Under a dawn sky, Jay Cassell follows a faint trail toward his deer stand. The rolling timberlands of Tara Wildlife resort — 17,000 acres of Mississippi oxbow lakes and hardwood forest — spread out in all directions as Cassell settled into a perch overlooking a river. Bow and arrow resting in hand, Cassell waits for a whitetail deer.
Tara Wildlife, a resort and lodge facility in Mississippi, isn't Cassell's first experience at a hunting lodge. Indeed, Cassell, a 55-year-old veteran hunter who is the deputy editor at Field & Stream magazine, has made dozens of trips over the years to lodges throughout the U.S., Canada and beyond. He says the lodge experience, which usually includes meals and accommodations along with backcountry guiding, has always had a positive effect on the hunt.
"Lodges and their staff exist to put you in a situation where the game will likely be," he says, noting that local knowledge of a particular species — say, elk in the wilds of Wyoming — is invaluable for traveling hunters. "Then, at the end of day, you can come back and have a comfortable room, a shower and a good meal sitting at a table with other hunters and like-minded people."
Hundreds of hunting lodges — peppered in forests from Maine to Mississippi to Montana — cater to hunters like Cassell. The unique arrangement of a lodging facility run by a staff intimate with the surrounding land can create a hunting experience unlike any other. Some facilities tout cozy cabins in the woods, while others feature majestic timber-beamed lodges with stone fireplaces and trophy moose heads. Gourmet meals and massage therapy are part of the package at some destinations.
All game types, from grouse and quail on up to deer, elk and bear, can be pursued from lodges throughout the country. Cassell was stalking trophy whitetail bucks at Tara Wildlife, a resort known to produce 300+ pound giants. Varying hunting styles — from horseback-based trips to bird hunting with dogs to day-long mountain treks — are available.
"There's a huge range of options," said Cassell, noting that his desired game type always trumps a lodge's luster. "I start by looking to see if they have access to good hunting, then I will look at the accommodations of the lodge, the food and everything else."
A trend toward luxury has resulted in hunting lodges with spa facilities, plasma television screens and elaborate, multicourse dinners cooked by a staff of chefs. Some lodges cater to groups, offering conference rooms for company retreats, weddings or family reunions. Ancillary activities like whitewater rafting, horseback riding, bird watching, hiking and rock climbing are available at lodges that market to people who may vacation with nonhunting spouses or children.
But for serious hunters like M.R. James, the founder of Bowhunter magazine, a lodge and its amenities are held a far distant second to the potential hunting experience. "The lodges I've stayed at were simply a base of operations for the guide services I used," he said. "The hunting always mattered much more than the room, grub and overall comfort."
represents the best hunting lodge options spread around the country as picked by an accomplished group of hunters, guides and outdoors writers. Pheasant, grouse, goose, duck, moose, bear, elk and deer are among the available game types.
In the end, the list is purely subjective, constructed on the honest opinions of a few outdoor enthusiasts. Dozens of additional lodges and resorts, to be sure, deserve recognition. But our picks here — all quality hunting destinations — provide a solid place to start.