I live in Pine (13 miles NrothWest of Payson). My circumstance is certainly different than you since I am retired and work(ugh!) is not an issue any longer. The wife and I retired here over 12 years ago from Kali and have been rejoicing ever since. In the short number of years we have lived in Arizona, we have seen substantial growth. Prescott got Fortune magazines best town to live in award back sometime in the '90s. Things really took off from there. I tend to stay away from the '"Valley", Prescott, and Flagstaff since they all remind me of the same environment we moved to get away from.
Appreciating that the job market is an important issue then I think Prescott is worth consideration. Flagstaff is also growing by leaps and bounds as well and should be a consideration in your decision. If you can take a little more summer heat, you might also want to look at those areas in the Verde Valley. If you are used to comutes to work, it wouldn't be too much of a change and the property costs could be much less and the pace of life is generally a bit slower.
I think 60% of Arizona is in govenrment hands (Feds and state) so what population there is tends to concentrate in the big city areas, the Valley, Prescott, Tucson, Flagstaff, etc. As has been noted earlier, the quality of game is about as good as one will find in the West. The caveat is being able to draw a hunt permit for the "biggies", ie. elk, antelope, bison. Javelina, turkey, and "over the counter' archery deer tend to be less of an issue, especially for bow hunters. I finally drew a trophy bull elk tag for this years archery rut hunt right in my back yard, but it took 12 years to get that tag. I grew up in Colorado and the hunting throughout the West has changed considerably since I hunted with dad as a kid in Colorado. We would go to the local sporting goods store, buy a license and tag and go hunt anywhere in the state. Still I think Arizona is about as good as one will find all things considered. Do be cautious as some parts of the state will fry your brain in short order
, it gets that hot.
Do your homework and I think you will enjoy this state. I know I do.