APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: Arizona Elk
Arizona's 2021 elk application overview
Well, 2020 didn’t end as well as it started and proved to be a difficult year for many hunters with lots of bulls broken because of poor antler density. While there were some exceptional bulls taken in different parts of the state early in the fall, as soon as the rut cranked up, it didn’t take long for the mature bulls to break their antlers. From then on across the majority of the state, hunters had a very difficult time finding the caliber and age class of bulls that they were looking for still intact. The unfortunate news is that it looks as though we were only on the tip of the iceberg last year because 2021 is looking absolutely brutal as far as moisture levels and drought conditions are impacting the majority of the state and, more specifically, the entire elk range in Arizona. If there was ever a year to consider applying for a point only for elk, this may be the year, especially if you have 10 or more points. If you do choose to apply, consider only applying for early season hunts in units that, historically, have some of the best bulls in the state. Plan on some serious time in the field scouting to find a quality bull. Expect to see some seriously stunted antler growth across the state. Finding bulls — even in some of the best units — over 380” is not very probable and the probability that these dominant bulls will get very broken early on is almost a given. If you are simply looking for a chance to go hunting and you have not invested too many years so far, you may have slightly better odds of drawing compared to other years; however, be prepared for a grinder of a hunt even in these top-shelf units.
Note: The online application deadline for Arizona elk is Feb. 9, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Arizona time. You can apply online here.
Note: at the time of publishing this article, Arizona's application period has not opened up. Edit: as of January 20, the Arizona elk and antelope application is now open on their website.
New for 2021
Update portal account early
The following is a press release from Arizona Game and Fish Department. Log in to your portal account early and make sure your account can log in:
PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) recently updated its online systems to provide enhanced features for its customers.
What must you do to access the updated features? AZGFD sent out emails Dec. 8–10 to portal account customers (to the current email address the department has on file) with instructions about how to update portal accounts. The email was sent from email@example.com via amazonses.com, and the subject line reads: “Your Arizona Game and Fish account has new features! Log in today.” If you still have access to that email, make sure to click the link in the body copy to confirm your account and update your login information. It is imperative you complete this step.
AZGFD strongly recommends you do this before purchasing a hunting or fishing license or applying for the upcoming elk and pronghorn draw.
If you cannot find the email that AZGFD sent Dec. 8–10, click here and you will be able to request a password reset on your existing portal account. You must know the user name or email associated with your portal account to activate the password reset.
If you updated your account information after Dec. 8, no need to take further action.
Updated account features include:
- Enhanced customer account management: you can add dependents to your account and update your information 24/7.
- Customer information automatically populates fields when purchasing your online license so that you don’t have to reenter information again and again.
- The ability to purchase hunting and fishing licenses for dependents linked to your customer account and also add those dependents to your draw application.
Changes to some elk hunts
Several changes exist for the 2021 elk hunts. Below are a few notable ones:
- Units 1, 2B, 2C now have an early rifle hunt (2020 this was a muzzleloader hunt).
- Unit 5A does not have an early rifle hunt for 2021.
- Unit 5B North now has an early rifle hunt.
- Unit 5B South no longer has a muzzleloader hunt.
- Unit 6A now has an early rifle hunt.
- Unit 9 and 27 now have a muzzleloader hunt instead of an early rifle hunt.
Hunter harvest questionnaire
You will receive your hunter harvest questionnaire in the mail and/or by email. Please take a moment to respond. A unique QR scan code as well as a web link will be located on the back of hunt permit tags. Scan the code to access the hunter harvest questionnaire web page; then select your species (you may need to download a QR reader app to scan the code). Completing your hunter harvest questionnaire honestly and accurately is very important to the management of wildlife in Arizona.
Drones are considered aircraft and cannot be used to harass wildlife or assist in the taking of wildlife. For more specific information, please review Commission Rules R12-4-301, R12-4-319 and R12-4-320 located on pages 102 and 107 of the 2020–21 Arizona hunting regulations.
Nonresident off-highway vehicles (OHV) operators
As of Sept. 1, 2019, nonresidents must have a decal to operate OHVs in Arizona. The decal must be purchased online from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) here. The decal is not available for purchase from department offices.
This program provides hunters with peace of mind in knowing that they can surrender their tag for any reason without losing their coveted bonus points. Point Guard coverage costs $5 per species. See more details here.
Keep credit card information updated online
Applicants are encouraged to keep their credit card payment information current. If your payment is declined at the time of the draw, your application will not be drawn. AZGFD will no longer call customers to obtain payment on drawn applications where credit cards have failed. The deadline for updating your credit or debit card information online is 11:59 p.m. (Arizona time) Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
Note: If your credit/debit card has been used for multiple applications, please notify your banking institution that multiple charges from AZGFD could be processed simultaneously.
Prescribed Fire Portions of game management units 7W, 8, 9, 10, 12AE, and 12AW lie within lands managed by Kaibab National Forest and are likely to have prescribed fire and wildfire activity during these hunts, and it is common for hunters to see both fire and smoke. Information about active fires on the Kaibab National Forest can be found on the Forest website here, the Incident Information System website here, or by calling the Kaibab National Forest fire information phone line at (928) 635-8311.
Potential Arizona trail camera ban
Back on December 7 goHUNT released information on a potential Arizona trail camera rule change. Then on December 21, an update was released here. There is an opportunity for public comment and information on the comment period can be found in those articles.
Below you can find important information and an overview of Arizona’s rules/regulations, the draw system, bonus points, tag and license fees, and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. Once at the State Profile you can find even more information on applying in Arizona. You can also view the Arizona Elk Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy units.
Remember that goHUNT now has 3D maps on the web. This is a phenomenal way to plan and research a unit you are considering to apply for.
Important dates and information
- The deadline to apply online is Feb. 9, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. MST.
- The deadline to update credit card information is Feb. 25, 2021.
- Payment must be made by VISA or Mastercard for online applications.
- Up to 10% of the available tags for any hunt code can be awarded to nonresidents.
- Only 5% of the potential nonresident permits are awarded in the maximum point pool. The remaining 5% or more will be awarded in the random pass.
- If you are unsuccessful in the draw, then you will be awarded a bonus point for that species.
- If you need help looking up your Arizona bonus points, check out this article here.
- The Arizona Big Game Super Raffle drawing will be held in July 2021. More information can be found here.
Applying for a state you've never hunted before can be daunting but we are here to make it easy. In the video above, Trail goes over some of the most commonly asked questions when applying in Arizona.
The current drought status in Arizona
As you can see from the photo, the drought conditions in Arizona are dire to say the least. It wouldn’t take much to say it couldn’t be worse. We are a little early in the year so there is some hope still, but it is looking rather bleak and, without a major change to weather patterns, moving into the spring we should expect to see very stunted antler growth across the state. The calf crop is likely to struggle, too, which will have a major impact on the caliber of bulls we will likely see over the next six to eight years across the state.
The Arizona draw system
Understanding the draw
Arizona allows its applicants to apply for up to five choices; however, only the first two selections are considered during the first pass. Historically, all bull elk permits have been awarded during this first pass, which makes selections three, four and five mostly irrelevant.
Arizona has a modified bonus system in place. Essentially this means this is a bucket of raffle tickets and each year you are unsuccessful, you will receive an extra raffle ticket for the following year. The modified part of this system is that 20% of the permits are set aside for applicants with the maximum number of points; only up to 50% of the potential nonresident permits are allowed to be issued in the maximum point pass.
There are four ways to increase your bonus points:
- Earn a bonus point each time you are unsuccessful in the draw (one point per year).
- Apply for “bonus points only” to gain a bonus point in the event that you do not want to risk drawing a tag until you have a higher number of points.
- You can also travel to Arizona and take a hunter education course and earn a permanent bonus point for every species.
- Earn a loyalty point. An applicant is awarded this point by applying for a species for five consecutive years. This is a species-specific point and will not be taken away when you draw a tag, but will be purged if you miss a year of applying. You will have to start all over again.
If you are successful in the draw, then your bonus points will revert back to zero. If you have earned a loyalty and/or hunter education point, then you will keep those two potential points. If you fail to apply for five consecutive years, then all points will be lost.
Unlike many states where if you don’t have the points you have no chance of getting a tag, Arizona gives hunters with even zero points a chance. Even if you don’t draw anything this year, you can get a bonus point to increase your chances next year. You can apply for bonus points only in Arizona, but you must buy the $160 nonrefundable hunting license and pay a $15 application fee per species. You may also add an additional $5 to each application per year if you choose to add Point Guard on years you are applying to hunt, which adds a level of protection for unseen events that would prevent you from hunting if drawn.
2021 top hit list hunt units to consider for 350" or better bulls
How to uncover hidden gem elk units
To find a hidden gem when researching Arizona elk, focus on the factors that lend themselves to better drawing odds. Typically, where we find these wrinkles are hunts that use primitive weapons, are further from the rut or in areas of the state that either have a lower elk density, which usually means lower success rates, or higher density areas that offer more permits, but may not have a history for older age class bulls. Using Filtering 2.0, you can filter to exactly these different parameters and find hunts that may be outside the box of what other hunters are focusing on.
To get started with Filtering 2.0:
- Select state.
- Select species.
- Adjust the Trophy Slider to your desired size (e.g. 310”+).
- Click whether you are a resident or nonresident and indicate how many points you currently possess.
- Select your minimum percentage of odds for drawing the tag. This can be very good for weeding out units with easier to draw tags.
- Select which season(s) you want to hunt. Have other hunts going on throughout the fall? You can also set your date parameters and Filtering 2.0 will automatically find what's in season that time of the year.
- Choose what harvest percentages you would like to see in the units.
- Choose the public land percentages you would like to see.
- Lastly, click on any of the remaining units to read in-depth profiles containing valuable information.
Hidden gem units: elk units with a 330”+ trophy potential that have a 100% draw odds at 5 points (resident)
|Public land %||Harvest|
|7E||Late rifle / Late Archery||330"+||76.8%||24% / 0%|
Hidden gem units: elk units with a 330”+ trophy potential that have a 100% draw odds at 5 points (nonresident)
|Public land %||Harvest|
The points system for elk
- 2021 maximum resident bonus points for elk: 28
- 2021 maximum nonresident bonus points for elk: 31
Managing points and expectations
With a point system that is over 30 years old, Arizona has one of the oldest points systems in the country. As the years have progressed, hunters at the front end were able to take advantage of their increased value over time and, although everyone was not a winner right out the gate, if they were diligent in applying, they were eventually rewarded with what their target hunt was — even if it was a hunt that was considered the best in the state by the masses. Unfortunately, these times have come and gone. Although there will always be a steady flow of applicants still waiting their turn on these premium opportunities, if you are just getting started in Arizona, you should really consider looking towards hunts that are outside of the box to increase your odds sooner rather than later.
Because there are two selections considered in the first pass of the draw, I believe it is worth rolling the dice for what you believe to be the best hunt in the state or the hunt you are most excited about as your first choice. Once you are done waiting, and if you would like to be more aggressive, using your second choice to chase the odds is a good idea. The long and short is that there are few if any units in the state that don’t have the potential to harvest a 350+ bull. The odds of taking a bull of that caliber seem to be higher for a hunter who has actually tried multiple times over the last 20 year-period than a hunter who waits 20 years for one chance. Think of it like this: there are going to be hunters who use 20+ years worth of points this coming year and, considering the drought conditions, how many of them in a year like this are truly going to have a chance at a bull that was worth waiting 20+ years for? My guess is that unless we see some major changes to the current conditions, there simply won’t be many bulls like this even in the best areas of the state. Then, really, what are the odds that you will be the lightning strike to become one of those few hunters who beat the odds and find and harvest a giant bull? All things considered, it just doesn’t seem logical in the long run. Where hunting more often lends itself to the idea that one of the times you hunt over the next 20 years, then the stars will align and you will head home with the bull of your dreams.
I have 0 points. What can I expect?
Whether you are just starting or you have recently used your points on another hunt, this can feel daunting to say the least. Residents and nonresidents have similar odds for the most part across the majority of the state and these odds are low. If you are looking to hunt as soon as possible, check out the areas that have historically the best hunts in the state to find some hidden gems and see if they happen to line up with your goals. Remember: hunts with primitive weapons, hunts away from the rut, and hunts to simply fill the freezer (like an antlerless hunt) may be where you will find some above average odds to get on a hunt sooner than later.
In 2020, there were a couple of options that had a 1:5 or better chance for residents with zero points. These were all late archery hunts and located in Unit 22, Unit 7E and Unit 6B. If you are considering this, apply with your second choice and swing for the fence as your first choice just in case you get lucky.
There was one hunt in the state that had better than a 1:5 odds for nonresidents. This hunt was the second late archery in Unit 22. The success rate was just shy of 20% so, for intense bowhunters, this may be a hunt worth taking a second look at. Again, if you choose to target hunts like this it does not negatively affect your odds by applying for a long shot as your first choice. What if you were one of the lucky ones? It would be a shame to draw a hunt like this, if you were to have come out of the draw very early in the random pass, and you could have drawn a top shelf destination.
What can I do with 4 or 5 points?
Very little has changed at this point. Your odds will have slightly increased in hunts that were not completely out of reach with zero points, but you can expect to still be at a less than 1% chance on the most popular hunts in the state as well as many others. Remember: you can’t win unless you keep playing and you are getting closer to some finish lines on some other options if you get tired of waiting.
There are a number of late archery hunts now available across the state as well as a few late muzzleloader and rifle hunts. Some of these have as high as a 100% chance of drawing; others have over a 50% chance with your current points. There are some good elk hunts to consider at this point for a resident. They are not necessarily great hunts, but for locals who have time to give to them and are not looking to break records, there are some noteworthy hunts worth considering. Using Filtering 2.0, you can filter down to the different parameters you are looking for to include choice of weapon, success rates and caliber of bulls.
There are a few more late archery hunts available as well as a couple of late rifle and muzzleloader hunts. Most of these late rifle hunts are taking place in what Arizona calls the “limited opportunity” areas. These hunts can be very difficult with lower success rates, but with a very long season. For hunters who have the time or are interested in investing in a guide, there are some fantastic bulls coming out of these areas in the right year. Alas, this may not be the year to risk your points with the current drought conditions. The late muzzleloader hunt is not a limited opportunity area and is located in Unit 3B. Again, this hunt is not for everyone; however, this relatively small unit had a great success rate on this late hunt last season and, if you are happy to hunt 300”+” bulls and you have a passion for the black powder, this is a hunt worth taking a closer look.
What can I expect with 9 or 10 points?
The time has now come to make a decision: are you going to ride this train to the end, knowing that it is going to likely take twice as long to draw one of the best hunts in the state since you’re already waiting? Or are you going to cash in your points on a hunt that doesn’t have as strong a track record as you would prefer and give it your best shot? These are personal questions; however, with many options to consider for both archery and rifle hunters, the number of new opportunities moving from here to 20 points are few and far between. You entering a bit of a no man’s land where you will have more than you need for a number of hunts across the state and, yet, not enough for some of the more high-demand options.
Now is truly decision time for you. All of the top tier units in the state are within reach for either late archery or rifle except Unit 23 late rifle; this is still a little out of reach. If you are looking for a rut hunt with either your bow or rifle in these areas of the state, you may have to continue to wait, but if you are after an excellent hunt, there are a number of options to consider in a normal year. As stated before: we are in dire drought conditions in the state. If you are debating whether to go hunting versus trying to get lucky, in my opinion, I would stick with applying for the historically best hunts in the state, buy Point Guard and pray for rain. If the rain doesn’t come, turn your tag back in and make a plan for next year. Better than getting on a hunt this fall where every mature bull in the unit is stunted and all busted up by the time you arrive.
Not much has changed, unfortunately, in the last five years. Here are my thoughts: I would consider even some of the weaker units in Arizona to be better than many units across most western states. Even units that many hunters turn their nose up at have incredible success rates on very solid bulls. If you love to hunt — and love hunting elk — I would argue there is not a unit in the state incapable of producing a 350+ bull and there will be a number of 300” to 330” caliber bulls taken in each unit each year. If those caliber of bulls sound exciting to you, then it may be time to plan a hunt. With 10 points, be cautious of the drought conditions this year and stay close to the units that have strong success rates and a higher density of elk. Use Filtering 2.0 to find these easier to draw areas that still check the box on all of the details that matter most to you when selecting a hunt.
What can I expect with 15 or 20 plus elk bonus points?
Well, you’ve made it. There still are a few options out of reach, but your commitment has led you to a place where you have some serious decisions to make. Studying all of the factors is mission critical at this time and keying in on small details can be the difference in a nice hunt and a world class hunt. Apply with caution, do your homework, lean on Filtering 2.0 to show you the data you will need to make your decision and absolutely get Point Guard — especially on a year like this where if you have waited this long, it could be the safety net you need if it's finally your turn to draw, especially if the conditions this spring and summer look similar to how they look now. Consider using only one choice on your application or, at least, be very careful at this point with a second selection if it's not a hunt you would be very happy to draw.
Resident and nonresident
Here is the long and short of it: typically, we would break down all of the final details of where you should be looking with the fact that you have waited as long as anyone for a world class elk hunt. There are very few hunts you would not be in the maximum point pool as a resident and there are a number of real stand out destinations as a nonresident.
Unfortunately, it has taken years of applying to get to this position — especially for nonresidents — and the opportunities created with this many points would take twice as many points if we were to get back to this point total ever again. And it's hard to say that this might be our one chance to be in the maximum point pool for elk in the Grand Canyon state in a top-shelf unit.
I feel horrible, but I need to just come out and say it: think very hard about applying for a point only for this year in Arizona. If you simply can’t bring yourself to apply for a point only on this year's application, then I would strongly suggest you only apply for the absolute best hunts in the state. If you know me, I am a real fan of the late rifle hunts in Arizona, but please do not consider these in a year like this given the number of years you have invested thus far. The probability of all the mature bulls in the unit being blown up and very broken on these hunts is very high given the drought conditions.
Stick with the early archery and early rifle if you must apply and, without a question, purchase Point Guard and do lots of scouting this summer to ensure the bull you have waited two decades for is there waiting for you. The silver lining is this: while we saw very rough conditions in 2018, in 2019, we had normal conditions across the state and it was one of the best years on record for giant bulls. The reason for this is that there are many bulls that are the right age class that either have very stunted growth and hunters who have waited a long time are not interested in taking them or, more likely, they get broken early in the season and, again are undesirable for hunters who have waited a long time to hunt. This, in turn, produces a bumper crop of bulls across the state and, as long as we have normal or better than normal moisture the following year, they are a year older than they normally would be. They will really blow up and show you all of what their genetics were capable of in the first place. With amazing years like 2019 — and a possibility that we could see a similar type of experience in 2022 or 2023 — it would be a shame to use your points now and fight through what looks to be a very difficult year of elk hunting in Arizona this coming fall.