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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: New Mexico sheep and exotics

 

21 young Ibex from New Mexico
21 young Ibex billies from New Mexico. Photo credit: Kauffman Outfitters/Kiowa Hunts

Overview

Not only is New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, but it is also the land of diversity for hunters. New Mexico’s big game animals are known for their diversity. Some of the greatest desert sheep hunting on the planet is found in this state. Rugged and remote terrain make for an extreme adventure for hunting Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Unique to New Mexico is the opportunity to hunt free range exotic species, such as ibex, oryx and Barbary sheep. The deadline to apply for these species is the same as deer, elk and antelope — March 18. This information will help you to decide if you would like to consider these species, and also develop a plan for applying in New Mexico in 2015. The online application can be found here. Find more details for particular species on our New Mexico state profile.

Why New Mexico for Rocky Mountain bighorn in 2015

New Mexico is not typically one of the first states that comes to mind when trophy sheep hunters talk about Rocky Mountain bighorns. Historically, the state has only offered a few units to select from when considering this species, but new units have been opened for 2015. Big rams scoring over 180” Boone and Crockett are harvested each year, but most hunters harvest rams in the 160 to 175” class. 
 

New Mexico Rocky bighorn sheep
Photo credit: Frontier Outfitting

Hunters should plan on a physically demanding hunt if they are fortunate enough to draw a tag. Horseback and backpack camping is recommended to increase success. Good outfitters are also available to provide the gear and experience in the rough, sheep country.

New Mexico’s top counties for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep Boone and Crockett entries

County

Entries

Units within county

Taos 33 45, 49, 50, 51A, 53, 55A
Mora 5 42, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49
Grant 3 16B, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
Catron 2 12, 13, 15, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 21A, 22, 23
Rio Arriba 2 2B, 2C, 4, 5A, 5B, 6A, 6C, 45, 50, 51A, 51B, 52
San Miguel 2 42, 43, 45, 46, 47

 

Why New Mexico for Desert bighorn sheep in 2015

In recent years, the top end of the B&C club's record book has been rewritten thanks to New Mexico and their stellar management of desert sheep. For years, only one desert sheep hunting unit was available, but today there are six different hunting areas to select from with 21 total tags.

Lorenzo Sartini with his New Mexico Desert bighorn sheep

Day hikes with good road access are found in most of the desert sheep areas. Rams scoring over 170” B&C are harvested regularly in New Mexico. 

Top 10 Boone and Crockett Desert bighorn sheep entries

Rank

Location

Score

Year 

1 Socorro County, NM 195 3/8" 2013
2 Socorro County, NM 191" 2012
3 Gila County, AZ 188 7/8" 2010
4 Gila County, AZ 188 4/8" 2011
5 Hidalgo County, NM 187 3/8" 2014
6 Tiburon Island, MX 187 1/8" 2011
7 Hidalgo County, NM 187" 2012
8 Tiburon Island, MX 186 3/8" 2011
9 Tiburon Island, MX 186 1/8" 2010
10 Pinal County, AZ 186 1/8" 2013

 

Why New Mexico for ibex in 2015

A unique experience is available in New Mexico for hunters that are willing to test themselves physically. Free ranging Persian ibex are found in southern New Mexico and offer one of the most rewarding experiences. This species was originally native to the mountains of Siberia and Iran and was transplanted to New Mexico in the 1960s. Although the odds of drawing one of these highly coveted tags are low, it is still worthwhile if you have the money to submit your application.

New Mexico Ibex

Since the ibex is a member of the capra, or goat family, males are called billies and often grow impressive horns reaching over 36” in length. Plan to be in very good shape before venturing to the Florida Mountains in search of this trophy. Seasons are available for rifle, muzzleloader and archery. Ibex are not recognized by the B&C club since they are not native to North America. 

Why New Mexico for oryx in 2015

Native to Africa’s Kalahari Desert and known as gemsbok in their native homeland, the oryx is found on the White Sands Missile range of Unit 19 and 28, and is hunted in a very controlled manner. The oryx is a large-bodied animal that grows horns that can reach 40” in length. Not only are they an impressive animal to see in the wild, they are known to provide some of the very best of game meat found anywhere.
 

This is not considered a physically demanding hunt, and the oryx travel in large groups making them easier to spot. Since the hunts are handled within an active missile range, the dates are very rigid and an orientation is mandatory for all hunters prior to going into the field. Oryx are not recognized by the B&C club since they are not native to North America. 

Why New Mexico for Barbary sheep in 2015

Also originally from Africa are the Barbary sheep of New Mexico. Sometimes referred to as aoudad, this species is known for being very nomadic across the arid canyons and deserts of southern New Mexico. Hunters should plan on long hikes in very rocky country in search of these nomads. They can acquire all their water strictly from their food sources, allowing them to roam long distances in search of food.
 

Wide sweeping horns that reach a spread of 30” are the goal. Hunts are available on both public lands and private ranches. Outfitters can provide improved access on some of the large private ranches. Barbary sheep are not recognized by the B&C club since they are not native to North America. 

General herd conditions:

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep numbers in New Mexico have been very stable thanks to great wildlife management of these wild sheep. Recent transplant efforts are now allowing for new opportunities in new areas, and a hunt in Units 16B, 22, 23 and 24 is being re-introduced that was temporarily closed due to high predation. Statewide trophy quality has been consistent with top end rams scoring over 180” B&C in multiple areas.

Desert sheep
The desert sheep continue to thrive with numbers stable to increasing in most areas. Top end trophy quality has come down slightly, but this can be attributed to the harvest of exceptional rams when several new areas were opened to hunting for the first time in 2012. With three seasons to harvest the oldest age classes, much of the “cream” has been skimmed off, but big rams are still available. Expect New Mexico to continue to produce large desert sheep in 2015.  

Ibex
The Florida Mountains are also referred to as “The Rock” by some locals. This rough and rugged mountain range challenges many hunters, making it difficult to access all the steep canyons found within this small mountain range. This allows billies to reach an older age class and also allows numbers to remain high. The ibex numbers were at an all time high in recent years and a population management hunt was performed in 2013 to reduce the overall numbers.

Oryx
Oryx travel in large numbers, sometimes numbering 50 animals. They are known to be prolific breeders and overall numbers are steady to increasing. Management of this species is very controlled within the WSMR. 

Barbary sheep
The barbary sheep are somewhat nomadic and live in scattered herds across southern New Mexico. Herd numbers are reported to be stable and continue to provide a great opportunity with drawing odds that are much better than desert sheep.  

What’s new in 2015?

  • Nonresidents can once again draw unguided sheep tags. Although the nonresident quota is far below years prior to 2014, an opportunity to draw exists again. 
  • Tag allocation for all big game species (including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert sheep and exotics) is as follows:
    • Resident 84%
    • Guided 10%
    • Nonresident 6% 
  • 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.
  • New units available for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Three additional hunt areas are open for 2015. 
  • New seasons offered in existing units for desert sheep.
  • New way of applying for bighorn sheep species. Applicants can still enter up to three choices, but there is one ram hunt code for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and a separate ram hunt code for desert sheep. For each hunt code chosen, applicants may select, in the order preferred, up to three hunt areas and hunt dates for that hunt code. This is a somewhat confusing process and extra care should be taken when applying for bighorn sheep. 

New Mexico application process

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 all species.

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 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.

For Rocky Mountain bighorn, desert sheep and all exotics, applicants can select up to three choices when applying. The state considers all applicants’ first three hunt choices before considering any applicant’s fourth and fifth choices. For Barbary sheep, ibex and oryx, a fifth choice is available if you would like to be considered for a population management season, should one come available. 

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
Bighorn sheep March 18 April 29 $3,173*
Ibex March 18 April 29 $1,623*
Oryx March 18 April 29 $1,623*
Barbary sheep March 18 April 29 $373*
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
Bighorn sheep March 18 April 29 $160*
Ibex March 18 April 29 $110*
Oryx March 18 April 29 $160
Barbary sheep March 18 April 29 $110*
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 

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. Purchase will be required upon receipt of a tag and prior to hunting.

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.

Explaining the Terk appeal 

In 1974 a lawsuit was filed by Texas hunter, David Terk, over New Mexico’s higher prices and restricted quota for nonresident applicants for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert sheep, ibex and oryx. These species were the only species subject to a state quota at that time. Although Terk lost the initial case, he appealed on the grounds that New Mexico’s law violated the Federal Equal Protection Clause. Terk won on that count and New Mexico did not appeal. An injunction was ordered by the judge in 1977 making New Mexico’s tags for bighorn sheep, ibex and oryx open game to applicants, regardless of residency. For many years the nonresident applicants received the majority of the bighorn sheep tags. In 2012, the number of desert sheep tags exploded thanks to new units opening that had never been hunted. With the Terk injunction still in place, the large majority of these new tags were given to nonresidents for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. Efforts to appeal the Terk injunction began in 2009 and were finally successful in spring of 2014 when a U.S. District judge ruled it was no longer equitable and removed the injunction. The state of New Mexico immediately placed the 84%, 10% and 6% quota on bighorn sheep, ibex and oryx hunt choices. 

For 2015, there will be two opportunities for nonresidents to draw a Rocky Mountain bighorn tag — one unguided tag and one available in the guided draw. For desert sheep there will be potentially three tags available for nonresidents, one unguided and two in the guided draw.   

Understanding and unlocking the New Mexico draw

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. If you are a nonresident, one key to improving your odds at drawing a tag is to apply with a licensed New Mexico outfitter for bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex. 

Giant New Mexico Ibex

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 as long as they have satisfactorily completed a hunter education course. There is a discounted game hunting license for youth, but there are no discounts offered to nonresident youth hunters. 

Group applications

A maximum of two hunters may apply together in a group application for Rocky Mountain bighorn, desert sheep, ibex and oryx. For barbary sheep, four applicants can apply together on one 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: 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 permit 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 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert sheep, ibex and oryx in New Mexico.

Draw odds and tag availability

Bighorn sheep, ibex and oryx tags are among the most difficult to draw and can take years to finally pull a tag. Nonresidents will typically improve their odds of drawing a tag if they apply with a licensed New Mexico outfitter, since 10% of the tags are reserved for those hunting with a guide. 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. 

New Mexico bighorn sheep tag distribution

Special features for bighorn sheep, ibex, oryx and barbary sheep in New Mexico

  • Archery ibex hunting is a very challenging hunt with low harvest success, but odds of drawing are better than other seasons.
  • Off-range oryx tags are much easier to draw, but have low success due to low numbers.
  • Searching goHUNT’s Outfitter Directory for a licensed New Mexico outfitter, and contracting with them prior to the draw will improve your odds of drawing.
     
New Mexico Rocky bighorn sheep
Photo credit: Frontier Outfitting

Managing expectations

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

Before applying for any of these species, it is very important to understand the cost associated with applying. If you plan to apply for all four species as a nonresident, you will be required to front nearly $7,000 because the entire license and tag fee is due at the time of application. It is difficult to submit that much in fees since there are no bonus or preference points awarded on unsuccesful drawing years. If unsuccessful in the draw you will be refunded the entire amount, except for $13 per species applied for.  

Bighorn Sheep (Rocky Mountain and desert sheep)

Any of the bighorn sheep choices will provide the chance to harvest an incredible ram. Select which of the bighorn species you would prefer and list it as your first choice. Be careful to only select the “Ram” choice and avoid the “Ewe” option. Make sure you apply for the other species as your second choice to improve your odds, again avoiding the “ewe” option.

Ibex

With ibex it is a matter of what weapon you prefer. The once-in-a-lifetime hunt choice with a rifle is the best chance for success. Since New Mexico has virtually no restrictions on muzzleloader setup and loads, the odds of success is relatively high with a muzzleloader. Archery is your best chance to draw a tag, especially with an outfitter. An archery ibex tag will be an extremely challenging hunt, but an incredible experience. 

Oryx

The Rhodes Canyon and Stallion Range hunts are conducted on the White Sands Missile Range and will be your best chance at success, although difficult to draw. Using our Outfitter Directory to find a New Mexico outfitter to apply with would be your best bet here. 

Barbary Sheep

Public land tags are offered through the draw, and are the best option. Avoid the over-the-counter tags, unless contracted with an outfitter that has quality private land leased. 

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