Now in its fifth year, our annual “Best Towns for Sportsmen” feature is an OL institution. Readers love to argue the merits of their burgs based on our rankings; local newspapers crow about the inclusion of their town; and realtors call to ask for extra copies of the issue.
This year we’re forgetting all the socio-economic data and focusing on what matters most: hunting and fishing. In the next few pages, you’ll find the 35 towns in the U.S. where we would live right now, based solely on the outdoor opportunities there. Some boast bass and deer, others elk and trout or ducks and redfish. Regardless, each of these towns is an outdoors mecca in its own right, and from sea to shining sea, they offer the best hunting and fishing in America.
#1 - Appleton, WI
More than 170 years ago, trappers and fur traders chased the promise of lucrative beaver pelts up the Fox River and settled the town of Appleton. Today, enormous whitetail deer draw outdoorsmen and -women to the Fox River Valley. The Boone and Crockett Club recently anointed Wisconsin the number-one trophy whitetail state in the country, with Cheesehead hunters logging 383 B&C entries in the last five years. In the last three seasons, three different bucks killed within 50 miles of downtown Appleton have either broken or threatened Badger State records. But there’s a lot more to do in Appleton than sit in a treestand.
Nearby Lake Winnebago and the Fox River, which runs through town, are premier walleye fisheries. Green Bay, 30 minutes to the north, offers some of the best smallmouth bass and muskie fishing in the country. Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area sits 70 miles to the south and is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country. Hundreds of thousands of geese migrate through the region each fall. 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.
#2 - Salmon, ID
This town’s name should be your first clue as to why it attracts sportsmen the way a spawning run draws bears. Located right on the Salmon River—and bordering millions of acres of public hunting ground, including the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 (the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness)—Salmon has, well, everything.
The Salmon and its tributaries offer world-class fishing for trout, steelhead, and other species year-round. On the crags and benches above the Salmon and other nearby rivers, wingshooters chase chukar and huns, while at higher elevations blue and spruce grouse predominate.
The big-game scene has changed in Salmon with the resurgence of wolves. But trophy elk, mule deer, and whitetails are still accessible, and the hunting for bears and mountain lions is second to none.
#3 - Venice, LA
If you like your saltwater rimmed by white sand beaches, palm trees, and tiki bars, this is not the place for you. However, if you live to hunt and fish, and yearn to do it 24/7/365, then this tiny community at the mouth of the Mississippi River beckons.
Despite its infamy as the epicenter of both Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Venice remains arguably the greatest place in North America to fish and hunt waterfowl.
In 2011, Bassmaster Classic competitors ran down the Mississippi from New Orleans to Venice—more than two hours by boat—to fill their livewells with largemouths. However, it’s world-class redfish and speckled trout fishing that draw the recreational fishermen. You will catch fish here every day that you hit the water, and you can’t say that about very many other places in the country.
If you get bored in the marshes, big-game fishing opportunities—from marlin to tuna, sailfish to swords—are plentiful around the offshore gas and oil rigs.
September marks the beginning of teal season in this waterfowler’s paradise, with more than 14 percent of the country’s wetlands located in this region of southern Louisiana.
#4 - Rapid City, SD
This gateway to the ruggedly beautiful Black Hills region of western South Dakota offers its 67, 000 residents a wide variety of hunting and fishing opportunities. Mountain lakes and coldwater streams to the west of town are home to brook, brown, and rainbow trout. In the surrounding prairie, a constellation of reservoirs and stock dams hold largemouths, pike, and panfish.
Hunting opportunities are available nearly year-round. Whitetails, mule deer, elk, and Merriam’s turkeys prowl the mountains. A short drive will put you into pheasants, sharptails, and prairie chickens. Pronghorns, coyotes, and prairie dogs are plentiful in the grasslands.
#5 - Centerville, IA
They got the name right. Centerville is in the middle of a sportsman’s paradise. Epic whitetails get the headlines (the 307-inch Lovstuen Buck was killed just north of here), but south-central Iowa has plenty of four-season opportunity: abundant turkeys and waterfowl, plus great crappies, walleyes, and channel cats on Rathbun Lake north of town.
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