The annual “Best Towns for Sportsmen” feature has been an institution at multiple blogs and magazines for the past five years. Local newspapers even praise their towns’ inclusion within the ranking; and realtors feel obligated to order extra copies of the issue based on the reader’s arguments.
Instead of focusing on the socio-economic data, we’re going to hunt and fish this year. On the following pages, you will find the top places in the U.S. where we would live based solely on their outdoor opportunities. Many have bass and deer, others elk and trout or ducks and redfish. From sea to shining sea, these towns offer some of the best hunting and fishing in the country.
Number 1 – Appleton, WI
Appleton was settled by trappers and fur traders who came up the Fox River in search of lucrative beaver pelts. Today, Fox River Valley attracts outdoorsmen and -women for its large whitetail deer population. In the past five years, Cheesehead hunters have logged 383 Boone and Crockett entries, making Wisconsin the nation’s top trophy whitetail hunting state. Within 50 miles of downtown Appleton, three different bucks have either broken or threatened Badger State records in the last three seasons. However, Appleton has much more to offer than treestands.
A premier walleye fishing spot is nearby Lake Winnebago and the Fox River, which runs through town. Fishing for smallmouth bass and muskies is excellent in Green Bay, 30 minutes away. Located 70 miles to the south, Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country. Every fall, the region is inundated with tens of thousands of geese. Sixty miles to the north, the 661,000-acre Nicolet National Forest, home to deer, bears, and grouse, is one of the last true wild places in the northwoods.
Number 2 – Venice, LA
This is not the place for you if you prefer your saltwater rimmed by white sand beaches, palm trees, and tiki bars. This tiny community at the mouth of the Mississippi River, however, appeals to hunters and fishermen who love to hunt and fish 24/7/365.
Venice remains arguably the greatest fishing and hunting spot in North America despite its infamy as the epicenter for both Hurricane Katrina and Deepwater Horizon.
It took competitors more than two hours to row down the Mississippi from New Orleans to Venice in order to fill their livewells with largemouths during the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. Recreational fishermen, however, flock to the area for world-class redfish and speckled trout fishing. There are not many places in the country where you can catch fish every time you go out on the water.
You will find a bounty of big game fishing opportunities around the offshore gas and oil rigs if you get bored in the marshes. They include marlin, tuna, sailfish and swordfish. Approximately 14 percent of the country’s wetlands are located in this region of southern Louisiana, which marks the start of the teal season.
Number 3 – Rapid City, SD
With its 67,000 residents, this gateway to the ruggedly beautiful Black Hills region of western South Dakota offers a wide variety of hunting and fishing opportunities. There are brook, brown, and rainbow trout in mountain lakes and cold water streams west of town. Largemouth bass, pike, and panfish can be found in the nearby prairie reservoirs and stock dams. Several seasons offer hunting opportunities. There are whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, and Merriam’s turkeys roaming the mountains. The prairie chickens, pheasants, and sharptails are all within driving distance. In the grasslands, you will find pronghorns, coyotes, and prairie dogs.
Number 4 – Toccoa, GA
Tucked into the southeastern corner of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Toccoa is 15 minutes from the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area, home to deer, turkeys, bears, squirrels, rabbits, and wild hogs. Lake Russell is stocked with trout, and nearby Lake Hartwell has hybrid stripers, brown trout, and crappies.
Number 5 – Grand Junction, CO
Magnificent mesas and endless elk–Grand Junction’s breathtaking scenery makes the perfect backdrop for chasing public-land bulls. Numerous alpine trout lakes keep local anglers busy.
Number 6 – Saratoga, WY
With the North Platte River running through downtown Saratoga, your next trout is never more than a cast away. Elk, deer, and pronghorns roam the mountains and prairies around town.
Number 7 – Cody, WY
Cody is heaven on earth for big-game backcountry mountain hunters. Mild weather means more opportunities to chase bighorns, elk, mule deer, and pronghorns.