A Hunter’s Towns: Grand Junction, Craig score Outdoor Life’s best towns

By the numbers

Craig’s ranking in Outdoor Life Magazine’s “Best Towns for Sportsmen” list over the years

2008 — 41st

2009 — 35th

2010 — 68th

2011 — 77th

2012 — 20th

Outdoor Life’s 2012 “Best Towns for Sportsmen”

  1. Appleton, Wis.

  2. Salmon, Idaho

  3. Venice, La.

  4. Rapid City, S.D.

  5. Centerville, Iowa

  6. Grand Junction, Colo.

  7. Georgetown, S.C.

  8. Bend, Ore.

  9. Bismarck, N.D.

  10. Saratoga, Wyo.

  11. Traverse City, Mich.

  12. Lake Placid, N.Y.

  13. Cody, Wyo.

  14. Islamorada, Fla.

  15. Ely, Minn.

  16. Thompson Falls, Mont.

  17. Show Low, Ariz.

  18. Russell, Kan.

  19. Toccoa, Ga.

  20. Craig, Colo.

Two towns familiar to hunters in western Colorado now have some notoriety to back up their street cred: Outdoor Life magazine ranked Grand Junction sixth and Craig 20th in its 2012 list of Best Towns for Sportsmen.

Since the magazine began compiling the list in 2008, Craig has made the cut each year. But the city has never had a ranking as high as this year’s, vaulting 57 spots from its ranking in 2011. Colorado Hunter partner city Grand Junction was named the sixth best town in the country for outdoorsmen.

Outdoor Life made changes to the criteria for top towns in 2012. Instead of considering socioeconomic aspects of each town, it chose its rankings based entirely on hunting and fishing opportunities available in each city.

“We decided to forgo the socio-economic, objective data that has gone into our formula in the past and come up with a list of 35 dream towns that our editors would love to live in based entirely on their hunting and fishing opportunities,” said John Taranto, senior editor for Outdoor Life.

The result was positive for both communities.

“Craig offers access to a million acres of public land, and boasts two of the largest elk herds in North America,” Outdoor Life reported.

Local outdoorsmen agree with the assessment.

“It’s why I live in Craig,” said Rob Schmitzer, sportsman information director at the Craig Chamber of Commerce and Moffat County Visitor Center. “And outdoor opportunities here go well beyond hunting and fishing into other non-recreation outdoor opportunities.”

While Schmitzer acknowledged that fishing is good in Moffat County, hunting is the major economic driver.

Don Myers, owner of Myers Hunting Services, thinks hunting is attractive in Craig because the large elk numbers provide easy access to game. “That’s probably the major reason Craig was rated well,” Myers said. “It gives hunters a great chance of seeing game, better than a lot of other places.”

And that’s a valuable asset. “People like to see game,” he said. “It makes it worthwhile, and is an opportunity not a lot of people get to have.”

Tony Bohrer, general manager at Elkhorn Outfitters, echos this sentiment. “Craig is known for its elk population,” he said. “Hunters here know they aren’t going to get a 350-inch bull. They come because of the high success rate and our large elk population. I take pride in that.”

Bohrer added that the large amount of public land around is another attractive point because hunters can come hunt on their own without breaking the bank.

Outdoor Living’s Taranto has hunted in Craig with Elkhorn in the past, and the experience left an impression. “Several editors have hunted elk, antelope and mule deer around Craig,” he said. “We all love the country there — its big-game hunting is some of the best in the world.”

Colorado was one of two states to be represented in the top 20 twice (Saratoga and Cody, Wyo., were 10th and 13th, respectively).

Grand Junction was praised for its “magnificent mesas and endless elk,” as well as nearby lakes offering some of the best trout fishing in the country.

“The towns on this list are the dream places for outdoorsmen to live,” Taranto said. “They each offer a unique mix of hunting and fishing opportunities. Any sportsman would be lucky to call these towns home.”

The rankings also should be good for area businesses. “It’s going to help Craig, because every hunter reads Outdoor Life,” Bohrer said. “The people that subscribe to that magazine are the guys who are going to come out on hunts, not just read about it.”

And Schmitzer is excited about the national exposure it brings. “It will definitely help us with recognition,” he said. “Out-of-state hunters are one of the economic drivers here. If it steers them in the right direction, that’s good.”