Become an INSIDER to gain access to this article

Join now

APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: New Mexico deer, elk, antelope

 

Bull elk with cows
Photo credit: Getty Images

Overview

New Mexico is a great destination for opportunity and trophy hunters alike in search of mule deer, coues deer, elk and antelope. With no bonus or preference point system in place, it is never too late to start applying in New Mexico. Resident applicants are designated the large majority of tags, while nonresidents and guided hunters get only a small fraction of the overall tag quota. The deadline to apply is the same for all species and this information will help you develop a plan for applying in New Mexico in 2015. The online application can be found here. You can also find more details for particular species on our New Mexico state profile.  

Why New Mexico for elk in 2015

Within the borders of the state of New Mexico is the Gila National Forest. The Gila is a respected region known to produce big bull elk scoring over 350” Boone and Crockett. Typically the Gila units 16A, 16D and 15 produce some of the state’s best bulls, but are among the most difficult to draw. Other units also provide a chance at bulls over 330” B&C, such as 13, 16B, 16C, 17 as well as Units 34 and 36 adjacent to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. High numbers of elk can be found in Units 51A, 51B and 52, but a bull over 300” B&C is considered big in this area. Mild winters and few predators help to keep the statewide herd numbers in good shape.
 

New Mexico bull elk
Photo credit: Gila Monster Outfitters

Most units offer two or three seasons for archery elk hunting. The first archery season is typically hot and dry, so plan on being near water if you try this season. Although the latest archery season will see some rut action in the final days, the peak rut activity usually takes place when no hunting seasons are open. New Mexico strives to allow the peak breeding activity to take place when no hunters are in the field. 

Some of the very best season dates are reserved for the youth and mobility impaired hunters only. In many areas, the final days of the peak elk rut is still cranking when these special seasons are offered. The muzzleloader and rifle seasons take place after the rut, or in the last days of the rut. Nearly all of the muzzleloader and rifle seasons are five days in length and only have a few days between seasons where the elk are not hunted. This constant stream of hunting pressure can cause for bulls to bugle less and become elusive. 

New Mexico’s top counties for bull elk Boone and Crockett entries: Typical

County

Entries

Units within county

Catron 27 12, 13, 15, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 21A, 22, 23
Cibola 11 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Otera 14 19, 28, 29, 30, 34, 36
Colfax 12 46, 47, 48, 49, 54, 55A, 55B, 56, 57, 59
Socorro 11 13, 14, 16E, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21B

 

New Mexico’s top counties for bull elk Boone and Crockett entries: Nontypical

County

Entries

Units within county

Catron 27 12, 13, 15, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 21A, 22, 23
Cibola 11 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Otera 14 19, 28, 29, 30, 34, 36
Socorro 11 13, 14, 16E, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21B


Why New Mexico for antelope in 2015

Trailing only Wyoming in B&C entries, New Mexico is a top location for trophy antelope. The reigning world record antelope was also harvested in New Mexico in recent years. Socorro county has the most entries among New Mexico counties and holds units 13, 14, 16E, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21B. The fact that no applicants have any preference or bonus points makes applying for antelope attractive. You are never too late to get in the game of applying since there are no points.
 

Successful applicants in the drawing are assigned a specific private ranch that they will be assigned to hunt. This can be good to manage hunting pressure among the tag holders, but it can also be bad if you are assigned to a ranch with poor antelope hunting. It is obvious in New Mexico that you are at the mercy of the quality of the assigned ranch. Ranch assignments will be made after the draw by NMDGF. Hunters who have drawn together on the same application may be assigned to separate, but nearby ranches. NMDGF will mail each assigned hunter a letter and ranch map, notifying the hunter of his/her assigned ranch. Assigned hunters will have free, equal and unrestricted access to hunt the entire ranch they have been assigned, including all private-deeded land and public-leased land associated with the ranch. Hunters, their companions and/or their guide or outfitter are allowed access to scout the ranch during the two days immediately preceding the start of their assigned hunt. All assigned hunts are ranch only, except as indicated by rule.

Top 5 antelope Boone and Crockett entries by state

Rank

State

Entries

1 Wyoming 1160
2 New Mexico 632
3 Arizona 344
4 Nevada 291
5 Montana 184


Why New Mexico for deer in 2015

New Mexico is home to mule deer and coues deer. The quality of the mule deer has struggled historically due to management objectives striving for quantity over age class. Drought and predators are also to blame for the challenges facing New Mexico’s mule deer. Only nine of the top 100 typical mule deer entered in the B&C book are from New Mexico, and all of those are from the Rio Arriba county area in or near the Jicarilla Indian Reservation. Units 2A, 2B, 2C, 4, 5A and 5B all are located in close proximity to the Jicarilla.

A small number of mule deer bucks are harvested each year that score over 190” B&C, but bucks scoring between 150” and 170” are considered good for New Mexico. The best chance to rifle hunt some of New Mexico’s biggest mule deer is during the November rifle seasons in units near the Jicarilla Indian Reservation. The very best dates to rifle hunt this region is reserved for youth hunters only. The late archery mule deer season offered in some units can provide a great opportunity to harvest a mature muley, but there may be crunchy snow, making your stalk more difficult.
 


Photo credit: David Howell

The coues deer in New Mexico live in the desert regions in the Southwestern part of the state and have good numbers in some areas. Some of the coues deer reside near the Mexican border and illegal immigration can pose a threat to hunters and their campsites. Some of the coues deer in New Mexico will score well over 100”. The best coues bucks have come from the units in Hidalgo and Grant counties. Specifically units 16B, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28. Although the state is not as recognized for producing big numbers of coues deer like Arizona does, New Mexico is a great destination for someone looking to add a “grey ghost” to their trophy room. 

General herd conditions:

Elk

Elk continue to do well in New Mexico, similar to other Western states that do not have wolf issues. Winter kill is never an issue either. Drought conditions are the greatest threat to elk in New Mexico and has been an issue in recent years, impacting antler growth and overall forage. 

Antelope

New Mexico’s antelope herds thrive thanks to a lot of prime antelope habitat found in many parts of the state. Great genetics combined with high desert forage and large grasslands help to provide exactly what this species needs to produce numbers and trophies.

Mule deer

Mule deer management in New Mexico has historically been focused on opportunity and a lot of tags are issued most of the units and seasons. A few trophy areas have fewer tags issued where deer are managed for age class and the herd quality is better. Parts of the state have good habitat for mule deer, while much of the state does not. Overall, this is not one of the better states in the West for excellent mule deer hunting.  

Coues deer

Aside from Arizona, New Mexico offers the only other opportunity for hunting coues deer. Nearly all of the coues deer reside in the Southwest corner in rough desert regions. Coues deer are more adaptable to drought conditions and numbers have held steady offering a great hunting opportunity. For the most part, coues deer tags are not difficult to draw compared to the other species. Trophy quality is good offering a chance to harvest a mature buck.  

What’s new in 2015?

  • Lower application fees: The nonrefundable application fees have been reduced to $7 for residents and $13 for nonresidents.
  • Quicker refunds: Refunds for deleted (cancelled) applications that are purchased by credit card now are processed immediately and will no longer require waiting until after the draw.
  • Tag allocation for all big game species is as follows:
    • Resident: 84%
    • Guided: 10%
    • Nonresident: 6%

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: Game hunting license plus hunt licenses for each species.
  • Point System: No point system in place.
  • Youth: Several youth only seasons offered with premium hunt dates as well.
  • Draw type: Lottery.
  • Resident perk: Residents are awarded 84% of the species licenses for each hunt code for deer, elk and antelope.

New Mexico has an easy to navigate online application system and all species share the same unit boundaries and numeric title. Online applications can be found here

When using the online application, a personal individual account is required. Establishing a personal NMDGF account is free of charge. Each individual applying for a draw hunt or any hunter reporting their harvest must have a personal account. Accounts can be set up online or by telephone at 1-888-248-6866.

Anyone applying for big game, must pay the full license and application fee when submitting an application. The fee will be refunded if unsuccessful in the draw.

There are several types of draw licenses, and the fees are different based on the classification. The types are standard (S), quality (Q) and high demand (HD) hunts for rifle, bow, crossbow and muzzleloader. Some hunts are both quality and high demand. High-demand hunts are those hunts choices where at least 22% of the applicant pool were nonresidents for each of the two previous license years.
 

Large New Mexico bull elk
Photo credit: Gila Monster Outfitters

Applicants can select up to five choices when applying, but only the first three choices should be filled in. Only enter a fourth or fifth choice if interested in obtaining an undersubscribed or population management hunt. Caution should be taken because many of the fourth and fifth choices will be filled with antlerless licenses. The state considers all applicants’ first three hunt choices before considering any applicant’s fourth and fifth choices.

If you select a fourth choice, you are indicating that you will accept a tag for any hunt in a specific quadrant of the state. The fourth choice assignment will always be for the same weapon type as the first choice on the application, but it could likely be an antlerless tag. Success rates of assigned fourth choice hunts can be very low. We recommend that you do not fill in a fourth choice, unless you are only interested in an opportunity to get in the field and hunt.
  
By filling in a fifth choice on your application, you are indicating that you are willing to be considered for a population management hunt. By choosing this option you are indicating that you are willing, if unsuccessful in drawing your first, second, third, or fourth choice, to be placed on a list of eligible hunters for that species. If a population management hunt becomes necessary, a state official will contact applicants to notify them of the hunt areas, dates, weapon type and any other special restrictions. The hunter will be asked to accept or decline the hunt. If a hunter declines, another hunter will be contacted. These hunts are primarily antlerless, since these hunts are intended to reduce populations in specific areas. Like the fourth choice, we do not recommend that you apply for a fifth choice in New Mexico unless you are hoping for a chance to fill the freezer.

Application types and deadlines

Nonresident
application

Online
application
dates
(by 5 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost*

Game hunting
license
    $65

Game hunting and
fishing license

    N/A
Junior game
hunting license
    $15
Junior game hunting
and fishing license
    N/A
Habitat Stamp Required if hunting
Forest Service or
BLM lands
  $5
Habitat management
and access validation
Not required if younger
than 18 years of age
or a disabled
resident veteran
  $4
Elk Standard March 18 April 29 $448*
Elk quality/
High demand
March 18 April 29 $773*
Elk Junior March 18 April 29 N/A
Deer Standard March 18 April 29 $238*
Deer Quality/
High Demand
March 18 April 29 $368*
Deer Junior March 18 April 29 N/A
Antelope All Types March 18 April 29 $238*
Bonus points only** N/A N/A N/A

*includes the nonrefundable $13 application fee for nonresidents.
**New Mexico does not have a system in place for bonus or preference points. 

Resident
application

Online
application
dates
(by 5 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost*

Game hunting license     $15

Game hunting and
fishing license

    $30
Junior game
hunting license
    $10
Junior game hunting
and fishing license
    $15
Habitat Stamp Required if hunting
Forest Service or
BLM lands
  $5
Habitat management
and access validation
Not required if younger
than 18 years of age
or a disabled
resident veteran
  $4
Elk Standard March 18 April 29 $90*
Elk quality/
High demand
March 18 April 29 $90*
Elk Junior March 18 April 29 $58*
Deer Standard March 18 April 29 $41*
Deer Quality/
High Demand
March 18 April 29 $41*
Deer Junior March 18 April 29 $29*
Antelope All Types March 18 April 29 $60*
Bonus points only** N/A N/A N/A

*Includes the $7 nonrefundable application fee for residents.
**New Mexico does not have a system in place for bonus or preference points. 

Application and license fees 

New Mexico residents pay the same fee for standard, quality or high demand hunts. However, nonresident applicants pay higher fees for quality and high demand hunts. A Habitat Management & Access Validation is required for all hunts. A Habitat Stamp is required for hunting on Forest Service and/or BLM lands. Habitat Stamps and Habitat Management & Access Validations may be purchased online, by telephone or at license vendors. Purchase of a Habitat Stamp and Habitat Management & Access Validation is not necessary prior to applying for draw hunt tags. However, purchase will be required upon receipt of a tag and prior to hunting.
 

New Mexico antelope buck running
Photo credit: Larry Lamsa

Special limitations to consider

Harvest reporting is mandatory. If you fail to report your harvest, even if you did not go afield, then your applications will be rejected.

The draw: Unlocking New Mexico’s system

With no point system in place, it is never too late to start applying in New Mexico. It is important to understand that the first three choices on the application are considered prior to the next application being drawn. Fourth or fifth choices are only considered after all applications have been considered for their first three choices. All highly desired hunt choices will be filled prior to all applications being considered for the first three choices. By filling in a fourth and/or fifth choice, your are indicating that you are willing to accept a less desirable hunt choice. These are often antlerless or population management tags. 
 

Gila Monster Outfitters bull elk
Photo credit: Gila Monster Outfitters

Youth 

Many of the absolute best dates are reserved for youth-only seasons. Youth applicants must be younger than 18 years of age on opening day of the hunt. Youth can apply in New Mexico at 10 years old, as long as they have satisfactorily completed a hunter education course (for all species) or have a registration number with the New Mexico Youth-Mentor program (for deer only). There is a discounted game hunting license for youth, and resident youth receive a tag discount, but there are no tag discounts offered to nonresident youth hunters. 

Group applications

A maximum of four hunters may apply together in a group application. Residents and nonresidents can apply together, but make sure that nonresident permits are available for each hunt you apply for.

New Mexico big game draw FAQs

Where and how do I apply?

New Mexico’s application can be submitted online or by telephone at 888-248-6866. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. MDT on March 18. 

Does New Mexico have bonus or preference points? 

Neither. There is not a point system in place for New Mexico. It is never too late to begin applying. You are never out of the running!

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

No. New Mexico does not allow refunds, tag returns, or exchanges, unless approved by the director of NMGFD. Tags could possibly be donated to a youth hunter with a life threatening illness through an appropriate non-profit organization. 

The seasons

New Mexico hunt choices are clearly separated by weapon classification. The legal sporting arms for hunting big game can be found beginning on page 133 of the regulations. The regulations can be downloaded here.  

For hunt choices defined as any legal sporting arm, the approved weapon types include: centerfire rifle or handgun; shotgun no smaller than 28 gauge, firing a single slug; bow and arrows; crossbow and bolts; and muzzleloading rifle. 

For muzzleloader hunts, muzzleloaders may use in-line ignition, pelleted powder, sabots, belted bullets and scopes. There are a few restricted muzzleloader hunt choices in New Mexico, but they are rare. See the regulations for these limitations.

For archery only hunt choices, bows cannot have sights that magnify targets or project light. Arrows must have broadheads (fixed or mechanical) with steel cutting edges. No drugs may be used on arrows. Arrows cannot be driven by explosives.

Hunter opportunity

General information, tips and our insights for hunting deer, elk and antelope in New Mexico.

Draw odds and tag availability

Highly desired hunt choices for all species typically offer a lower number of tags. This makes for a better hunter experience with less hunting pressure. Tags for these coveted seasons are more difficult to draw. Tag allocation provides residents an overwhelming advantage of drawing tags compared to nonresidents. Nonresidents will typically improve their odds of drawing a tag if they apply with a licensed New Mexico outfitter. If you intend to hire an outfitter if you are drawn, then you should contact an outfitter prior to applying and improve your chances at drawing. Remember, there are no preference or bonus points in place so it is never too late to begin applying!
 

New Mexico antelope
Photo credit: Gila Monster Outfitters

Special features for deer, elk and antelope in New Mexico

  • Many of the late November elk seasons are easier to draw than other seasons
  • New Mexico offers great black bear hunting opportunity over-the-counter with season dates that could overlap with deer, elk, and antelope seasons. An OTC Bear License may be purchased at license vendors, NMDGF offices, online: www.wildlife.state.nm.us or by telephone: 1-888-248-6866. Bear Licenses must be purchased at least two calendar days before hunting.

Managing expectations

Since there are no points in New Mexico, what can I expect?

With no point system in place, you have to ask yourself what your goals are. The same strategy should apply for each of the three species since points are not a consideration. 

If trophy opportunity is all you are after, then we recommend that you focus on the B&C tables found in the species profiles and select three units to list as your three choices. Further research these choices in the unit profiles to find the units that suit you best. Identify your desired weapon type, season dates and harvest success to narrow your search for the right season to apply for. 

If an opportunity to get in the field and harvest a representative buck or bull is what you want, then search the unit profiles for units that suit your needs and limitations. When listing your three choices, your goal should be to list the unit with the best trophy quality first, then selecting opportunity hunts as second and third choices. New Mexico is a great destination for hunter opportunity!

Comments

50 States for 50 Bucks
Tried and True Hunting Gear
Get Hunting Gear for Less