Great Hunting and Fishing Colleges

When I was applying for schools, I cared about one thing most of all: how good was the surrounding hunting and fishing? College visits were spent scouting public land, while my parents went on campus tours. In my search, I considered, visited and researched the following colleges and went to two of them. It's probably not the best way to pick a college, but it's better than picking a school for its party reputation. Here is my very subjective list of five great colleges for sportsmen:

Montana State University

Bozeman, Mont.

One of my best hunting and fishing buddies went to Montana State University, and I can see why. He has yet to return.

Bozeman is surrounded by mountains and flanked by the Gallatin, Yellowstone and Madison River. When I visited a friend who was a student there, choosing whether to fish or hunt first was my biggest decision. It’s a sportsman’s playground.

If you are a nonresident college student currently carrying 12 credits or more at a Montana college or university, you can fish and hunt deer, elk and upland game birds for $70 plus a $10 hunting access enhancement fee. That’s a cheap ticket to experience all the area has to offer. In a town where “Git yer elk yet?” is as common as “How are you?” during hunting season, MSU will draw students in camo for good reasons. Plus, “A River Runs Through It” was filmed there. 

Report Card:

  • Public Hunting Land: A – National Forests abound 
  • Variety of Game: A – If experimentation is what college is for, MSU will keep testing you.
  • Fishing: A – MSU is often referred to as “Trout U”

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point

Stevens Point, Wis.

Many of the UW schools can be in this position, but I have only visited the Steven Point campus, so it wins by default, but I think I can make a good case for it. High school hunters should also consider UW-Madison and UW La Crosse.

During my visit, I thought the school colors were camo and blaze orange. There is no shortage of hunters in Wisconsin – the state with the most record-book bucks. In contrast to MSU (Bozeman), where there was a lack of “green space” on campus, UWSP has a 280-acre nature reserve on campus, which serves as an outdoor hub. In addition to that, there are city-owned property bowhunting areas that can be reached between classes.

For the bowfishers, duck hunters and anglers, there’s the Mississippi River to the west, Lake Michigan to the east and the Wisconsin River on the border of town. Qualified non-resident students also get a discount on hunting and fishing licenses.

Report Card:

  • Public Hunting Land: B+ – There is a good amount within 20 miles 
  • Variety of Game: B – Deer, turkey and waterfowl are the main events
  • Fishing: B – Would’ve got an “A” if the lakes didn’t freeze over for five months

Murray State University

Murray, Ky.

In 1944, the Tennessee River was dammed to form Kentucky Lake. Later, its neighbor, Lake Barkley, was created. In the middle of the two lakes is the Land Between the Lakes – 170,000 acres of wilderness set aside for recreational use. Murray State University lies 30 minutes away from this outdoor playground. That’s a whole lot of water to fish and land to explore between classes.

You can’t cover all the hunting land, so most try to find honey-holes not yet discovered and learn all they can about the deer or turkey using that section of land. It’s a tactic that seems to work. Usually, a couple of monster bucks are arrowed each year from the LBL.

Other hunting opportunities include waterfowl hunting on the big lakes or numerous rivers, bowfishing and bobcat and coyote hunting.

Report Card:

  • Public Hunting Land: B – LBL is huge, but this can also make it challenging 
  • Variety of Game: B – Enough to keep a bowhunter busy
  • Fishing: A – Kentucky Lake as a world-class crappie and bass fishery

Paul Smith’s College

Paul Smith, N.Y.

The fact that the college allows hunting on land it owns was all it took for Paul Smith’s College to make the list. Located within the 6 million acres of Adirondack Park, the school owns 14,000 acres, and they provide students with a map and permission to hunt on it. Even if you choose to hunt public land, it is not plagued by hunting pressure like many parks are (at least if you know how to get away from it) and mature bucks can be very receptive to calling techniques. The area is also a very popular destination for bear hunters. 

In addition to the private and public land hunting opportunities, great smallmouth fishing can be found in the Lower St. Regis River. Trout hunters can fish the Au Sable River, and small mountain lakes hold a variety of other fish.

Report Card:

  • Public Hunting Land: A – Lots of land with great trophy potential
  • Variety of Game: B- – Bear and deer are your headliners
  • Fishing: B+ – Ice on lakes shortens the fishing season

University of Iowa

Iowa City, Iowa

I spent one year at the University of Iowa, and even though I didn’t shoot a deer during my time there, it was one of the most exciting deer hunting seasons I’ve had so far. This school caters to those who enjoy chasing big, mature Midwestern whitetails. Maybe I was lucky, but I secured permission to hunt private land after knocking on only two doors. The next day I was in the stand and two 150”+ bucks were sparring 100 yards from me. I had a lot of sightings of monster bucks that season, but could never close the deal before the lack of good fishing forced me to enroll at Murray State University. The pheasant and turkey hunting were good, but let’s be honest: If you’re a bowhunter headed to Iowa, you are going for whitetail.

Report Card:

  • Public Hunting Land: C – it's sparse
  • Variety of Game: B – Trophy whitetail…enough said
  • Fishing: D – Not a lot of great fisheries around

There are a lot of other great schools that can be included on this list. What colleges make your list and why? Comment below with your suggestions.