APPLICATION STRATEGY 2020: New Mexico Sheep & Antelope
New Mexico's 2020 sheep and antelope application overview
Jump to: NEW FOR 2020 State Information Draw System Rocky Bighorn Breakdown Desert Bighorn Breakdown Antelope Breakdown
New Mexico is one of the most exciting draws in the country because, in a state without a point system, if you draw, you are definitely feel like a winner. It is also the reason New Mexico is a top pick for hunters looking for the best chance at either a bighorn sheep or a top-shelf antelope hunt in the country. Equal odds are the best odds in this day and age when so many hunters are behind a point curve that they will never catch up to. Having the same chance as any other hunter to draw a bighorn sheep hunt is the best chance no matter how low the odds are.
Overall, New Mexico does not offer as many bighorn sheep permits as other states for either species, but with 25 total desert bighorn ram permits and 24 Rocky Mountain bighorn ram permits up for grabs — not to mention the overall trophy potential across the state — it makes this a selection that even the most discerning application warrior has a hard time walking away from. The same can be said for the antelope. Unfortunately, this is a tough state to draw; however, any unit in the state has the potential to produce a Boone & Crockett (B&C) buck.
The biggest change in New Mexico’s draw system is not in the form of a new law as much as it is a change in the interpretation of an existing law. For many years, the quotas for the draw system in New Mexico have been that 86% of the available permits will be issued to residents, 10% of the permits are allocated for hunters who apply with an outfitter (resident and nonresident allowed) and 6% of the permits are issued to hunters who would like to hunt do-it-yourself (DIY) or at least have the option to hunt DIY if they prefer. However, there were many times that the math was not exact and the state simply rounded up in these situations.
An example would be if there were five permits available for any given hunt code. In that case, .5% of the permits would then need to be set aside for the guided pool. However, if the standard practice at that time was to round up, then there would potentially be six permits issued on that specific hunt code if there was at least one applicant in the guided pool. This same situation also occurred in the nonresident pool and could mean that in any given hunt code there were as many as two additional permits awarded each year in any given hunt code where the math was not landing on a whole number. Fortunately, thanks to how the new law is interpreted, this type of round up is over and the number of permits that were potentially being issued to nonresidents as well as applicants who choose to apply with an outfitter are no longer going to be issued.
Basically, what you need to know is this: if you are applying with an outfitter then you will need to apply for hunt codes with at least 10 permits and if you are applying in the normal nonresident pool you will need to apply for hunt codes with at least 17 permits available in order for there to be a permit available to you in the draw. The only time this changes is on with bighorn sheep applications as all bighorn sheep permits are lumped into one set of numbers for each species, meaning that this year there will be two guided pool permits and one nonresident permit available for each species of bighorn sheep in New Mexico no matter how you apply.
Note: The online application deadline for New Mexico Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, ibex, javelina, antelope and oryx is March 18 by 5 p.m. MST. Apply online here.
New for 2020
New rounding of permits
See info at the beginning of the article.
Purchase 2020 game hunting license through draw application
Draw applicants purchasing 2020 big game hunting licenses to apply for draw hunts must click "Draw Hunt Applications" in the main menu and purchase the license as part of the application process. Do not click "License Sales."
New requirements for military
Documentation of proof of service for all military only hunts and returning Iraq/Afghanistan veteran oryx hunts must be received by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) prior to application.
Draw carcass tags by mail
Successful draw applicants who did not choose the e-tag option will receive their license/tag(s) via the U.S. Postal Service in late May or early June.
No electronic check payments
Electronic check payments are no longer accepted. Payments may be made in person by cash or credit card online and by telephone by credit card only.
Cost to apply
Cost for license and permits for New Mexico
and access validation
High demand/quality: $368
High demand/quality: $773
|Desert bighorn/Rocky Mountain|
View important information and an overview of the New Mexico rules/regulations, the draw system, permit and license fees, and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the New Mexico desert bighorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and antelope species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.
New Mexico State Profile Rocky Bighorn Profile Desert Bighorn Profile Antelope Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0
Important dates and information
- Applications for desert bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, antelope, deer, elk, ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep and javelina must be submitted by 5 p.m. MST on March 18, 2020.
- Applications can be submitted by phone, or online here.
- Up to four hunters can apply together on a group application for deer, elk, Barbary sheep and javelina. Up to two applicants can apply together on antelope, oryx and ibex applications. Group applications are not allowed for bighorn sheep applications.
- Successful applicants will be notified by email, online, telephone or at any NMDGF office on April 29, 2020.
- New Mexico hunting license, stamps and application fees are not refundable.
Drought in New Mexico
Currently, 55.76% of the state is in some level of drought, including 11.4% of the state that is considered to be in a severe drought. This is considerably better than last year and an incredible bounce back from the drought in 2018. The areas affected are slightly different, especially in the center of the state, but, overall, New Mexico is looking good for moisture. If the winter weather continues into the spring, the New Mexico should have another excellent antler growth year for the 2020 season.
Compare that to March 6, 2018, when 99.92% of the state was experiencing some sort of drought conditions.
The New Mexico draw system
Understanding the draw
New Mexico’s draw system is a random drawing system. What this means is that each applicant has an equal chance at drawing regardless of how many times they have applied. This obviously lends itself to applicants who are just getting started as you could fasttrack your way into a top-shelf hunt sooner rather than later. When it comes to elite opportunities in the western states, units commonly referred to as the “best” are those with equal odds, which are good odds. An applicant can apply with confidence when they are not behind or suffering from a point curve. When applying, the permits are segregated into three categories: the resident pool (84%), the guided pool (10%) and the nonresident pool (6%). It is important to note that the guided pool is not exclusively for nonresidents and, although it would be a mistake for residents to apply in this category, they are allowed to if they want to.
New Mexico offers their applicants five choices when applying. Different than many states, the first three selections will be considered prior to moving to the next applicant. This means that you need to, at a minimum, apply for three choices you would be interested in hunting as you are essentially as likely to draw your third choice as you are your first on any given applications. The fourth choice is often when you select a quadrant of the state to be considered for, meaning prior to the leftover list being published. If you select a fourth choice ,you will be awarded a permit in an area that had leftover permits once the draw process was complete. The fifth choice is typically reserved for some sort of population reduction opportunity.
Apply with caution on the fourth choice as these opportunities are often selected by the state depending on the species and often do not line up with a nonresident hunter’s goals when looking to hunt in new areas. There is a reason the permits are going to be leftover.
Applying for a fifth choice is recommended as you will receive your refund for an unsuccessful application and have the option to accept or decline the opportunity when it comes and you never know what it may be.
New Mexico raffle hunts
Two authorizations will be raffled by NMDGF with the assistance of the New Mexico Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation (NMWSF)—one for desert bighorn sheep and one for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
Raffle tickets can be ordered by contacting NMWSF President Bryan Bartlett: (575) 635-3499 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets cannot be paid by telephone or email. Tickets are $20 each and there are no volume discounts. Hunt dates are Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, except in GMU 53 (Wheeler Peak) where the dates are Aug. 1 to 15, 2020 and Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020. Tickets are available April 1 to June 20, 2020.
New Mexico's 2020 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep breakdown
In 2019, there were reported to be over 1,600 total Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep living within New Mexico. There are eight established herds with six different hunt selections encompassing seven of these herds with a total of 24 total ram permits and 78 ewe permits. The largest populations in the state are by far the Pecos Wilderness and the Rio Grande Gorge, but all have well established populations with quality rams with B&C potential.
New Mexico Rocky bighorn sheep unit info
|Unit||Trophy potential||Public land %||No. of permits|
San Francisco River/Turkey Creek
|49, 50, 53|
Rio Grande Gorge
Note: When considering Unit 58, it is worth mentioning that the rams in this unit are very nomadic and often not present with the resident herd of ewes. The two permit holders should be prepared to hunt on call when the rams are present in the herd. As a result, the season dates for this hunt are six months in length. To make this a successful hunt, you will need to access private land in order and access is not guaranteed. For more information, call NMDGF at 1-888-248-6866 prior to applying.
What to expect when you apply for bighorn sheep in New Mexico
In the modern age of applying for bighorn sheep permits across the country, getting started in a state with an existing point system can be a frustrating endeavor. Given that the draw process in New Mexico is random, it is truly one of the best options to consider since equal odds are the best odds even when they are low. Between equal odds and the fact that New Mexico requires all of the money for the permit up front ($3,160) plus the hunting license and application fee ($84), New Mexico is a state worth considering — even for someone new to the game.
There will be four guided pool permits this year in New Mexico: two for each species and two nonresident permits, one for each species this year.
If you are going to get a guide, not having a plan for this is a mistake as there are double the number of permits available to you. When applying, you will be allowed to select either Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or desert bighorn sheep as your first choice as long as you have not already been drawn for one or the other. For each of your selections, you will then be allowed to apply for three different hunts per species for a total of six choices. If you have a tip on a specific ram that you would like to hunt or area, then apply accordingly. If you are simply trying to increase your chances, not applying for all six chances for the most number of permits is a mistake as you want your name in the hat for as long as possible. If you select the correct unit,s you are in the running for as many as 11 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and 10 desert bighorn sheep on one application, which means that you could be the 21st name drawn and still be selected. On the other hand, it is possible to apply in a way that you would only be trying for seven total permits: three Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and four desert bighorn sheep, meaning that, with bad luck, you could be the eighth hunter selected. Although not likely, it's even possible that all seven of the permits you applied for have already been given to other hunters and you’re out of the runnings. Applying for the most number of permits when it comes to anything in New Mexico is a good idea, but even more drastic when it comes to applying for bighorn sheep.
B&C entry trends for New Mexico rocky bighorn sheep
New Mexico's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for rocky bighorn sheep
|Units found within county|
|Taos||27||45, 49, 50, 53, 55A|
|Catron||1||16B, 22, 23|
The 2020 hit list units for rocky bighorn sheep in New Mexico
Top units to consider for 165” or better rocky bighorns
Note*: When considering Unit 58, it is worth mentioning that the rams in this unit are very nomadic and often not present with the resident herd of ewes. The two permit holders should be prepared to hunt on call when the rams are present in the herd. As a result, the season dates for this hunt are six months long. For the most part, you will need to access private land in order to be successful on this hunt and access is not guaranteed. For more information, you should call NMDGF at 1-888-248-6866 prior to applying.
New Mexico's 2020 desert bighorn sheep breakdown
As of 2019, New Mexico is reporting that there are officially over 1,000 desert bighorn sheep living within its borders. These sheep make up eight different herds — six of which currently offer at least one hunting opportunity while most offer multiple rams per year. There are 25 ram permits available in total. One notable change this year is that there is no longer a youth only offering for desert bighorn sheep. This is not a decrease in the number of permits as the number of hunts. and locations have remained unchanged. Instead, the second hunt on the Fra Cristobals is now not allocated for youth only. The largest populations of bighorn sheep reside in the Caballos, Fra Cristobal, and San Andreas mountain rangess located on White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). There are multiple Class IV rams on each of these units and there is still a chance to hunt and harvest a B&C caliber of ram on any unit in the state although not as likely on the Caballos or the Fra Cristobals.
New Mexico desert bighorn sheep units
|Unit||Trophy potential||Public land %||No. of permits|
North (Fra Cristobals)
|165”+||Not applicable||1 early|
Unit 20 North (Fra Cristobal) hunts are conducted on the Armendaris Ranch. This is 100% private property; however, successful applicants will be allowed access. This is a very low impact bighorn sheep hunt if you are looking for something less physical with a very high success rate.
Note: The Unit 19 hunt is conducted entirely in conjunction with WSMR. Hunters will be allowed to bring with them no more than three guests and each attendee, including the hunter, will be required to pass a background check conducted by the Department of Defense prior to the hunt. Successful applicants will also be charged an additional $150 access fee to WSMR and be required to attend an orientation prior to the hunt.
B&C entry trends for New Mexico desert bighorn sheep
New Mexico's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for desert bighorn sheep
|Units found within county|
|Socorro||5||13, 17, 19, 20|
|Sierra||5||17, 19, 20|
|Dona Ana||3||19, 20|
The 2020 hit list units for desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico
Top units to consider for 165” or better desert bighorn sheep
Note: Unit 20 Fra Cristobal hunts are conducted on the Armendaris Ranch. This is 100% private property; however, successful applicants will be allowed access. This is a very low impact bighorn sheep hunt if you are looking for something less physical with a very high success rate.
Note: Unit 19 hunt is conducted entirely in conjunction with the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). Hunters will be allowed to bring with them no more than three guests and each attendee, including the hunter, will be required to pass a background check conducted by the Department of Defense prior to the hunt. Additionally, successful applicants will be charged an extra $150 access fee to WSMR.
Managing expectations for sheep in New Mexico
Equal odds are good odds no matter what the number is. If you are serious about hunting a North American wild sheep at some point in your life, then you need to be pursuing any opportunities where you have an equal chance at drawing. With many point systems so mature in the West, to get started with zero points and be behind a 20+ year old point curve isn’t doing you much good, which is where New Mexico comes into play. It may be less expensive but it is not as productive as an opportunity that has an equal chance starting in year one. This along with the fact that New Mexico requires the money up front is a perfect recipe for dreams to come true. Your odds—like most other bighorn sheep selections—will be less than 1%, but so will every other applicant. Unfortunately, that is as good as we can hope for in this day and age when looking to draw a bighorn sheep permit in the lower 48. Apply for as many permits as you can with the six choices you are allotted. Rub your lucky rabbit's foot or kill a chicken—whatever you think might help—because if there ever was a chance to draw on any given year—even your first—it is in this state.
Rocky bighorn draw odds links
Ewe bighorn opportunities
Rocky Mountain bighorn ram opportunities
For those who want to have the combination of the best chance of drawing and the best chance at a successful hunt, contracting with an outfitter is a great way to go. The draw odds for the guided draw are 0.15%—not as good as the resident odds—but almost twice as good as the nonresident odds. Be prepared for a long wait, but you only need lightning to strike once for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For more information on the guided draw, check out this article here.
Managing expectations for desert bighorn sheep
Just like with Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, drawing a desert bighorn tag is a long shot, but not impossible.
For residents, the draw odds are 0.76%. This is slightly better than the Rocky Mountain counterpart, but still very slim odds.
For nonresidents, the odds are 0.15%. Again, definitely not great odds, but there is always a chance in a state with no point system.
Draw odds in the guide draw are at 0.15%. Residents would do better to put in on their own since the guided odds are not as good as the resident odds.
New Mexico's 2020 antelope breakdown
New Mexico has long been considered a top-shelf destination for big antelope! Year after year, there are some incredible bucks taken, including many B&C bucks in all corners of the state. With close to 50,000 antelope living in the Land of Enchantment, there are few areas of the state that don’t hold a population of antelope. However, 60% of the population lies in the northeast quadrant of the state while almost 30% of the state’s population lives in the southeast quadrant, leaving the remaining 10% in the western side of the state. With the change in 2019 making it possible for hunters to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) permits for private land and successful applicants for rifle no longer assigned to a ranch, it is important to ensure that the unit you are applying for has some level of public access or it could be very difficult to find huntable antelope. If you still have not locked into a hunt for this fall, consider rolling the dice in New Mexico for antelope and get a little more value out of the now required hunting license you may be purchasing because you are already committed to apply for some other species.
New Mexico Antelope GMU’s with 80”+ Trophy potential, a hunt with at least 1 guided pool permit and 1 nonresident permit
|Unit||Trophy potential||Public land %||No. of permits|
|15||80”+||77.5%||Archery - 20 permits|
|16A, C, D, E||80”+||82.83%||Archery - 20 permits|
Late Rifle - 20 permits
|17||80”+||73.7%||Archery - 20 permits|
|29||80”+||84%||Late Muzz - 25 permits|
|36, 37||80”+||53.3%||Archery - 20 permits|
|38||80”+||31.9%||Archery - 20 permits|
Mid-rifle - 20 permits
Late rifle - 30 permits
|41||80”+||20.4%||Archery - 35 permits|
Early and mid-rifle - 30 permits
Late rifle - 35 permits
|47||80”+||23.6%||Early rifle - 25 permits|
Mid-rifle - 30 permits
Late rifle - 35 permits
Just because a unit shows “X%” of public land does not mean all of that land is accessible without crossing private property, essentially meaning it is landlocked. Take a close look at the maps prior to applying.
Note: If you are selecting an OTC permit for antelope in New Mexico you will need to reference the regulations book in order to obtain the hunt code for the particular unit you are going to be hunting. This will need to be completed 14 days prior to arriving in New Mexico as the state will need time to mail these carcass tags to you.
B&C entry trends for New Mexico antelope
New Mexico's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for antelope
|Units found within county|
|Mora||45||42, 46, 47, 48|
|Socorro||33||13, 14, 16E, 17, 18, 20, 21B|
|Catron||31||12, 13, 15, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 21A, 23|
|Quay||8||40, 41, 42|
What to expect when I apply for antelope in New Mexico
Antelope, maybe more than any other species in New Mexico, are going to be affected by the state no longer “rounding up” on the permits in the quotas. What this means is that if any specific hunt code has less than 10 permits, there is not going to be a guided pool permit available. This also means that if you are looking to plan a DIY style hunt you will need to avoid applying for a hunt that has less than 17 permits in order to have a permit available. However, it is strongly recommended that you avoid applying with a party application as there are very few hunt codes that even have enough permits to warrant a group application for DIY hunters, especially if this DIY hunt is to be conducted on public land. If you are looking to have more success in this draw, apply for three choices that add up to the most number of potential permits. Units with higher amounts of private land will often produce better odds. Archery and muzzleloader units also often have better odds, but it’s important to understand that the monsoon rains that frequent New Mexico in July and August will often make blind hunting very unproductive as there can be more ground water present that time of year than any other. Spot and stalk hunting is what you should expect when coming to the Land of Enchantment.
How do I apply if I am only concerned with trophy quality?
If your biggest goal is a record book antelope, then you need to swing for the fences on your application. Whether you are a resident or a nonresident, make sure to put your most desired hunt first as there is only one pass and your application has three choices that will be evaluated.
Your first selection should be one of the units from the Hit List, focusing specifically on Unit 13, 15, 16 (A, C, D, E) and 17. Depending on your preferred weapon selection, be sure to evaluate which one offers the best opportunity (Example: do not choose archery in a unit with little public land). Select your desired hunts in order of preference so that your first choice truly is your first choice.
Similar to the resident strategy, our first selection should be one of the units from the Hit List. Utilizing the Guided Draw could be a very good option for you as it can drastically increase your draw odds and outfitter fees for antelope hunts are pretty reasonable. Check out our list of recommended outfitters here.
How do I apply if I am interested in opportunity more than quality?
No matter how you slice it, antelope tags are hard to come by in New Mexico. But there are some other options that are easier to draw than others. You should still pick your preferred hunt as your first choice, just in case you get lucky. Utilize the standalone Draw Odds page to find which unit groups to use as your second and third choices by adjusting the draw odds slider.
When looking at units for an opportunity more than a record book antelope, look to units with higher draw odds as well as archery seasons. With the draw odds so low, there really isn't any opportunity to be found in the low draw odds of muzzleloader and rifle seasons.