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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: New Mexico Elk and Deer
NEW MEXICO'S 2021 ELK AND DEER APPLICATION OVERVIEW
Jump to: NEW FOR 2021 State Information Draw System Elk Breakdown Mule Deer Breakdown Coues Deer Breakdown Whitetail Deer Breakdown
New Mexico is truly the ace-in-the-hole type for aggressive players to lean on each year. With a random draw system that creates an equal playing field for first timers and long time investors, this is the application you submit if you are tired of waiting and ready to go hunt. There are few hunts in the state with 100% drawing odds, but even the majority of the hunts will leave you feeling like a winner. The overall agenda of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) is to create more opportunities to hunt rather than worrying about animal age class or even total population. These things come secondary to ensuring as many folks as possible can participate each year.
There are few, if any, true standout units in New Mexico when trying to find a place that has an above average success rate on higher age class animals year after year. Now, this could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. The bad would be that even the most notable units for each species are typically quite difficult hunts to harvest a giant and, yet, every year, New Mexico produces some very large deer and elk even if they don’t usually come from the same unit two years in a row. This means that, to some extent, you really do have a chance at the buck or the bull of your dreams no matter where you land in the state.
New Mexico separates their applicants into three categories when drawing and, as of last year, they are strict with these separations. What this means is that 84% of the advertised tags in the regulations pamphlet will be awarded to residents, 10% will be issued to hunters who hire an outfitter and the remaining 6% will go to nonresidents who can either hire a guide or go it alone. What this means is that in order for there to be a nonresident unguided pool permit available to draw, then the unit in which you are applying for will need at least 13 permits. Any less and the math simply does not add up to the required number, which means that no permits will be awarded. On the flip side of this is that in the guided pool, there will need to be no fewer than 7 permits available in order for there to be one permit awarded. As we have said in the past, with all of these different point systems across the West, if you are looking to fast track into an elite experience, then equal odds are the best odds no matter how low the number. If the idea of getting surprised with a hunt in the Land of Enchantment sounds exciting to you, then kiss those dice and make sure you hit the back of the table.
Note: The online application deadline for New Mexico Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, ibex, javelina, antelope and oryx is March 17, 2021 by 5 p.m. MST. Apply online here.
New for 2021
Department offices may be closed or have restricted access due to the Covid-19 public health crisis. Customers can purchase licenses by credit card online or by phone. Please check NMDGF’s website for updates.
Unit-wide ranch maps
Unit-wide elk hunting property maps are available online. These maps allow you to see all of the different properties that have enrolled in the unit-wide program allowing you access to their properties during a hunt in which you have a permit for either through the draw or by purchasing the permit.
Electronic tag (e-tag) option for all big game and turkey
Hunters may choose the e-tag option when purchasing or applying for any big-game or turkey hunts. You will not receive a carcass tag if you choose this option. Hunters who choose to e-tag will be required to download the New Mexico e-tag app on their phone, upload their license and carry their phone in the field. A printed license and/or carcass tag are not required, but the animal or turkey must still be physically tagged.
No electronic check payments
Electronic check payments are not accepted. Payments may be made in person by cash or credit card, online, or by telephone with credit card only.
Purchase 2021 game hunting license through draw application
Draw applicants purchasing 2021 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."
2021–2022 duplicate license fee
A $6 duplicate license fee will be charged for all duplicate tags/licenses in accordance with New Mexico state law. This fee will be charged only when a duplicate tag is obtained requiring reprinting of the license with a new tag number. Big game and turkey hunters are advised not to purchase their licenses online if they plan to obtain the tag(s) at a license vendor.
Draw license fee refunds for unsuccessful applicants will be processed shortly after draw results are released in April. Applications paid by credit card will be refunded directly to the credit card used for the transaction within 10 business days. Applications paid by cash will be refunded by check by the end of May. Game hunting license and stamp purchases will not be refunded.
Early purchase available for 2021–22 licenses
Licenses for the 2021–22 license year, which begins April 1, will be available online, by telephone and at license vendors and NMDGF offices beginning March 24.
Game hunting license options
Big game draw applicants will be required to purchase a Habitat Management and Access Validation (HMAV) with their game hunting or game hunting and fishing license. Applicants will have the option to add the habitat stamp, harvest information program (HIP) number and/or second rod validation, if applicable, to their purchase. Hunters must purchase the habitat stamp prior to May 17, 2021 to avoid having to print it separately.
The habitat stamp must be purchased prior to hunting, fishing or trapping on BLM and Forest Service lands. To be included in a combined license/tag, the habitat stamp must be purchased before May 17, 2021. Proof of habitat stamp purchase must be carried while in the field. The habitat stamp fee will be $5 if purchased prior to April 1, 2021. If purchased on or after April 1,2021, the fee will be $10.
No more rounding up in the license quotas
It now requires that an applicant in the unguided pool should only apply for a hunt with a minimum of 13 permits in order to have a chance at drawing. The same is for the guided pool except that the minimum number of permits required in order to have a chance of drawing in this pool is 7.
Cost to apply
Cost for license and permits for New Mexico
and access validation
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 species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.
New Mexico State Profile Elk Profile Mule Deer Profile Coues Deer Profile Whitetail Deer Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0 goHUNT MAPS
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 17, 2021.
- 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 28.
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 New Mexico.
The guided pool
Currently, in New Mexico, the permits are allocated by quota in three categories. These three categories are: residents (who receive 84% of the permits), nonresidents (who receive 6% of the permits) and the guided pool,which residents and nonresidents may both apply in with the remaining 10% of the permits. Because there are more permits available in the guided pool, the odds tend to be higher in the guided pool than they are in the normal nonresident pool on any given hunt code each year. In order to qualify to be included in the guided pool, an applicant must be under contract with a licensed outfitter in New Mexico. Once you are under contract with the outfitter, they will then give you their unique outfitter’s number to use during the application process online. Once you are under contract with an outfitter during the application process this, in most cases, ensures the outfitter that if you are successful in drawing a permit you will use that outfitter for the hunt. This could be as extensive as an all-inclusive hunt that covers many days and includes all meals, lodging, etc. or it could be a simple two-day guide only hunt where you will be escorted into the field for two days and then left to hunt the duration of the hunt on your own. Two days fully escorted with a licensed guide is the minimum requirement within New Mexico to be considered a legally guided hunt. This has changed in recent years as previously you simply had to check in with your outfitter twice during the hunt. That is no longer the case and hunters are required to be with their guide for a minimum of two days of hunting.
Working with an outfitter in regards to the guided pool
A normal situation in regards to the guided pool in New Mexico is that the applicant pays a fee of some level — often $500 to $1,000 — to the outfitter in order to receive the outfitter’s code. These funds go towards the hunt if the hunter is lucky enough to draw the permit they have applied for. Because New Mexico has a random draw process, neither party knows when this may happen — if ever — depending on which hunts they are applying for. This can also become complicated as you may decide that the same outfitter you would like to hunt elk with is not the outfitter you would prefer to hunt ibex, oryx or bighorn sheep with if you were to get lucky. So, this begs the question: without tying up thousands of dollars with multiple outfitters across the state on applications that are inherently difficult to draw, is there a better way? We believe that, at The Draw, our process is much better and allows for much more flexibility for the hunter. Essentially, when working with The Draw as a customer, we will get you under contract with an outfitter — the only outfitter that is legal in all corners of the state. We apply you based on your goals and are as involved as you would like us to be in unit and hunt selections. We submit your applications in the guided pool and once the permit has been drawn, we use a transfer document to place you with the outfitter that you prefer to hunt with on the permit that you have drawn. Again, we are as involved in this process as you would like us to be, but in no way are you obligated to book a hunt with one of our outfitters. If you would like to get into the guided pool, but do not want to be married to one outfitter or the other until you have successfully drawn a permit, our method is the only way to keep all your options on the table throughout the process. Call The Draw today at 575-222-1234 to speak with us about this program and how we can help.
Drought in New Mexico
Well, to put it lightly: things couldn’t get much worse in New Mexico in regards to the drought we are currently experiencing. There is hope that even this week it will change since we have seen some moisture across much of the state with some more in the forecast. However, we are going to need much more and, as it sits right now, we are likely to see some stunted antler growth as well as lots of broken antlers if things continue the way they are now.
The New Mexico draw system
Understanding the draw
New Mexico’s draw system is labeled as 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” have equal odds, which are good odds and an applicant can apply with confidence that 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 often be a mistake for residents to apply in this category, they are allowed to if they see fit.
New Mexico offers their applicants five choices when applying. Unlike many states, the first three selections are going to 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 as likely to draw your third choice as you are your first on any given application. 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 is 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. More often than not, there are valid reasons these permits are leftover. Generally, these hunts would not line up with a nonresident hunter’s goals when looking to hunt in new areas.
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's 2021 elk breakdown
In New Mexico, elk hunting can really be broken down into three categories: primary units, high density areas and fringe units. The primary units are hunts located in the Gila National Forest and the Sacramento Mountains. These include Unit 16 (16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E) as well as Units 34 and 36. These are the most popular units in the state and for good reason. For many years, there have been some incredible bulls taken from these units and, with stable populations, there are a decent number of permits awarded each year.
The second category is the high density areas. These are found in the north-central part of the state and, for all intents and purposes, are really an extension of the Colorado elk herd found further to the north. These units have the highest density elk herds in the state and, although it can be difficult to find and harvest a big bull in these units, there is a lot of elk, there are a lot of tags and the odds of drawing are better than the primary units for these purposes. If you have never taken an elk or the thought of harvesting a 260” to 310” caliber bull is still exciting with a chance for something better, these are the units that you should strongly consider.
The last category is the fringe units. These units are found in multiple areas of the state, ranging from the classic desert units to the lower elevation units covered in pinon and juniper. They also include the units that are more prairie in the northeast corner of the state. Although these units have a lower elk population, as a general rule, the lack of tags and the low success rates can deter lots of hunters from applying and, yet, the age class in these units can be some of the best age class of bulls. These can be long and rough hunts, but for hunters looking for a chance at something special — even with a high risk of coming home empty-handed — it might be just what you are looking for.
Public land success rate by weapon (2019)
Private land success rate by weapon (2019)
Antlerless elk draw odds
Find your resident antlerless elk draw odds here
Find your nonresident antlerless elk draw odds here
How to uncover the hidden gems in the New Mexico elk draw
Finding a hidden gem in New Mexico is not unlike other states. The more primitive the weapon and the further from the rut is where you will likely find better odds. However, as discussed in the breakdown, sometimes when you pair these consistent measures with either high density areas or fringe units, then you are likely to find some obscure hunts that are falling under the radar. Use Filtering 2.0 to allow you to see the odds as you filter down to the details that are most important to you. Also, it’s worth noting that because they issue 10% in the guided pool versus 6% in the unguided pool that you can really hedge your bet in the guided pool, especially when applying for units that don’t have as iconic a history as the hunts located in the heart of the Gila or the Sacramento Mountains.
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.
What to expect when you apply for elk in New Mexico
Because New Mexico looks at your first three choices before moving to the next applicant and there is no points system, this is a unique application that allows applicants a chance to always roll the dice on what they believe to be the best hunt in the state-based upon their goals while chasing the odds in less popular hunts and units as a second and third choice if they see fit. Without the risk of losing points, New Mexico elk is and should be your ace-in-the-hole for an elk hunt each year as you have much less at stake versus a state that requires you to use points accumulated over many years in order to hunt.
Find your resident elk draw odds here
Find your nonresident elk draw odds here
It’s hard not to mention how rough the rut in New Mexico has been over the last two years. With the drought conditions the way that they are, it is hard not to imagine that we could be in for a slow and stagnate rut again. We will need some serious monsoon action in July and August to help the cows get back to a healthy place. If this does not happen, I think we can expect more of the same with on again, off again rut activity. However, if you are interested in chasing bugling bulls and not simply sitting at a water hole waiting on a bull to come drink, I would strongly suggest you avoid the early archery season as success rates have been below average on these hunts for the last couple of years. Instead, focus on the late archery season that runs Sept. 15 to 24 regardless of how appealing the odds may look on an early archery hunt. Or if you simply want to come hunt and will take your chances since that’s better than not drawing, the early archery season, which runs Sept. 1 to 14 often has the best odds of the year for any hunt offered in many different units across the state.
Early Sept. 1 to 14 archery elk hunts with 360”+ trophy potential
Late Sept. 15 to 24 archery elk hunts with 360”+ trophy potential
Find your resident archery elk draw odds here
Find your nonresident archery elk draw odds here
Muzzleloader hunting in New Mexico is something everyone should consider. The muzzleloader hunt happens prior to any of the rifle hunts, which lends itself to a chance for an elite experience, and there are a number of units in the state that only allow muzzleloader or archery hunting. Over the years, this has lead to some incredible bulls being taken in each of these units as it seems that the age class is often just a little better in these units — there is definitely something for everyone. If you are an odds chaser, there are even some late season hunts that have some excellent odds for folks who are simply just trying to ensure there is a tag in their pocket each season.
Early muzzleloader elk hunts with 350”+ trophy potential
Find your resident muzzleloader elk draw odds here
Find your nonresident muzzleloader elk draw odds here
The rifle elk hunts in New Mexico almost always fall into one of three different weeks. There are exceptions, but they are rare. The first hunt of the year is often the youth or mobility-impaired hunts. These are scheduled to start Oct. 9 and run through Oct. 13 this year. To some extent, early on, it was believed that these were intended to be a bit of a “rut” hunt, but the season dates seemed to have shifted back slightly over the last few years. Now, while you may get a little bugling on the front end of this hunt, it will be rather quiet in the woods for the most part with the bulls starting to shift off of the cows towards the end of the hunt. The second hunt and the first one for an adult hunter who doesn’t qualify as a mobility-impaired hunter, runs Oct. 16 to 20 this year. Personally, I have a hard time with these dates. Historically, for me, after many years of guiding here in New Mexico, this is going to be the week that the bulls will be leaving the cows or, at least, the upper age class bulls. This hunt can be quite difficult because the bulls are on the move for the winter and, typically, if you don’t harvest a bull when you see him, the odds of locating him again the next morning or in the evening are small as you will have likely just caught him coming through an area. This can make for snap decisions and just an overall hard way to hunt.
The last rifle hunt of the year runs Oct. 23 to 31 this year and, if you are a rifle hunter, this is a hunt you should really consider. There are plenty of negatives between broken bulls and no rut activity; however, this is a classic late season rifle hunt where you may feel like you are looking for a needle in a haystack. Often, though, once you find a bull, there will be multiple bulls in that area and you simply need to identify which one you are interested in harvesting. The bulls will usually be rather stationary by this time and, if conditions are not great, you can often pull out of the area, come back in the morning and still locate the bulls and put a plan in place. The odds can be better on these late hunts and, as I stated before, the early hunt is a tough week to be hunting historically. Use Filtering 2.0 to look over success rates and other key factors in order to choose the hunt that fits your goals. Don’t forget that there are a few late rifle hunts even into December as well as some early Oct. 1 to 5 rifle hunts scattered throughout the state. These hunts can be incredible but do require an extra amount of research before you apply as they are in some hard areas of the state to hunt.
Rifle hunts with a 50% success rate and trophy potential of 340”+ and enough tags for a nonresident in the unguided pool
Find your resident rifle elk draw odds here
Find your nonresident rifle elk draw odds here
New Mexico's 2021 mule deer breakdown
New Mexico does not seem to carry the same reputation for deer as it does for elk when discussing where the best places are out West to hunt. As I am a believer that reputations are earned, this is not necessarily an incorrect assessment. There are mule deer scattered across each unit in the state as well as classic eastern whitetails in the northeast corner and Coues whitetail in the southwest corner of the state. New Mexico is actually one of only four states that boasts three different species of deer. However, for the overall lack of deer density in the state, every unit is capable and does from time to time produce a giant buck. It's just unlikely that the giant buck will come from the same unit two years in a row aside from one or two specific units within the state. This goes for all species. We will break each of these species down one by one below; however, it's worth noting that when you submit a deer application in New Mexico you only get one application. You could choose to use your first three choices to apply for one species on three different hunts or you could apply one hunt for each species. Some of the hunts are species-specific while others, depending on the unit, may simply be for a forked-antler deer or “FAD.” These hunts allow you to harvest one deer of whichever species you happen to run into.
There are two subspecies of mule deer in New Mexico. The Rocky Mountain mule deer as well as the desert mule deer. There are some species of deer found in every unit of the state. These hunts can take hunters on intense physical experiences in the tallest peaks of the state all the way to the bottoms of the desert in more of an environment you would expect while hunting south of the border. There are big deer killed each year in each of these ecosystems and, while deer density is lacking just about everywhere, the odds of drawing a deer tag in New Mexico are much higher for the most part than elk, which can allow you many more opportunities to hunt year after year, get much more familiar with an area and be able to capitalize on your knowledge of an area to produce an above-average buck.
What to expect when you apply for mule deer in New Mexico
New Mexico recently separated the early season September archery hunts and the late season January hunts across the state. As we are now a couple of years down this path, the most notable things to mention are that if you simply want to come hunt deer in New Mexico, the absolute best odds of doing this that will include multiple units with anywhere from a 50% to 100% drawing odds (even in the normal nonresident pool) are the September hunts. Odds become even more prolific in the guided pool, too. The second thing is that it seems that, for many years, bowhunters who had these permits simply defaulted to hunting in January and put little to no effort in hunting during September. You simply didn’t see many velvet bucks coming out of New Mexico outside of the occasional elk hunter who happened to have a tag for each species in the same unit. This is not the case any longer and now that hunters are only allowed to hunt during September, more are getting out, taking advantage of the tag they have drawn and, not only harvesting bucks, but taking some absolute giants taken — even in less notable units. Just like other areas of the country, these velvet bucks are in summer patterns. They are bedding in areas that seem to be in more open country and stealthy hunters who know how to play that game will be rewarded with big deer during a time of the year that, historically, we simply have not seen big deer come out of the state in previous years. These hunts are not for everyone, but if drawing a tag is the most important part of your goals, don’t overlook these as an option to add to your overall strategy.
Top late season hunts to consider for 150+” archery mule deer with over 40% odds of drawing
Find your resident late archery mule deer draw odds here
Find your nonresident archery mule deer draw odds here
If archery simply isn’t your cup of tea, but you are looking for very high odds of drawing, then the muzzleloader hunts across the state are what you are after. The odds of drawing these hunts across the state are rather high on average and include a number of tags, which make it into the leftover category year after year. These hunts — although later in the year — typically start on or close to Halloween and are actually quite similar to other states’ muzzleloader seasons because the bucks in most of the state will have only recently shed their velvet. It's not impossible to expect them to still be in somewhat of a summer pattern. Because the rut in much of the state below interstate 40 won’t be rutting until the last days of December (or even the first week of January), these hunts can be rather exciting as the deer won’t typically be as nocturnal as they will be when the rifle hunts start a couple of weeks later in November. With very liberal muzzleloader laws — and all of the new technology that has happened in recent years — these hunts have very high odds of drawing and will often result in multiple hunts over the years for hunters who take advantage of them.
Top muzzleloader hunts with 170”+ bucks with over 40% odds of drawing
Find your resident muzzleloader mule deer draw odds here
Find your nonresident muzzleloader mule deer draw odds here
For all of the opportunities that exist in the archery and muzzleloader hunts in New Mexico, the lack of units that consistently produce 180”+ mule deer in the state makes the odds of drawing a rifle tag in one of these locations rather difficult. If you are simply looking for a chance to hunt deer, you will still find many better than average odds whether unguided or guided. The reality is that most units are going to produce yearling bucks up to 160” bucks with the occasional big deer. The exception to this rule could be a few youth deer hunts in the northern part of the state like Unit 2B or 5B, which allow these hunters a hunt in the heart of the rut.
Rifle hunts with 170”+ bucks with over 50% odds of drawing
|47||170”+||Early 53%||Early 100%||48%|
|57||170”+||Early 55%||Early 50%||24%|
Find your resident rifle mule deer draw odds here
Find your nonresident rifle mule deer draw odds here
New Mexico 2021 Coues deer breakdown
When most hunters speak of Coues deer, New Mexico is a bit of an afterthought as both Arizona and Mexico have a much more notable reputation for these grey ghosts. However, for the lack of overall deer, the age class found in all of the units located in the southwest corner of the state like Unit 23, 24 and 27 would rival even the best units located in Arizona as well as many places across Mexico. There are a number of Boone & Crockett caliber deer harvested most years and you could run into an absolute giant in any of these units as well as in the fringe units like 16, 26, 21 and, even, 17 where the tag you draw would allow you to harvest one deer of either species during your hunt. The odds of drawing an archery hunt for Coues deer is near 100% for every unit and, although the success rates are low, if you are simply looking for a chance to hunt, there are often even leftover permits after the draw process is complete. The same can be true for the muzzleloader hunts on occasion and, although they may not be available in the leftover pool, the odds of drawing are very high. There are two rifle hunts for adults in these units: one in late November and the other a nine-day hunt in the earlier part of December. This later date and longer season make the late hunts the most attractive and hardest to draw. The early rifle hunt often has higher odds of drawing and, while neither hunt is in the rut, the only real reason to look towards the late hunt would be for the lower number of hunters in the unit during your hunt.
Top Coues rifle hunts in New Mexico for success rates
Excluding Burro Mtns
Excluding Burro Mtns
Including Burron Mtns
New Mexico 2021 whitetail deer breakdown
It would be rather surprising if New Mexico was on your radar when looking to hunt the more classic whitetails like those found in West Texas or the panhandle of Oklahoma, but maybe it should be. With whitetail specific hunts and excellent rut rifle dates, these under-the-radar hunts are not getting much attention in both the regular nonresident pool as well as the guided pool and, yet, there are some incredible deer being harvested each year. Like most whitetails, these deer live in areas with extensive amounts of private property. With proper planning and some luck, these are truly becoming a hidden gem in the Land of Enchantment. Located primarily in the northeast corner of the state, small pockets of whitetails can be found along the Pecos River as well as on the top of the mountain in Unit 34, living among the elk and ponderosa pines. If you are looking for something outside the box, the high drawing odds on these opportunities might be just what you are looking for.
Top rifle whitetail hunts in New Mexico for trophy potential