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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Nevada mule deer, elk & antelope

 

Giant bull elk in sagebrush
Photo credit: Getty Images

Overview:

The Silver State is a large and diverse landscape that holds great opportunities for the hunter to chase trophy big game. Nevada has been known for low hunting pressure thanks to conservative tag quotas in several areas. With a bonus point system that squares your earned points, applicants that have been applying for several years are at an advantage to draw a tag. It is never too late to begin applying in Nevada. In fact all tags are drawn randomly so applicants with few or no points actually have a chance to draw a tag. Nevada’s preference point system allows hunters to build points fairly inexpensively through the purchase of a hunting license and the cost of the bonus point. Aside from long wait periods when drawing a tag, the Silver State also faces continual drought, and the negative impacts on habitat that are brought on by wild horses. The deadline to apply is the same for all big game species and the information you find here and in our Nevada state profile will help you develop a plan for 2015.

Why Nevada for mule deer in 2015
 


Photo credit: G&J Outdoors

Nevada has long been known as a great state to hunt mule deer. With an abundance of habitat, hunters can pursue mule deer from the arid regions of southern Nevada to the high Alpine landscapes across the state. Trophy bucks can be found scattered throughout different hunt areas. Along with with a wide variety of season dates and weapon types, the hunter has the flexibility to decide how best to use bonus points in the draw. According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s (NDOW) 2013 mule deer point class by unit, the following units have an above 50% four-point harvest: 022, 034, 065, 081, 192, 194, 195, 196, 231, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 251, and 252; however, there are many other units in the state where quality bucks can be found. Hunters regularly harvest mature bucks in most of Nevada’s units in the 140 to 165” B&C range. Bucks over 200” are also harvested every year along with bucks over 180” in many units. These types of buck are not uncommon in a large majority of the units, but require a lot of scouting and patience. 

Nevada's top Boone and Crockett typical mule deer entries

County

Entries

Hunting Units within county

Elko 23 061, 062, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068, 071, 072, 073, 074, 075, 076, 077, 078, 079, 081, 091, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 121, 144
Lincoln 19 115, 132, 133, 221, 222, 223, 231, 241, 242, 243, 245, 271, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284
Washoe 15 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 021, 022, 033, 041, 194, 196
White Pine 11 065, 103, 104, 108, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 131, 132, 144, 164, 221, 222, 231
Humboldt 9 012, 031, 032, 033, 034, 035, 041, 042, 044, 046, 051, 066, 151

 

Nevada's top Boone and Crockett nontypical mule deer entries

County

Entries

Hunting Units within County

Elko 15 061, 062, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068, 071, 072, 073, 074, 075, 076, 077, 078, 079, 081, 091, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 121, 144
Lincoln 11 115, 132, 133, 221, 222, 223, 231, 241, 242, 243, 245, 271, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284
Nye 3 131, 132, 133, 134, 161, 162, 163, 164, 171, 172, 173, 181, 205, 251, 252, 253, 254, 261, 262
Lander 2 068, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 161, 162, 172, 173, 183, 184
Washoe 2 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 021, 022, 033, 041, 194, 196
White Pine 2 065, 103, 104, 108, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 131, 132, 144, 164, 221, 222, 231


Nevada also accommodates different weapon types during the best part of the year to pursue mule deer. There are late archery, muzzleloader, and rifle tags that allow hunters to hunt during the rut throughout different regions of the state. These hunts can be harder to draw without an accumulation of bonus points, but for those who have been collecting points have a shot at drawing a premier area during a great season. There is also a youth hunt for mule deer (available to resident youth) which is a great way to expose children to the fun of hunting and a way to get them involved throughout the year. Junior tags are drawn once and are valid for each hunting season (archery, muzzleloader and rifle).  

Why Nevada for elk in 2015
 


Photo credit: G&J Outdoors

Over the past few decades, Nevada has quickly become one of the hot spots for hunters pursuing trophy bull elk. The growing population and quality genetics within Nevada’s herds makes an elk hunter’s potential dream a reality. The state has bulls grossing over 380” and some may be lucky to land a 400” bull that are harvested in different regions and units in the state. This makes the application process all that more important. The following data was collected by NDOW from 2011 to 2014 and clearly illustrates the success of the Nevada elk herd. A continued rise in the total number of bulls harvested has not impacted the percentage of six point or better bulls taken over the last four years.

Nevada's percentage of six point or better bulls the past four years

Year

Total bulls
harvested

Percentage of six point
or better bulls

2011 829 72%
2012 942 71%
2013 1,198 73%
2014 1,289 72%


Unfortunately, chances of drawing a tag have become more difficult over the years due to a larger population of hunters applying for both residents and nonresident tags. Luckily, herd expansion is at an all-time high. Thanks to extremely mild winters over the last several years, recruitment across the state has been on the rise which means that more tags are allocated across the state. Herd growth has been so good that Nevada has implemented a “spike only” hunt and added more areas to their depredation hunts which do not affect bonus points.

Nevada bull elk harvest numbers 2011-2014

If you have been waiting to hunt in Nevada and have acquired a collection of bonus points, then 2015 may be the year you should consider using them. The opportunities for drawing and harvesting a great bull have never looked this good. Make sure to check out the Nevada unit profiles to gain more knowledge on specific areas.

Nevada's top Boone and Crockett typical elk entries

County

Entries

Hunting Units within County

White Pine 34 065, 103, 104, 108, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 131, 132, 144, 164, 221, 222, 231
Elko 33 061, 062, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068, 071, 072, 073, 074, 075, 076, 077, 078, 079, 081, 091, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 121, 144
Lincoln 10 115, 132, 133, 221, 222, 223, 231, 241, 242, 243, 245, 271, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284
Nye 5 131, 132, 133, 134, 161, 162, 163, 164, 171, 172, 173, 181, 205, 251, 252, 253, 254, 261, 262
Eureka 1 064, 065, 068, 131, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 152, 154, 155, 161, 162, 163, 164

 

Nevada's top Boone and Crockett nontypical elk entries

County

Entries

Hunting Units within County

White Pine 16 065, 103, 104, 108, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 131, 132, 144, 164, 221, 222, 231
Elko 4 061, 062, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068, 071, 072, 073, 074, 075, 076, 077, 078, 079, 081, 091, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 121, 144
Lincoln 4 115, 132, 133, 221, 222, 223, 231, 241, 242, 243, 245, 271, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284
Nye 1 131, 132, 133, 134, 161, 162, 163, 164, 171, 172, 173, 181, 205, 251, 252, 253, 254, 261, 262


Why Nevada for antelope in 2015
 


Photo credit: G&J Outdoors

Nevada is a great destination to harvest a trophy antelope. It ranks third in the nation for Boone and Crockett entries from 2010 to 2014 — just behind Wyoming and New Mexico. The mixture of open federal lands surrounding private agriculture fields makes for great habitat and great opportunities to harvest a nice buck. Antelope have expanded across multiple regions over the last 10 years which gives a hunter plenty of options around the state. Historically, the northwest corner and central regions have maintained consistent numbers along with south central Nevada. Antelope numbers are also on the rise in the northern and eastern parts of the state. Unfortunately, the drought that Nevada has been experiencing for the past several years has resulted in smaller horn growth, but there have been bucks harvested in varying units scoring over 80”.  

The antelope population is stable or increasing in most areas and tag allocation has been fairly stable in most units with few exceptions. Hunters should research areas that are affected by low moisture before they apply to determine water availability and feed resources accessible to the game herds. There are no muzzleloader only seasons desginated for nonresidents. Drawing a rifle or archery tag will require having enough bonus points. According to NDOW, in 2014 units 021, 022, 076, 077, 079, 081, 091, 131, 145, 163, 164, 211, 212, and 251 had an above 50% harvest success with bucks measuring over 15” in horn length. While it is possible to find an B&C buck in each unit, hunters will need to scout and cover a lot of country to turn up this caliber of buck. Acquiring access to private agricultural ground is helpful in finding a quality buck. 

Nevada's top Boone and Crockett antelope entries

County

Entries

Hunting Units within County

Washoe 121 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 021, 022, 033, 041, 194, 196
Humboldt 90 012, 031, 032, 033, 034, 035, 041, 042, 044, 046, 051, 066, 151
Elko 33 061, 062, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068, 071, 072, 073, 074, 075, 076, 077, 078, 079, 081, 091, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 121, 144
Pershing 14 012, 034, 041, 042, 043, 044, 045, 046, 151, 153, 182, 183
Eureka 7 064, 065, 068, 131, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 152, 154, 155, 161, 162, 163, 164

 

General herd conditions

Mule deer:
In certain areas of the state there are liberal tag allocations that provide hunters with greater opportunities to acquire and hunt deer, but also increase pressure and competition in those units. There are also units in the state that allocate a small percentage of tags that are managed more for trophy quality. Units with this management strategy tend to consistently produce the better bucks in Nevada. While mule deer herds are statistically on a decline, the state still has plenty of available areas to pursue trophy bucks. Unfortunately, the severe drought that has affected the majority of Nevada will certainly have an impact on horn growth and feed resources during 2015, but thanks to the consecutive mild winters fawn recruitment will hopefully be up. 

Elk:
The elk herd in Nevada is strong and plentiful. With the recent mild winter, most herds should only be minimally impacted and calf recruitment should be strong. The biggest issue facing elk in this state will be the continued drought that is affecting feed resources and water availability in certain areas, and may become an issue without spring and summer rains. The snowpack is very light in nearly all areas of the state.

Antelope:
As with elk, the toughest thing facing antelope will be the lack of water. Watering holes and springs in certain areas will be minimal without summer and fall monsoon rains. Regardless, the antelope population remains fairly stable and is increasing throughout the state. Units with private agriculture fields will see a surge in growth. Heavy summer and fall rains would benefit the herds immensely.

What’s new in 2015?

  • Rifle antelope hunts will now extend through September 7.
  • Antelope Unit 035 was separated from Units 032 and 034 for all hunts.
  • New nonresident archery antelope hunts are offered in Unit Group 078, 105, 106 and 107, 121 and Unit Group 115, 231, 242
  • Unit 051 has added an elk hunt. 
  • The elk hunts in Unit Group 078, 105, 106107 and 109 was split into an early and late season to spread out hunting pressure.
  • A rifle elk hunt during the rut will be open in Units 161164, 171173.
  • The elk hunt in units 241 and 242 were split from Unit 231, and will now have a separate season.
  • Spike elk hunts were added to Unit Groups 076, 077, 079, 081 and 078, 105107, 109.
  • The mule deer season in Unit Group 031, 032, 034, 035 and 051 will be lengthened to November 5.
  • The rifle mule deer season in Units 241-242 will close on November 1.
  • The muzzleloader mule deer season in Units 181-184 will be November 10 to 30.
  • In an effort to improve your hunting experience, NDOW has put together a table of hunter access restrictions and other advisories for specific hunts and unit groups. This information may affect your decision on where to apply this year. You can find the 2015 Hunt Unit Advisory on the NDOW website.

The draw system: An overview

Tag or license: Game hunting license plus tags for each species. 
Point system: Bonus point system that squares the points.
Youth: Resident only youth hunters have liberal season dates and taq quotas.
Draw type: Lottery.
Resident perk: Resident applicants are awarded a much higher tag allocation and have more available units to select from.

Nevada has a very user-friendly online application system. Online applications can be found here

Anyone applying for big game must purchase an annual hunting license and pay a per species application fee and a predator management fee when submitting an application. If drawn, the species tag fee will be charged. If applying online, nonresidents will be charged a $3.50 online fee per species. Residents will be charged a $2.00 online fee per species. 

If a hunter does not want the bonus points, the annual hunting license fee may be refunded if not drawn. If this option is selected, then the applicant will NOT be awarded a bonus point. For all species in Nevada, there are five hunt choices. When drawn, all five choices are considered prior to drawing the next application.

The deadline to apply online is April 20, 2015 at 11 p.m. (PDT). All paper applications must be received by 5 p.m. (PDT) on April 20, 2015.

Bonus point only application after the deadline

If you missed the application deadline to apply for a tag, you may submit an application for a bonus point within seven days after the application deadline. Application fees will still be charged. It is highly recommended that you print a copy of your application confirmation page for your records after applying. The last day to apply for a bonus point only is April 27, 2015 at 11 p.m. (PDT).

Table of fees — Nevada 2015

Item

Resident cost

Nonresident cost

General hunting license $33 $142
Youth hunting license
(12 to 15 years of age)
$13 N/A
Application fee - elk $15 $15
Application fee - all others $10 $10
Predator fee (per application) $3 $3
Online fee $2 $3.50
Bonus point ONLY $10 $10
Deer tag $30 $240
Antelope tag $60 $300
Elk tag $120 $1,200

 

The draw: Unlocking Nevada's system

The key to finding success in Nevada’s drawing is twofold. First, you will need some luck on your side since Nevada is a true bonus point state and does not reserve any tags for the applicants with the most points. It is also important to understand that your first two choices should be filled with the hunts that you desire most regardless of your point level or the popularity of the hunt choice. There is always a slim chance for applicants with little or no points. After your first two “dream” choices are filled in, then you must really determine if your intentions are to hold out for only the best of hunts, or if you would be happy with a less popular selection. If you are interested in a hunting opportunity, then select from early rifle choices, muzzleloader, and archery choices as your third through fifth choice selections. Remember, your bonus points are squared in Nevada.

The point system

Much like raffle tickets, bonus points give hunters extra chances to draw tags. You can acquire one bonus point per year per species by buying them or by applying for and getting rejected for tags. Your accrued points are squared and one additional point is given for the current application. For example, an applicant with five bonus points will have 26 chances to draw (five squared is 25 plus one for the current application equals 26 total chances). In this example, an applicant will receive a total of 26 random numbers from a random number generator in the drawing. The lowest random number will be used as the number assigned to the application. Obviously, the more bonus points you have, the greater your odds of receiving a low random number. Good luck!

Youth

Resident youth deer hunters are provided with a great opportunity in Nevada. If drawn, they may hunt during all seasons offered within a particular unit group until a buck is harvested. This program is only valid for mule deer hunts and nonresident youth are not eligible.

Party Applications

Party applications are only accepted for deer, cow elk and antelope with horns shorter than their ears. There is no limit to the number of applicants that can apply in a party, but be aware of the historic number of tags available. Residents and nonresidents may apply together. Bonus points will be averaged within the group and rounded to the nearest whole number.

Nevada big game draw FAQS

Where and how do I apply?

Applications may be submitted online here or submitted on paper through the mail. 

Is Nevada good for building points?

Nevada is a great state to build points. An annual hunting license must be purchased in order to build points. Once the annual hunting license is purchased, a bonus point only fee of $10 is charged per species. Bonus points are squared and will greatly increase your odds of drawing. 

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

You can return your tag should you decide not to hunt, but you must do so before the season opens. You will have your bonus points reinstated and also receive a refund for your tag fee.

Hunter opportunity

Draw odds and tag availability

Nevada offers a high number of tags statewide for deer. Most of these are obviously reserved for resident hunters, but if a nonresident is willing to hunt an early season in a less desired unit, then the odds are better. Muzzleloader and archery choices in less desired units are also easier to draw. Nonresidents are reserved approximately 10% of the tags in Nevada.

Special features for deer, elk and antelope in Nevada

  • Resident youth mule deer hunters may hunt all seasons until they harvest a buck.
  • Late archery mule deer seasons are available in many areas of Nevada and offer excellent rut hunting.

Photo credit: G&J Outdoors

The challenges facing Nevada for the 2015 year:

The single biggest challenge that will be facing sportsmen this year in Nevada will be the concern over water. Nevada has been locked in a lengthy drought that has left dismal snowpacks throughout the state. 

The graphics below from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of Nevada shows the impact of the drought on the actual snow to water ratio and what was historically considered normal for Nevada as of March 5, 2015.
 

Despite the prolonged drought conditions, according to the National Weather Service, soil moisture is near or above average for all areas except eastern Nevada. March and April may bring snowstorms to the upper reaches of the mountain ranges in Nevada, which could help with spring and creek flows into the summer months. Hopefully late spring and early summer rains will help grow the feed needed for wildlife to survive throughout the hot and dry months during late summer. Hunters with enough antelope bonus points this year should be aware of the impacts of this lack of precipitation.  

Wild horse impact

Wild horses are a constant in the west and have roamed across Nevada for a long time. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), there are an estimated 49,209 wild horses and burros on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states as of March 1, 2014. Compared to the 2013 estimate of 40,605 horses, it is apparent that the wild horse population is growing at an alarming rate. The growth rate is actually over 21% in only just the last year! The maximum appropriate management level (AML) is approximately 26,684 and the number of wild horses exceeds the AML by 22,500 wild horses. 

Western wild horse and burro population
 
This is an issue for big game and other wildlife for a number of reasons, most importantly because of the competition for water. While wild horses compete with wildlife for feed, the long-term drought has decreased the water availability across the state and will be heavily impacted should heavy rains not come this spring and summer. Hunters who use water holes as ambush spots for hunting big game may see an increase in use by wild horses this year. BLM says that the current estimated population far exceeds the number that they have determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources.

Wild horse and burro population in each Western state

State

Horses

Burros

Total Max. AML
Arizona 333 4,411 4,744 1,676
California 4,086 1,922 6,008 2,184
Colorado 1,205 0 1,205 812
Idaho 668 0 668 617
Montana 160 0 160 120
Nevada 23,347 1,688 25,035 12,796
New Mexico 146 0 146 83
Oregon 3,120 60 3,180 2,715
Utah 3,979 313 4,292 1,956
Wyoming 3,771 0 3,771 3,725
Total 40,815 8,394 49,209 26,684

Source: BLM

Quote from the BLM on wild horses
Source: BLM

Managing points and expectations

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

Mule deer:

For both residents and nonresidents there is always a possibility that you will get lucky and draw a permit regardless of the unit. The odds are that it will take you a few more years to gain enough bonus points to draw a tag for any area that is in high demand. We all know of those lucky few that have drawn a great tag with no points, but the likelihood of that is pretty slim. Select a hunt choice that you would really like as your first choice. Early rifle seasons, muzzleloader and archery choices should be used as your second through fifth choices if you are hoping to draw a tag without bonus points. If you are willing to hunt with archery equipment, there are leftover tags still available after the draw in a few units. Note: You will lose your accumulated bonus points if you purchase a leftover tag in Nevada. Consider this before purchasing a leftover tag. 

Elk:

The same strategy should be followed here as with mule deer. Keep in mind that the number of hunt options for elk are far fewer than mule deer in Nevada, and the odds of drawing a bull tag are low. 

Antelope:

Once again select a couple of hunt options that you would really desire, and list these as your first and second choice. Resident applicants should consider muzzleloader and archery options as third through fifth choice. Nonresident applicants that are willing to bowhunt for antelope could consider archery for their final three choices. Trophy antelope bucks live in most available units in Nevada. 

What can I do with 3 to 4 points?

Mule deer:

Resident:  
With three or four points bonus points the resident hunter should decide if this is the year that they want to go hunting or if the hunter would rather wait to draw a more coveted tag. While you still have a chance at drawing a premier area because of Nevada’s squared point system, it is more likely to take a few more points. There are some good rifle units that resident hunters have a fair chance of drawing. There are also some really good odds for certain muzzleloader hunts and archery choices. Resident hunters should apply for the areas and seasons that they want to draw as their first and second choices and apply for units with better odds in different units for their third through fifth choice. 

Nonresident:
Nonresident rifle hunters that are determined to only hunt units that are known producers of big bucks should keep applying for the areas that they wish to draw. The late rifle seasons are consistently proven producers of better bucks. If you are a rifle hunter with three or four points and would like a better chance to experience Nevada mule deer hunting, then list early rifle seasons as your third through fifth choices. The early seasons will not provide a rut hunting experience. Muzzleloader and late archery hunts may be closer to rut, depending on which units they prefer. Regardless, you should apply. With Nevada’s system you may be one of the lucky ones that draw that special tag.

Elk:

Resident: 
Even with the increase of tags and areas opened up for hunters, drawing a bull tag in Nevada is not easy with just three to four points. There are people that do get lucky but realistically it should take a few more years to draw, especially in the premium areas. Hunters should study the tag quotas within the unit profiles to determine which areas have the most permits. Late rifle seasons will be your best chance at a tag. Remember to list premium season dates that coincide with the rut as your first and second choice, followed by season and weapon choices you would be happy with as your third through fifth choice.

Nonresidents: 
Normally it will take closer to 10 or more bonus points to draw a bull tag in the Silver State, but there is always that random chance of pulling an exceptional tag. Apply for your most desired tags in your hunt choices if you are holding out for only the best of the best. If an opportunity is all you seek, apply for the very best rut seasons in first and second choice followed by late rifle seasons as third through fifth choice. 

Antelope:

Residents: 
Hunters have a good chance at drawing a tag. Some rifle choices may be just a few points away, but there are areas in Nevada where you can draw with four points. Archery hunters have a really good chance at pulling a tag and even some of the muzzleloader tags are in reach.  

Nonresidents: 
With three to four points, nonresidents are still a few years away from drawing a rifle tag in nearly all areas. Archery hunters have a better chance, but luck will still be needed. Apply for the areas that you are interested in. If you do not draw keep building points. Check the tag quotas in our unit profiles to determine which units offer the most nonresident permits.

What can I expect with 10 or more points?

Mule deer:

Residents: With 10 or more points most units are within reach. Apply for those special units you have been waiting years to draw and hold strong. You have waited this long to draw and now is not the time to give up on that plan. Late archery tags and even late muzzleloader tags are well within reach. Hunters who have waited to draw a special late season rifle also have a great chance of drawing.

Nonresidents: 
Out-of-state hunters that have been diligent and have acquired 10 or more points have a great chance of drawing rifle tags throughout Nevada. Some of the premier areas noted for big bucks may have some competition but they are within reach. If you have waited this long, keep applying to the areas you want to hunt unless you are ready to burn points to go hunting. Check the tag quotas in our unit profiles to see how many tags are allocated to nonresident hunters in your areas of interest.  

Elk:

Resident: 
With 10 or more points resident elk hunters should start to feel the anticipation of drawing that coveted bull tag. Archery hunters are in position to pull a tag in a majority of areas. Muzzleloader hunters that are hoping to draw a tag that allows them to hunt during the rut will have competition. While there is no guarantee, your odds are good for a lot of different areas. Stay the course and apply for those areas you wish to hunt.  

Nonresidents:  
The limited tag quota for nonresidents among the premium units and seasons creates a lot of competition for tags. However with Nevada’s draw system squaring points, hunters with 10 or more points certainly have a chance. Archery hunters have a greater chance on average of drawing than someone wanting to hunt during the rut with a firearm or muzzleloader. With some areas hovering around a 2% chance of drawing, the accumulation of points will be greatly beneficial.

Antelope:

Resident: 
Resident hunters have a great chance of drawing a premier area in Nevada. Apply for those special units and let your points help you in drawing that tag. Archery hunters typically draw with less than 10 points as do muzzleloader hunters. 

Nonresidents: 
Hunters from out-of-state that are sitting on 10 or more points for antelope will still have steep odds of drawing a tag. Unless you are anxious to use your points and are itching for an opportunity to hunt, stay the course and apply to that area you have always dreamed of hunting as there is a chance.

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