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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Arizona elk & antelope

 

Large bull elk and cow
Photo credit: Getty Images

Overview

Arizona remains a hunter’s favorite state. The mild winters, incredible genetics and some of the best game management in the West make for excellent elk and antelope hunts. We love the various season dates offered during the rut and how Arizona’s antelope numbers dominate the record books. Premium tags for both species are some of the most difficult to get, but they are definitely worth the wait. Of course, the complex lottery system with multiple passes and bonus points can be frustrating to understand, so here is all you need to know to apply for elk and antelope hunts in 2015 (apply online here or download this paper application and submit by mail). 

Why Arizona for elk and antelope

  • Great habitat and mild winters. Arizona’s terrain is relatively gentle; it’s some of the easiest in the west.
  • Big bulls and bucks. Year after year, some of the west’s biggest elk and antelope come from Arizona. Premium elk units have 360”+ class bulls. Antelope scoring over 80” are common in many Arizona units. In fact, 12 of the top 20 antelope bucks in the Boone and Crockett record book are from Arizona.
  • Balanced hunt types. Arizona’s game management is outstanding. Some units offer earlier seasons geared toward trophy-quality hunts, then have later season hunts with higher tag quotas for greater hunter opportunity. We like the range.  

General herd conditions:

High-quality elk and antelope are the norm in Arizona. There has been sound management for well over the past decade, and the herds show it.
 

Giant Arizona bull elk
Photo credit: A3 Trophy Hunts

Expect 280” to 380”+ class bulls and antelope ranging from 70” to over 80” B&C.
 

Arizona antelope buck
Photo credit: A3 Trophy Hunts

Antelope are found around the state, but there are not a lot of tags available, making it difficult to draw a tag. Find more detailed descriptions of units in our profiles for Arizona’s antelope and elk.

What’s new in 2015?

  • All early archery elk seasons will now have a two-week long season, including limited opportunity units.
  • Recent winter snowfall has provided increased moisture. We expect to see another year of great antler growth if this moisture continues through the spring.
  • The early archery elk season in the famous Unit 9 will swap start dates with the early muzzleloader elk season.
  • Some great hunt opportunities are back. The early rifle bull elk season will return to Unit 1. An early muzzleloader bull elk season in Unit 27 will also be available.
  • Although not known as trophy units, 5A and 6B will offer early rifle bull elk seasons.
  • Arizona’s herds still show no signs of Chronic Wasting Disease.

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: General hunting license plus individual species tags.
  • Point system: Bonus points for both residents and nonresidents.
  • Youth: Youth can build points and hunt big game starting at age 10.
  • Draw type: Arizona’s draw has a three-pass system. Rarely do bull elk and antelope tags make it to the third phase that distributes tags to third, fourth or fifth choices.
  • Resident perk: Huge advantage in tag allocation, which creates an opportunity to randomly draw the most difficult to draw seasons.

You will need a valid Arizona hunting license in order to apply for this year’s draw. As of 2014, hunting licenses are valid for 365 calendar days from purchase. A general hunting license is only available to residents, and combo licenses are available for both residents and nonresidents.

Arizona’s lottery system has three passes. The first pass (Bonus Pass) gives 20% of tags to those with the most bonus points. The second pass (Pass 1-2) goes to first and second choices on tag applications; the third pass looks at third, fourth and fifth choices. Usually the draw for these species never gets to the third pass due to the number of applications.

Arizona residents have a definite advantage in the draw system. 

Application types and deadlines for 2015

Nonresident
application

Online
application
dates
(by 7 p.m. MT)

Online payment
modification

deadline
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost*

Combo hunting
& fishing license
Must be current
at time
of application
    $160
Youth combo
hunting
& fishing license
Must be current
at time
of application
Feb. 3 Feb. 27 $5
Antelope tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $565
Antelope youth tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $565
Elk tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $665
Elk youth tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $665
$65**
Bonus point       $15

*These nonresident license applications include a nonrefundable fee of $15.
**Price for hunts designated youth-only.

Resident
application

Online
application
dates
(by 7 p.m. MT)

Online payment
modification
deadline

(by 11:59 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost*

General hunting
license
Must be current
at time
of application
    $37
Combo hunting
& fishing license
Must be current
at time
of application
    $57
Youth combo
hunting
& fishing license
Must be current
at time
of application
    $5
Antelope tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $103
Antelope youth tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $103
Elk tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $148
Elk youth tag Jan. 1 – Feb. 10 March 12 April 17 $148
$63**
Bonus point       $13

*These resident license applications include a nonrefundable fee of $13.
**Price for hunts designated youth-only.

Note: If there are any leftover tags for elk or antelope, they are available on a first come, first served basis starting at 8 a.m. MT on April 20. Check online for the listing of what’s available and apply by mail to:

ATTN: DRAW/FIRST COME
5000 W. Carefree Highway
Phoenix, AZ 85086

Unlocking Arizona’s system

Nonresidents are limited to but not guaranteed 10% of the tags for each hunt code for all species. For example, if a unit has 10 elk tags available, only 1 of them will go to a nonresident. With antelope, tags are so few that many units will have less than 10 tags total, particularly for coveted rifle hunts. For these units, 1 tag may go to a nonresident, but it varies.

If the nonresident quota is filled in the first pass (Bonus pass), no nonresident tags are available in the second or third pass. For the sought-after units, the nonresident quota typically does get filled in the first pass. See example below on Unit 9 archery bull elk.

The first pass of the draw awards 20% of available tags to those with the most bonus points. If there are more applicants than tags, they are assigned through random computerized draw. Check out last year’s drawing odds in Arizona’s 2015 booklet for elk and antelope.

Arizona Unit 9 archery bull elk draw explanation

When you apply for a species tag, five hunt choices are allowed. In phase 2 of the draw, both of your first and second choices are considered together. So if your first choice is available, you get it; if not, it goes to your second choice. If your second choice is available, congrats! Otherwise your application goes to phase 3 (your third, fourth and fifth choices). Realistically you’ll be waiting for another year to hunt if this happens.

The point system

The more bonus points you have, the better your chances. Both residents and nonresidents accrue points. The maximum points for elk and antelope is 26 for 2015.

If your application is unsuccessful you will automatically get a bonus point for that species. You can also purchase just a bonus point, though you cannot also apply for another 2015 hunt for that species.

Party applications

Pairs or groups of hunters may apply together in a party application. The maximum size for a party is four. Bonus points are averaged and rounded to the closest whole number for the entire group.

Residents and nonresidents may apply together in a party, but when this happens the application is treated as a nonresident application. Pay attention to nonresident tag quotas for the unit when thinking about a party application.

For more information on Arizona and their draw system, please see our State Profile.

Arizona elk and antelope draw FAQs

Where and how do I apply?

Arizona Game and Fish has both a paper application and online application. We think online is easier (no chance of your application getting rejected because of illegibility). (Note: the deadline for updating your credit or debit card information online is 11:59 p.m. MT on Thursday, March 12, 2015).

If you want to be old school, you can submit your application by hand to any Game and Fish office until the deadline or by mail to:

Arizona Game and Fish Department
P.O. Box 74020
Phoenix, AZ 85087-1052.
(Note: Postmarks don’t count.)
As of 2014, Arizona no longer has a correction period for its paper applications. 

For questions, call (602) 942-3000 and choose #2 for draw, bonus points and hunting and fishing license info. See deadlines and fees in the above tables. 

Is Arizona good for building points? 

Yes. Arizona’s biggest advantage is you can buy an annual license and apply for points only. For residents it’s $13 a point, nonresidents it’s $15 a point per species. Definitely a cost effective way to build points.

Can I turn my tag in if I decide not to hunt?

No. However, Arizona allows parents or guardians to transfer their tags to a related child for a $4 fee. You can also donate your tag to a qualifying organization for use by a child with a life-threatening condition or military veteran with a disability for no fee.

The seasons

Arizona’s elk and antelope hunts include general, archery-only and muzzleloader seasons. Some units have four seasons available — early archery, early rifle, late archery and late rifle — which makes for lots of opportunity to get out in the field. Season dates are set and can be found in our unit profiles.

Compared to other states, Arizona’s weather and terrain are very mild. Wilderness areas are easy to access and hunters are not required to have guides in the wilderness. Some areas are physically strenuous, but overall this is the easiest terrain for big game hunting in the west.

A great advantage for hunters in Arizona is that they can hunt elk and antelope throughout the rut. Elk are at the beginning of the rut with the September archery season. Bulls are starting to gather their harems and are vocal, so it’s a great time to use your calling techniques. Days are long and the weather is mild. The early muzzleloader and rifle seasons later in September let hunters capitalize the rut frenzy with longer-range weapons. From October to December, there’s still excellent opportunity for big bulls. Get all the details unit by unit in Arizona’s elk profiles.
 

Arizona antelope buck
Photo credit: Getty Images

Antelope seasons also overlap with the rut in August and September. Muzzleloader and rifle seasons generally coincide with peak rut action. Antelope are up and chasing. During antelope archery hunts you can use decoys, but they are illegal during firearm seasons.

Hunter opportunity

General information, tips and our insights for hunting elk and antelope in Arizona.

Draw odds and tag availability

  • Arizona elk tags for premium seasons (early archery and rifle) are some of the most difficult to draw in the west.
  • Try for end of season elk tags if you don’t have many points. These general elk tags are generally easier to draw and promise a challenging hunt. Bulls are post rut, won’t be vulnerable to calls and might have broken racks by this time of the year. Finding a big bull might be a challenge in December, but you’ll have a great time trying.
  • Late archery hunts available in some units for November are also easier to draw. It’s another challenging hunt, but if it’s dry you can ambush near waterholes. Spot and stalk methods are also good here. It’s a lower success hunt, but a great way to get out in the field and soak up some heat in the winter.
  • Some limited opportunity hunts are easy to draw, but it’ll be hard to harvest.

Hidden gem: The apprentice license is free and gives you two days to mentor a new hunter. This is a new opportunity for a new hunter to "try before you buy" for two days. It is not applicable to big game hunting. Only small game. The apprentice can be a non-resident, but the mentor must be a resident licensed hunter.

Special features for elk and antelope in Arizona

  • Rut action for both species
  • Decoys for antelope archery-only seasons, decoys are illegal in firearm seasons.
  • Some units have four elk seasons, so lots of possible hunter opportunity
  • First come, first serve availability of leftover tags starting April 20

Managing points and expectations

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

For elk with no points, plan to apply for hunt choices with tags available in the random draw or "Pass 1-2". For nonresidents this will be hunt choices that are less popular, or choices with a high tag quota. Late rifle and late archery elk choices are your best bet. Resident quotas are higher, giving residents a random chance at drawing a tag with no points. Antelope provides little hope for the nonresident applicant without points. Occasionally a tag is drawn randomly. But overall tag quotas are low making the chances slim to draw a random tag. 

What can I do with 6 or fewer points?

Late season rifle elk tags and late season archery elk tags will be the best bet for success in the draw. For early archery elk opportunity, look at Units 4B, 5B South, 6A, 6B and 11M. Typically, these have nonresident tags available in the random draw. For antelope, your best bet is applying for units with higher tag quotas, but odds are still very low.

What can I expect with 14 or more points?

Apply for the coveted archery and early rifle seasons in trophy-rich units for elk. The most coveted rifle antelope tags will take over 20 points, but some areas that offer a higher tag quota may have tags available in the second pass of the draw. Units like 7E, 7W, 9, and 10 typically have a higher rifle tag quota. Congrats!

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