much you love what you do?
M.P.: I would have to say our lifestyle and horses. People come to our ranch from all over the world because of our family and our horses. We have made some incredible horses over the years that we get to share with the public. Our family is such a big part of the ranch and what it is. We are a family owned and run business. This is our ranch, our life and our horses and we get to share it with some amazing people.
EBS: Is there anything else that I should know or that you want to tell the Big Sky Community?
M.P.: We love this area and the rich heritage the Benson family and the Covered Wagon Ranch has in this canyon. We are incredibly thankful to continue such great traditions to future generations and the public.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
M.P.: Love what you do and you will be successful in doing it.