How we determined the rankings Months of research went into compiling our list of the top 200 towns for sportsmen in America. We started by combing through every population center in the United States with more than 4,000 people. We gathered comprehensive data on the overall quality of life the towns offered. Some of the factors we considered were the growth rate of the local economy, the unemployment rate, the degree of taxation, the time it takes to commute to work, the crime rate, housing prices, median household income and even the variety of cultural opportunities within easy driving distance. Then we looked at how the towns stacked up purely from a sporting perspective (the grades for some of the categories are listed with each of our top 10 profiles). We rated them on the fishing and hunting opportunities each town offers, the trophy quality of the sporting opportunities, proximity to public land, the restrictiveness of the gun laws and whether the fishing and hunting is good year-round. We put all this into a massive database and developed a formula that gives slightly heavier emphasis (60/40) to the sporting opportunities than to the quality-of-life rankings. -John B. Snow Click
to view the top towns.
Our Methodology: How we determined the rankings Months of research went into compiling our list of the top 200 towns for sportsmen in America. We started by combing through every population center in the United States with more than 4,000 people. We gathered comprehensive data on the overall quality of life the towns offered. Some of the factors we considered were the growth rate of the local economy, the unemployment rate, the degree of taxation, the time it takes to commute to work, the crime rate, housing prices, median household income and even the variety of cultural opportunities within easy driving distance. Then we looked at how the towns stacked up purely from a sporting perspective (the grades for some of the categories are listed with each of our top 10 profiles). We rated them on the fishing and hunting opportunities each town offers, the trophy quality of the sporting opportunities, proximity to public land, the restrictiveness of the gun laws and whether the fishing and hunting is good year-round. We put all this into a massive database and developed a formula that gives slightly heavier emphasis (60/40) to the sporting opportunities than to the quality-of-life rankings. -John B. Snow Click HERE to view the top towns. Tom Bean
#1 Mountain Home, Arkansas Big-fish diversity in a laid-back Ozarks valley Leading Appeals: World-class fishing for trophy largemouth and striped bass, walleye, slab crappies and whopper trout in the White River and nearby Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes. Turkey, squirrels and whitetails- even timber ducks and black bear- occupy the Ozark National Forest Population: 12,215 Median Home Price: $92,900 Amenities: Excellent hospitals and schools, low crime rate, vibrant retail economy and cohesive community make this a great place to raise children or retire. Bottom Line: Few towns have this diversity of fishing or such close proximity to boat ramps and trailheads. Contact: enjoymountainhome.com The first time Henry Seay fished northern Arkansas’ White River Gorge he knew he’d buy a house nearby. That was seven years ago. Today the retiree from Phoenix owns a fish camp, Rim Shoals Resort, right on the bank of the trophy-trout stream. Seay still fishes the White River twice a week and adorns the walls of his business with evidence of his success, including mounts of brown trout pushing 30 inches. Trout fishing in north-central Arkansas rivals any Rocky Mountain destination. The White, Buffalo, Little Red and North Fork rivers boast hundreds of trout per mile thanks to the coldwater habitat below the region’s bottom-release dams. Mineral content in the water fuels growth rates. The Norfork River gave up a 38 1/2-pound brown trout two decades ago and the constellation of fly shops in the area are decorated with photos of 5- to 8-pound trout. Warmwater anglers have a playground west of town on Bull Shoals Lake, where walleye, bream, bass and crappie are caught in flooded timber and off rocky points. Norfork Lake’s striped and hybrid bass reach 30 pounds of scrappy, reel-screaming action. Click HERE to see #2. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. Rick Adair
#2 Lewiston, Idaho Heavenly opportunity at the bottom of Hells Canyon Leading Appeals: Glorious diversity of opportunity, from smallmouth bass and white sturgeon to 9 feet in the Snake River to strong runs of magnum steelhead in the Clearwater. On the terrestrial side, black bear, elk and deer (both whitetails and muleys) dominate hunting, turkeys are everywhere up the Clearwater and pheasants are numerous in the Palouse region to the north. Population: 31,293 Median Home Price: $144,700 Amenities: With five boat ramps located right in town, the sunniest city in the Pacific Northwest is also one of the most angler-friendly. Easy access to big game in National Forests in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Bottom Line: Steelhead dominate the headlines but hunting for upland birds- chukar, pheasant and grouse and quail- is terrific. Contact: lewistonchamber.org Hells Canyon might be the deepest, most forbidding gorge in North America, but the Snake River that carved it is an oasis of fishing opportunity. If you can navigate the boat-crushing rapids you’ll catch channel catfish, salmon, steelhead and smallmouth, plus sturgeon that weigh more than your fishing guide. Elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and deer cling to the canyon’s walls and wingshooters with good boots and better dogs hunt chukar partridge among the pumice and basalt cliffs. Lewiston lies at the bottom of the canyon, where the Snake flattens out and joins the Clearwater River on its way to the Columbia River. A series of locks and dams allows ocean-going ships to navigate the Snake to Lewiston, and if the barriers have reduced the runs of salmon and steelhead that enter Idaho, they have brought the Pacific Rim economy inland. You’ll find a river-running jetboat on every block and a hunting or fishing guide on every barstool. Click HERE to see #3. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. David R. Frazier
#3 Sheridan, Wyoming Wyoming’s affordable mountain town Leading Appeals: Abundant elk, moose and deer in the forested Bighorn Mountains just west of town, pronghorns to the east. The Tongue River transitions from a trout stream to a warmwater gem just north of Sheridan, and the gold-ribbon Bighorn River is just across the Montana line. Population: 16,429 Median Home Price: $108,500 Amenities: Vibrant Western art scene, old-fashioned downtown and destination golf courses framed by the jagged Cloud Peaks. Bottom Line: Locals say Sheridan is what Jackson Hole was like fifty years ago: unpretentious, affordable, neighborly and within a half-step of an expansive outdoor playground. Contact: sheridanwyoming.org Outside Sheridan, Wyo., you can cast a dry fly to alpine trout in the morning and troll for reservoir walleye in the afternoon. You can bugle in an elk on Saturday and bag a limit of pheasants after Sunday’s sermon. In this north-central Wyoming town, the prairie meets the mountains and the Old West’s traditions meet the New West’s chic. Dusty flatbed pickups share downtown parking spaces with gleaming Jaguars. But unlike that other Wyoming mountain town Jackson, home prices remain affordable in Sheridan and family restaurants still outnumber gourmet cafes. Just west of town the Bighorn Mountains offer endless hunting access and hundreds of miles of trout water in small streams and alpine lakes. To the east, antelope, mule deer and varmints abound on the prairie. A number of reservoirs- including crappie-rich Tongue River Reservoir and trout at Lake DeSmet- keep still-water anglers happy. The area is changing- large ranches are being bought by exiles from Hollywood and Wall Street- but Sheridan is still the sort of town where the locals wave whether they know you or not. Click HERE to see #4. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. dusansmetana.com
#4 Cody, Wyoming Gateway to Yellowstone Park Leading Appeals: Ready access to public fish and wildlife plus a vibrant economy driven by tourism and upscale businesses. Population: 9,217 Median Home Price: $128,200 Amenities: The Buffalo Bill Historical Center features five museums under a single roof, including the legendary Cody Firearms Museum. More consumptive tastes can be satisfied at Sierra Trading Post’s vast outlet store for outdoor gear and clothing. Plus, Cody boasts one of the best small airports in the West. Bottom Line: Trout, elk, wilderness and cowboy hats. This is the West at its accessible best. Contact: yellowstonecountry.org “Buffalo Bill” Cody knew all about the realtors’ mantra of location long before the advent of closing costs and sub-prime mortgages. The legendary showman staked out the townsite that later took his name knowing it would thrive in the shadow of Yellowstone Park. Cody’s modern visitors know it as a place to fill gas tanks and bellies before ascending to the park. Locals know it as a town on the edge of the largest wilderness complex in the Lower 48, where trout fin in sight of gas stations and bookstores, and where elk hunters can be back in time for work. Public land surrounds Cody. To the east are the red-rock gulches of the Bighorn Basin, to the west the timbered Washakie and Absaroka wildernesses. Magnum trout are caught in Newton Lakes just north of town and in Buffalo Bill Reservoir just up the Shoshone River from Cody. Click HERE to see #5. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. Chuck Haney
#5 Pocatello, Idaho College town with a trout bum’s soul Leading Appeals: Easy drive to elk, mule deer and waterfowl hunting, plus trophy trout in the spring creeks of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. American Falls Reservoir- the largest reservoir in Idaho- offers a neglected perch fishery and football- size rainbows. The Portneuf River right in Pocatello allows residents to catch a trout after work. Population: 53,932 Median Home Price: $96,700 Amenities: Location at the hub of interstates 86 and 15- about halfway between Yellowstone Park and Salt Lake City- provides easy access to the West. Idaho State University swells the population, and enriches the arts and nightlife. Bottom Line: This is the ultimate grown-up trout town. You can raise a family and hold a job without reducing your days on the water. Contact: pocatelloidaho.com Draw a 20-mile circle around Pocatello and inside the radius you’ll find high-country elk, trophy mule deer and one of the greatest concentrations of wintering geese in the West. Go another 20 miles to encounter prairie and forest grouse, a growing smallmouth bass fishery, channel catfish, wild turkey and antelope. And, when irrigators don’t take all the water, the best combination of river and stillwater trout fishing in the West. Legendary lakes include Chesterfield, Daniels and Hawkins reservoirs, and locals do their best to understate the fishing in the Portneuf, Malad, Bear, Blackfoot and Snake rivers. Inside the city limits you’ll find a progressive college city with a small-town core. Click HERE to see #6. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. Steve Bly
#6 Lewistown, MT Affordable access to full spectrum of hunting Leading Appeals: Central location amid a diverse landscape of prairie, grassy foothills and timbered mountains. Town is big enough to have essential services, but small enough to remain affordable. Population: 6,083 Median Home Price: $75,400 Amenities: Its central location makes Lewistown a favorite convention spot with abundant lodging and catering facilities. Bottom Line: Million-dollar views on a blue-collar budget and dizzying diversity of distractions for a sportsman. Contact: lewistownchamber.com From this central-Montana town, a quarter tank of gas puts you in elky timber, pheasant-rich sloughs and spring-fed trout water. Antelope, black bear, wild turkeys and impressive numbers of both whitetail and mule deer are visible from the hills above town. Drive a little farther and you’re into bighorn sheep, walleye and even prehistoric paddlefish in the vast Missouri River Breaks. Lewistown is not only in the center of Montana, it’s at the center of a galaxy of hunting destinations, and the town has managed to preserve its mix of historic authenticity, affordability and small-town charm. Four mountain ranges rim the horizon around town and Montana’s High Plains roll off their foothills. The diverse landscape creates abundant opportunities for varmint hunting, ice fishing on nearby Fort Peck Lake and ranch-country reservoirs, spring turkey hunting, fly fishing and the full spectrum of big-game hunting. “We have everything here,” says Dave Snyder at Don’s Sporting Goods. “There’s so much to do just outside of town that if you’re a hunter or a fisherman there’s never a down time.” That even applies to after-hours socializing. Blue-ribbon Big Spring Creek flows right under at least one glass-floored bar in downtown Lewistown, allowing you to gaze at trout while you enjoy a libation. Click HERE to see #7. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. dusansmetana.com
#7 Marquette, Michigan Capital of the U.P. Leading Appeals: Huge diversity of fish, from native brookies to rainbows and lake-run brown trout to steelhead, salmon, lake trout, walleye and pike. Population: 20,488 Median Home Price: $112,200 Amenities: Upper Peninsula’s largest medical center, Northern Michigan University and thriving retail and arts scene. Bottom Line: Trout share space with smallmouth in the U.P.’s pristine streams, and more than 100 lakes are accessible within a half-hour of downtown Marquette. The deer opener is like a national holiday here. Contact: marquettecountry.org One of the best salmon and steelhead towns in the nation is hundreds of miles from the ocean. Just outside this thriving college town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, anglers cast to surly Chinooks, fight chrome-bright steelhead and play colorful lake-run brown trout. Inland anglers prospect dozens of rivers for trophy brook trout and woodland lakes hold walleye, northern pike, whitefish and crappie. But Marquetters save their vacation time for deer season, when the U.P.’s public land fills with downstaters looking for trophy bucks. Bear, ruffed grouse, ducks, coyotes, rabbits and a growing population of wild turkeys provide plenty of hunter days on the Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests and smaller state parks of the area. “The coolest thing about living here is the public access,” says fishing guide Brad Petzke. “I fish hundreds of miles of rivers every year and, because of our liberal stream laws, there are only a few spots you can’t access.” Fishing is always good in the streams that feed Lake Superior and trophy lake trout are available in the big lake itself. Click HERE to see #8. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. Lee Rentz
#8 Dillon, MT Trophy trout, trophy elk without trophy homes Leading Appeals: Public-land elk hunting in every direction from town, plus one of the best small-river trout fisheries in the West. Population: 4,056 Median Home Price: $87,400 Amenities: Western Montana College adds students and sophistication. Location on Interstate 15 provides easy access to Butte, Bozeman and Idaho Falls. The one concession to upscale retailing is the well-visited Patagonia retail outlet. Bottom Line: Move here for the elk hunting, stay for the affordable housing and thriving high-tech economy. Contact: bvhd.bmt.net “Dillon is what western Montana used to be,” says a Beaverhead River trout guide. What he means is, it hasn’t been discovered by the glitterati. You won’t find starter mansions overlooking this southwestern Montana town and ostentatious vehicles here probably belong to visitors. What you will find is one of the West’s best elk-hunting towns with a trophy trout stream in its midst. Go any direction from Dillon and you’ll find public-land elk sharing space with moose, mule deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The National Forests in the Pioneer, Bannock, Blacktail and Tobacco Root mountain ranges have a full array of additional species, including black bear, grouse and mountain lion. The Beaverhead River runs right through Dillon, fueling a lively trout economy and drawing hundreds of anglers during the summer salmonfly hatch. Go upstream for trophy browns in Poindexter Slough and Clark Canyon Reservoir, or fish feisty rainbows all the way through town. Just don’t tell any starlets looking for the next authentic Western town to invade. Click HERE to see #9. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. mikebarlow.com
#9 Page, AZ Home to houseboats and river rafts Leading Appeals: For a desert town, easy access to abundant water. Big fish in coldwater and warmwater habitats. Population: 6,827 Median Home Price: $207,700 Amenities: Once a gritty company town whose fortunes were tied to dam construction and power production, Page has diversified into a tourist Mecca. Good food, interesting stores and stunning viewsheds. Bottom Line: Homes are expensive here, but this is one of the most diverse fishing towns in America, and if you can ever draw a tag it’s a great base to experience epic big-game hunting. Contact: pagelakepowellchamber.org Page is the sort of town where a complete angler has both a bass boat and a drift boat, and casts frozen anchovies to husky striped bass by morning and dainty midge imitations to rising trout by sunset. In this northern Arizona outpost you can do both without burning a full gallon of gas. Page is located at the very head of Grand Canyon National Park and owes its origin to the construction of towering Glen Canyon Dam. The structure stopped the Colorado River and created Lake Powell, now a stunning sea of blue water in the redrock canyon country of northern Arizona and southern Utah. Lake Powell is perhaps the West’s most diverse fishery, with trophy bass, walleye, catfish and crappie. On the other side of the bottom-release dam, the cold Colorado River boasts 15 miles of great fishing for rainbow trout. The legendary Kaibab Plateau and its elk, mule deer, black bear and turkeys is an hour to the west and trophy antelope, desert sheep and canyon-country muleys live within sight of Page and north across the Utah border. Click HERE to see #10. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE TOP 200 TOWNS AND THEIR RANKINGS, CLICK HERE THINK YOUR TOWN SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST? CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A PHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACE. Dreamstime/BrightQube
#10 Bismarck, ND Great Plains walleyes, roosters and ducks Leading Appeals: Stable economy fueled by state government, unpressured reservoir fishing on sprawling- though severely dewatered- Lake Oahe and epic wingshooting on public land and state-managed PLOTS properties. Population: 58,333 Median Home Price: $115,700 Amenities: Vibrant retail and service economy amid small-town feel, cutting-edge medical facilities. Bottom Line: Nothing flashy, just a solid sportsman’s town with a species for every interest and season. Wingshooting- for waterfowl but also sharptail grouse, pheasants and Hungarian partridge- is especially good. Contact: bismarckmandancvb.com Water is the lifeblood of the Great Plains, and around Bismarck it’s also the playground. With public boat docks that provide access to the Missouri River’s cool-water fishery right in town, and world-class waterfowl hunting north and south, it seems everybody has a boat in their driveway. And a dog in their pickup for the pheasant hunting that rivals any South Dakota destination. Public land and water is an easy reach from the capital city, Bismarck, and its sister city of Mandan. On the Missouri River and Lake Oahe walleyes are headliners but smallmouth bass are starting to get noticed, and northern pike, channel cats and even landlocked salmon round out the catch. Lakes around the capital city offer ice fishing for panfish and pike. Waterfowl, pheasant, grouse and deer are abundant in prairie potholes, marshes and dozens of federal wildlife refuges within an hour of Bismarck. Mitch Kezar
The best fishing and hunting towns! Browse our gallery of the Top 10 places to live, then see the full list of 200 towns.