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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2018: New Mexico Elk

2018 New Mexico elk application strategy article

New Mexico's 2018 elk application overview

Jump to: New for 2018 State Information Draw System Elk Breakdown Draw Options

If you want to go after some of the biggest bulls on the continent, you need to be applying in New Mexico! Elk continue to thrive in New Mexico thanks to relatively low predation and mild winters. While 2017 was a very dry year, 2018 has the potential to see above average rainfall. Don't miss out on a chance to chase big bulls in the southwest!

Note: The application deadline for all fall hunts is March 21, 2018 by 5:00 p.m. MST. Apply online here.



Why New Mexico for elk in 2018?

No points

Everybody has the same chance of drawing! Just the right amount of luck can provide you with an opportunity of a lifetime. 

Increased draw odds with an outfitter

If you are willing to hire an outfitter, you can increase your odds of drawing. The outfitter draw receives a special allocation of tags and, by contracting with an outfitter prior to applying, you can gain an edge on the competition. Check out the guided draw odds on our standalone draw odds page under New Mexico. Also be sure to check a recent article on the benefits of the guide draw here.

Extensive public land and Trophy Quality

Some of the best elk habitat in the country is found in the Gila and Cibola National Forests in New Mexico, both of which are almost exclusively public land. This means that if you draw a tag, you have a legitimate chance at finding a true bull of a lifetime on public land.

Low cost to apply

Applying in New Mexico for elk is a no-brainer if you think about it. If you're unsuccessful in the draw, your hunting license cost can be refunded so you are only out $13.

The cost to NOT build points

Applying in New Mexico for elk once again makes sense when compared to Idaho, which also doesn't have a bonus points program.

Idaho and New Mexico application cost comparison for nonrefundable fees

The cost to NOT build points

Elk tag application cost comparison
New Mexico vs Idaho — Nonresident only
  New Mexico Idaho
Application item Cost Refundable Cost Refundable
Annual hunting license $65 Yes $154.75 No
Application fee $13 No $14.75 No
Online processing fee N/A N/A $21.08 No
Elk tag $773* Yes $416.75 Yes
Total out of pocket $851   $607.33  
Refunded if unsuccessful $838   $416.75  
Net cost to apply $13   $190.58  

* Quality and High Demand price. Standard license price would be $548.

 

New for 2018

License and big game tag required while in the field

New Mexico new notched tag system 
Example of New Mexico's new notched tag system.
  • This year, New Mexico is implementing a new tag system, utilizing a notched tag to be placed on the harvested animal in addition to the printed license. All hunters must be in possession of a hunting license and the proper big game tag while in the field.
  • Tags will be mailed to all successful draw hunt applicants and are available at all license vendors and NMDGF offices for over-the-counter (OTC) licenses. A tag will be provided at the time an over-the-counter license is purchased.
  • Telephone or online purchases for javelina and private-land deer, elk, antelope, Barbary sheep and oryx licenses must be made at least 14 days prior to the start of the hunt to allow time to mail the tag(s). Tag(s) will be mailed to the address provided by the customer. Customers may obtain a duplicate tag in person at any license vendor or NMDGF office. If a duplicate tag is obtained, the original tag number will be invalidated, and the license must be reprinted. It is illegal to use an invalidated tag.

Early purchase available for 2018–19 Licenses

Licenses for the 2018–19 license year that begins April 1, will be available online, by telephone and at license vendors and NMDGF offices beginning March 22.

Donate an unused license

A license may be donated to NMDGF for transfer to a youth (17 years of age or younger), a resident veteran or a resident first responder who has been qualified through a nonprofit organization that promotes hunting.

New criminal penalty for felony waste of game

Upon conviction, a person may be sentenced to $5,000 and 18 months in prison. Convicted felons cannot possess a firearm, may not vote and are ineligible to become outfitters or guides.

Private-land Elk and Antelope Licenses at Vendors

Private-land elk and pronghorn antelope licenses and tags are now available at license vendors in addition to NMDGF offices.

Outfitters and guides: New rule effective January 1, 2018

Outfitters and guides can review the new rule here.

Free mobile app available

A free mobile app is available from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Powered by Pocket Ranger®, the mobile app offers easy access to maps, fishing reports, license purchases, rules and regulations, Operation Game Thief and "New Mexico Wildlife" magazine.

State information

View important information and an overview of New Mexico’s rules/regulations, the draw system, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the New Mexico species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you locate trophy units.

New Mexico State Profile Elk Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0

Important dates and information

  • Draw applications are due by March 21, 2018 by 5:00 p.m. MST.
  • You can apply online here.
  • For those who had New Mexico tags in 2017, late harvest reports must be submitted by March 21, 2018 for you to be eligible for the draw.

Drought in New Mexico

New Mexico late February 2018 drought monitor status
2018 New Mexico drought status update. Source: New Mexico Drought Monitor

Due to minimal precipitation during the summer of 2017, most of New Mexico is experiencing severe drought conditions. As of February 20, 2018, 99.92% of the state is experiencing some sort of drought conditions. This means that winter kill will be minimal, however, mortality will become an issue as things warm up if the weather patterns do not change. 2018 has the potential to bring above average rainfall which would mean above average antler growth. Keep an eye on precipitation levels as the months go by.

Below you will find a comparison to February 28, 2017, when 77% of the state was experiencing zero drought conditions.

February 28 2017 New Mexico drought monitor status
February 2017 New Mexico drought status comparison. Source: New Mexico Drought Monitor

Impact of wolves in New Mexico

There are currently fewer than 100 Mexican wolves in the wild within the state. Up until 2014, the population had been slowly increasing, but it has seen a recent decrease, according to a recent study in the state. The federal government and the State of New Mexico are currently in litigation over the federal government’s plan to release more wolves in the state. There have not been any additional wolves released because of this litigation, which means that herds have not been recently affected.



The draw system

New Mexico bull elk taken with Grahams Guide Service

A great elk taken with Graham's Guide Service — A goHUNT Business Member

Understanding the draw

You must purchase an annual big game hunting license in order to apply for a big game species. This license can be purchased online at the time of application or at a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) office. The license is valid for the calendar year.

All draw applications are entered into an automated system that randomly assigns each application a sequence number. Based on this number, the system matches the first, second, third choices on the application with available tags. If all choices have already been awarded, the system advances to the next application. New Mexico does not grant preference or bonus points to unsuccessful applicants. If an applicant selects a fourth choice hunt, he/she will be placed in a second pool from which tags may be awarded if a hunt has not met its full number. Only successful applicants will be notified by email. An unsuccessful applicant will not be notified but may check their NMDGF account online. For more information about the Draw Hunt System, click here.

Remember that New Mexico distributes their elk permits under this quota:

  • 84% of draw licenses are awarded to New Mexico residents.
  • Up to 10% of draw licenses are awarded to residents and nonresidents applying with a New Mexico registered outfitter.
  • Up to 6% of draw licenses are awarded to nonresidents applying without a New Mexico registered outfitter.

If you want to improve your chances at drawing a tag and you are willing to hire an outfitter if you draw, then use our Outfitter Directory to find a New Mexico outfitter to contract prior to the draw. The outfitter will then assist you in the application process.

Because the draw system is not based on points, your chances of drawing are the same as everyone else who applied for the same tags. Since the New Mexico draw system will consider your first three choices before moving on to the next applicant, the order that you select a hunt choice has a significant impact on your odds of drawing that choice. Be sure to list your preferred hunt first as you will have the greatest chance of drawing your first choice. For an in-depth breakdown of your draw odds for any given hunt, be sure to check out the Draw Odds tool.



New Mexico's 2018 elk breakdown
 

New Mexico elk taken with Brugmans Outfitting Service
New Mexico elk taken with Brugman's Outfitting Service — A goHUNT Business Member

If you want to go after some of the biggest bulls on the continent, you need to be applying in New Mexico! Elk continue to thrive in New Mexico thanks to relatively low predation and mild winters. While 2017 was a very dry year, 2018 has the potential to see above average rainfall. Don't miss out on a chance to chase big bulls in the southwest!

Seasons

The prime time to pursue elk in New Mexico is during the rut between Sept. 20 and Oct. 10. With this in mind, focusing on hunts that coincide with the rut will give you the best chance of tagging a quality bull. The second September archery season, as well as the early rifle and muzzleloader seasons in October, offer the best chance of being in the rut. Youth-only and mobility-impaired hunts also take place in the first week of October and offer good rut action with a firearm.

New Mexico statewide elk harvest by weapon - 2018 app strategy



How to uncover hidden gem elk units
 

New Mexico elk taken with T and R Outfitting and Guide Service
New Mexico elk taken with T and R Outfitting and Guide Service — A goHUNT Business Member

Beyond the top shelf units in New Mexico are quite a few others that are more easily drawn and still allow a chance at taking a mature bull scoring greater than 320”. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the units that have a legitimate chance at bulls that score 320” or better. Customize your search and click on a specific unit to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn a unit. Our New Mexico Elk Species Profile is another great way to determine other units in the state to consider. Within the New Mexico Elk Species Profile you will find a table showing the top B&C producing units over the years for both typical and nontypical bulls.

Since there are no bonus or preference points in New Mexico, everyone has the same chance of drawing a given tag. Do the work up front to find the hunts that offer the best chance at both drawing a tag and tagging a quality animal.

New Mexico statewide elk harvest - updated 2018

Resident hunts with the great combination of trophy potential, draw odds and harvest success

Unit Season
dates
Weapon
type
Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 7 9/1-9/14 Archery 330"+ 65% 54% 39.5%
Unit 16A 9/1-9/14 Archery 370"+ 31% 35% 96.9%
Unit 17 11/17-11/21 Muzzleloader 360"+ 26% 48% 73.7%
Unit 21B 10/13-10/17 Rifle 320"+ 35% 52% 62.1%
Unit 36 9/1-9/14 Archery 360"+ 28% 27% 53.3%

 

Nonresident hunts with the great combination of trophy potential, draw odds and harvest success

Unit Season
dates
Weapon
type
Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 7 9/1-9/14 Archery 330"+ 33% 54% 39.5%
Unit 21B 10/13-10/17 Rifle 320"+ 22% 52% 62.1%
Unit 30 9/1-9/14 Archery 330"+ 23% 36% 77.9%
Unit 38 10/6-10/10 Rifle 320"+ 18% 47% 31.9%
Unit 43 9/27-10/4 Rifle 330"+ 23% 32% 26.4%

New for goHUNT

For 2018, we have added Draw Odds for all female species. In New Mexico, there are some great opportunities for elk in the way of antlerless licenses. You can find your draw odds below.

Antlerless elk draw odds

Find your resident antlerless elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless elk draw odds here

How contracting with a guide can change your draw odds

Contracting with a guide can increase your draw odds enough to give you the edge you are looking for. While it does not guarantee that you will draw, it does give you slightly better odds of drawing a tag, not to mention a better chance at filling that coveted tag. Use the Guided Draw filter in Filtering 2.0 to see the Draw Odds for a given hunt.

Archery elk hunt draw odds comparison

Unit Trophy
potential
Resident
draw odds
Nonresident
draw odds
Guided
draw odds
Harvest
success
Unit 10 340"+ 59%
44%
18%
13%
59%
57%
7%
16%
Unit 18 340"+ 43% 16% 57% 9%
Unit 2C 330"+ 49%
36%
35%
25%
100%
68%
22%
22%
Unit 30 330"+ 21% 23% 67% 36%
Unit 45 330"+ 46% 14% 61% 27%
Unit 2A 320"+ 49%
36%
35%
25%
100%
68%
22%
22%

 

Muzzleloader elk hunt draw odds comparison

Unit Trophy
potential
Resident
draw odds
Nonresident
draw odds
Guided
draw odds
Harvest
success
Unit 10 340"+ 24% 11% 36% 16%
Unit 24 330"+ 54% 9% 60% 18%
Unit 45 330"+ 48% 17% 78% 19%
Unit 51A 310"+ 42% 19% 100% 44%
Unit 51B 310"+ 42% 19% 100% 44%

 

Rifle elk hunt draw odds comparison

Unit Trophy
potential
Resident
draw odds
Nonresident
draw odds
Guided
draw odds
Harvest
success
Unit 4 330"+ 12% Res. only 57% 90%
Unit 5A 320"+ 47%
45%
20%
NA
50%
86%
75%
22%
Unit 7 330"+ 28% 23% 67% 48%
Unit 21B 320"+ 60% 21% 100% 24%
Unit 24 330"+ 22% 14% 100% 13%
Unit 43 330"+ 28% 23% 100% 32%
Unit 45 330"+ 28%
44%
16%
32%
100%
100%
7%
13%

 



Discovering the best bull:cow ratio units

Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status of the herd. A higher bull to cow ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bulls compared to a unit with a lower bull to cow ratio. This doesn’t always indicate that the bulls will be the highest scoring bulls, but more bulls equates to more bulls to find and harvest. When selecting a unit, or comparing several units, take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in-depth. The best way to find the units with the best bull to cow ratios is to use Filtering 2.0 under New Mexico elk. Then, sort the results by male to female ratio. You can jump to those results here.

Units with the highest bull:cow ratios

Unit Bull:cow
ratio
Trophy
potential
Public land
%
Unit 36 58:100 360"+ 53.3%
Unit 34 49:100 350"+ 67.8%
Unit 17 48:100 360"+ 73.7%
Unit 7 42:100 330"+ 39.5%
Unit 6A 42:100 320"+ 48.2%
Unit 6C 42:100 300"+ 63.5%
Unit 6B 42:100 370"+ 99.9%
Unit 13 41:100 360"+ 43.7%
Unit 53 40:100 310"+ 47.4%
Unit 2A 37:100 320"+ 65.7%

 


 

B&C entry trends for New Mexico elk

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units in this table are included if any part of the unit is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.

New Mexico's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical elk

County No. of
entries
Units found within county
Catron 6 12131516A16B16C16D16E21A2223
Lincoln 6 18363738
Colfax 2 48495455A55B5657
Cibola 1 910111213
Los Alamos 1 6C
Sandoval 1 6A, 6B, 6C, 7, 9

Map of New Mexico's typical elk B&C all time entries 2018

Top 10 B&C typical elk locations since 2010 - New Mexico 2018 app strategy

New Mexico's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical elk

County No. of
entries
Units found within county
Catron 3 12131516A16B16C16D16E21A2223
Colfax 2 48495455A55B5657
Sierra 2 16B16C21A21B24
McKinley 1 7, 9, 10, 12
Otero 1 28, 30, 34, 36
Sandoval 1 6A6B6C79

Map of New Mexico's nontypical elk B&C all time entries 2018

Top 10 B&C nontypical elk locations since 2010 - New Mexico 2018 app strategy



The 2018 hit list units for elk in New Mexico

Bull elk taken with Ridgeline Outfitters

Bull elk taken with Ridgeline Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Archery

Top units to consider for 350” or better bulls
(not in order of quality)

Unit Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
Bull:cow
ratio
Public land
%
Unit 16A 370"+ Sept. 1-14: 35%
Sept. 15-24: 34%
37:100 96.9%
Unit 16D 370"+ Sept. 1-14: 35%
Sept. 15-24: 42%
37:100 88.4%
Unit 6B 370"+ Sept. 1-14: 42%
Sept. 15-24: 70%
42:100 99.9%
Unit 13 360"+ Sept. 1-14: 17%
Sept. 15-24: 17%
41:100 43.7%
Unit 16C 360"+ Sept. 1-14: 15%
Sept. 15-24: 16%
37:100 83.1%
Unit 17 360"+ Sept. 1-14: 18%
Sept. 15-24: 27%
48:100 73.7%
Unit 36 360"+ Sept. 1-14: 37%
Sept. 15-24: 42%
58:100 53.3%
Unit 15 350"+ Sept. 1-14: 24%
Sept. 15-24: 28%
37:100 77.5%
Unit 16E 350"+ Sept. 1-14: 11% 
Sept. 15-24: 17%
37:100 62.9%
Unit 34 350"+ Sept. 1-14: 26%
Sept. 15-24: 43%
49:100 67.8%


Muzzleloader

Top units to consider for 350” or better bulls
(not in order of quality)

Unit Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
Bull:cow
ratio
Public land
%
Unit 6B 370"+ Oct. 6-10: 80% 42:100 99.9%
Unit 13 360"+ Oct. 13-17: 34%
Oct. 20-24: 22%
Nov. 17-21: 16%
41:100 43.7%
Unit 17 360"+ Oct. 13-17: 26%
Oct. 20-24: 23%
Nov. 17-21: 48%
48:100 73.7%
Unit 36 360"+ Oct. 6-10: 43% 58:100 53.3%
Unit 15 350"+ Oct. 13-17: 38%
Oct. 20-24: 35%
Nov. 17-21: 27%
37:100 77.5%
Unit 16E 350"+ Oct. 13-17: 21% 37:100 62.9%
Unit 34 350"+ Oct. 13-17: 44% 49:100 67.8%
 

Rifle

Top units to consider for 350” or better bulls
(not in order of quality)

Unit Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
Bull:cow
ratio
Unit 16A 370"+ Oct. 14-18: 49%
Oct. 21-25: 40%
37:100
Unit 16D 370"+ Oct. 14-18: 57%
Oct. 21-25: 36%
37:100
Unit 6B 370"+ Oct. 14-18: NA*
Oct. 21-25: NA*
42:100
Unit 16C 360"+ Oct. 14-18: 38%
Oct. 21-25: 10%
37:100
Unit 36 360"+ Oct. 14-18: 43%
Oct. 28-Nov. 1: 41%
58:100
Unit 16E 350"+ Oct. 21-25: 33% 37:100
Unit 34 350"+ Oct. 21-25: 48% 49:100
 


Managing expectations for elk
 

New Mexico elk taken with A3 Trophy Hunts New Mexico
New Mexico elk taken with A3 Trophy Hunts New Mexico — A goHUNT Business Member

How do I apply if I am only concerned with trophy quality?

Remember that you get three choices and all three choices are considered when your application is drawn and if all three of your choices are full, then you are out of luck. Always list the season that you have the lowest chance of drawing first. Your third choice should be the option with the best chance of drawing. If your biggest concern is maximizing draw odds and harvest opportunity, consider contracting with a guide to increase your chances.

If trophy quality is your main focus, you can do one of two things: (1) select three hunts from the units on our Hit List units above and call it a day; or (2) use our Filtering 2.0 and Draw Odds tools to select your three hunt choices. Filter based on trophy potential, paying special attention to Units 6B, 13, 15, 16A, 16D, 17, 34, and 36. It might take a few years to draw the tag you want, but you'll be glad you were patient when you do finally draw the tag you have been waiting for. You're in for some of the best elk hunting in North America!

Find your resident elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident elk draw odds here

Researching for hunts in New Mexico

A good way to go about researching potential trophy elk units in New Mexico would be to use Filtering 2.0, select elk, adjust the trophy potential slider to the desired size and then select your residency. With New Mexico's draw system, Filtering 2.0 is very powerful because you can see how many people applied for each hunt as well as the draw odds.

How do I apply if I am interested in opportunity more than quality?

Since everyone has the same chance of drawing, you will want to focus on the hunts that offer the best balance of draw odds and harvest success. Applying for only the best trophy units doesn't make much sense when you really just want to go hunting. At the same time, drawing a tag in a unit with little elk doesn't give you much incentive to make a trip from out of state. Utilize Draw Odds and Filtering 2.0 to zero in on the hunts that will offer a higher than 25% success rate and 20% to 30% draw odds (for nonresidents and residents, respectively).

Resident opportunities with >70% draw odds found within archery hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds*
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 16E 350"+ 73% 11% 62.9%
Unit 23 330"+ 86% 17% 63.2%
Unit 24 330"+ 79% 8% 62%
Unit 21B 320"+ 96%
74%
15%
9%
62.1%
Unit 55A 320"+ 100%
87%
76%
0%
40%
22%
13%
Unit 50 310"+ 100%
99%
12%
18%
67.9%
Unit 53 310"+ 74% 19% 47.4%
Unit 54 310"+ 100%
72%
0%
22%
10.6%
Unit 48 300"+ 97%
73%
16%
20%
29.1%
Unit 9 300"+ 100%
100%
6%
6%
25%

* Check out the Unit Profiles to see which archery season.

Find your resident archery elk draw odds here

Nonresident opportunities with >35% draw odds found within archery hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 18 340"+ 45% 10% 66.6%
Unit 24 330"+ 50% 8% 62%
Unit 2C 330"+ 35% 22% 89.7%
Unit 2A 320"+ 35% 22% 65.7%
Unit 2B 320"+ 35% 22% 84.6%
Unit 5A 320"+ 50% 33% 16.2%
Unit 50 310"+ 64% 12% 67.9%
Unit 9 300% 98% 6% 25%

Find your nonresident archery elk draw odds here

Resident opportunities with >50% draw odds found within muzzleloader hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 9 300"+ 64%
100%
100%
10%
9%
29%
25%
Unit 13 360"+ 54% 16% 43.7%
Unit 23 330"+ 50% 20% 63.2%
Unit 24 330"+ 54% 18% 62%
Unit 48 300"+ 54% 10% 29.1%
Unit 54 310"+ 90% 55% 10.6%
Unit 55A 320"+ 99%
51%
19%
33%
13%

Find your resident muzzleloader elk draw odds here

Nonresident opportunities with >15% draw odds found within muzzleloader hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 6C 300"+ 16% 27% 63.5%
Unit 7 330"+ 17% 26% 39.5%
Unit 9 300"+ 16%
95%
100%
10%
9%
29%
25%
Unit 45 330"+ 17% 19% 74.7%
Unit 48 300"+ 16% 10% 29.1%
Unit 51A 310"+ 19% 44% 86.2%
Unit 51B 310"+ 19% 44% 66.3%

Find your nonresident muzzleloader elk draw odds here

Resident opportunities with >45% draw odds found within rifle hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 5A 320"+ 47%
45%
75%
22%
16.2%
Unit 5B 300"+ 46% 31% 81.8%
Unit 21B 320"+ 60% 24% 62.1%
Unit 50 310"+ 56%
90%
28%
19%
67.9%
Unit 51A 310"+ 46% 22% 86.2%
Unit 51B 310"+ 46% 22% 66.3%
Unit 53 310"+ 80% 11% 47.4%
Unit 54 310"+ 51%
77%
19%
11%
10.6%
Unit 55A 320"+ 79% 13% 13%

Find your resident rifle elk draw odds here

Nonresident opportunities with >25% draw odds found within rifle hunts

Unit Trophy
potential
Draw
odds
Harvest
success
Public land
%
Unit 5A 320"+ 25% 40% 16.2%
Unit 5B 300"+ 35%
48%
25%
31%
81.8%
Unit 6C 300"+ 33% 26% 63.5%
Unit 45 330"+ 32% 13% 74.7%
Unit 50 310"+ 54% 19% 67.9%
Unit 53 310"+ 30% 11% 47.4%

Find your nonresident rifle elk draw odds here

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