Stetson Stories: The Chase Home

By Briana Malmquist

Nestled in the foothills of the Mission Mountains outside of Ronan, Montana sits the home of the Cheff Guest Ranch and Legacy Outfitters, a fourth-generation run operation with strong family ties to the Mission Valley.

In 1933, at 18 years old, Bud and Adelle Cheff started taking clients hunting in the backcountry. They steadily grew the business into a successful guest ranch and fall backcountry hunting outfit. Their son, Mick Sr., and his wife, Karen, bought the ranch in 1979.

Mick Cheff III says, “I have been blessed to learn horsemanship and backcountry skills from my great-grandfather Bud, grandfather Mick Sr., and father Mick Jr. and I’m now a proud fourth-generation outfitter.” He and his wife, Kaylee, bought out one of the outfits in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in 2017 where they now take clients on summer fishing, scenic, and work trips. They have chosen to name their business “Cheff Ranch & Legacy Outfitters” to honor their family before them and all they have accomplished and passed down. In true family tradition, Mick and Kaylee also partner with Mick’s brother, Toby, on their outfitting business.

The ranch has rental cabins, it doubles as a wedding venue, and they offer daily horseback rides. Plus, since it’s a working ranch, there is always something to be done around the home base; training horses, fixing fence, putting up hay, and running cows.

Last year, Mick Cheff III put on roughly 3,000 miles in the saddle in 6 months’ time. He says, “as long as there is game to hunt, fish to catch, and mountains to climb, that is where I plan on spending most of my summer and fall months.”

The approximate 100 head of horses and mules are turned out on winter pasture in late November every year. The winter pasture is about 7,500 acres, giving the animals plenty of room to stretch their legs and stay in shape for the next season.

The Chase Home started in 1986 and has been a staple event in the Mission Valley every year since. On the day of the Chase Home, a few wranglers will meet out at the pasture in the early morning to gather the herd, starting at different ends and trying to cover the whole area to make sure they have all of the horses and mules. Once gathered, they hold the herd while some are caught and saddled and more riders join. With a whoop and a holler, riders take off across Sloans Bridge and the 24-mile Chase Home officially commences.

The herd moves at a good pace, usually making the 24-mile trek back to the ranch at the base of the mountains in 3-4 hours

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After the “Chase Home”, all of the horses and mules are sorted off to either go to various pastures around the valley or stay at the ranch for saddle breaking and spring rides. The Cheff’s do all of their own horse breeding and the horse lineage comes from Bud Cheff’s original herd back in the early 1930s.

Mick and Kaylee Cheff are also busy raising the fifth generation of outfitters. They have three children; Lucky (4), Toby (2), and Milly (9months).

“I have always loved being at the ranch growing up and being around the type of atmosphere it brings,” Mick remembers. “For as long as I can remember, I always felt like I needed to be helping my Grandpa and my Dad. If I wasn’t with them, I felt like I was missing out. I get a lot of joy out of all of the work.”

Mick gives a lot of credit to his high school sweetheart now wife, saying, “Really the only reason it all works is that my wife is a rock star and pushes me to be better every day. I feel like we are a really good team. It is my hope that we can keep the Cheff family tradition alive and really keep what my great-grandparents started going, continuing to share their story while we make ours.”

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