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How to make the most out of your Arizona sheep application in 2021

Arizona bighorn sheep application strategies 2021

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It's time to talk about Arizona bighorn sheep! The deadline to apply is June 8, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Arizona Time. You can apply online here. Arizona has experienced some website and portal issues this year so don't wait until the last minute to apply. If you are experiencing issues with the portal or draw, you can call the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) at 602-942-3000 or you can email them here.

In this article we will discuss application strategies for three groups of applicants: 

  1. Applicants with maximum points
  2. Nonresident applicants
  3. Resident applicants without maximum points

Before diving into each strategy, it is important for you to understand how the draw works, what changes were made for 2021 and, of course, a recap of the 2020 season.


How the draw works

Both bighorn sheep species are combined; therefore, you can only submit one bighorn sheep application. Only the first two choices on your application matter. You can list desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the same application. However, Arizona is known for some exceptional desert bighorn sheep and average Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. 

Arizona offers up to 10% of the total bighorn sheep tags to nonresident hunters. Last year, there were a total of 122 sheep tags (106 desert/16 Rocky). Out of that 10%, no more than half may be issued to the nonresident applicants with maximum points. Nonresidents were issued 12 total bighorn sheep tags in 2020. Out of those 12 tags, two tags were issued to an applicant with maximum points and the other 10 were issued in the random drawing. 

There are two phases in the Arizona draw system. The two phases are known as the bonus pass and the 1-2 Pass. The bonus pass is the draw for those applicants with maximum points. This phase is conducted first. Going into the 2021 drawing, the maximum number of bighorn sheep points that a hunter could have is 32. There are currently 11 residents and zero nonresidents with 32 points. They will issue 20% of the tags to those individuals (residents/nonresidents) with maximum points. Once those tags have been issued, they will conduct the 1-2 pass draw, which is the random draw. The random draw is where most of the nonresident tags are issued.

For a more in-depth look at the draw, you can check out goHUNT's Arizona State Profile here.

Researching your hunt on goHUNT's INSIDER

You can also check out goHUNT's 2021 application strategy article here.

Desert Bighorn Units Rocky Bighorn Units Draw Odds


2020 Recap

The 2020 bighorn sheep season was another good year. There were a total of 122 bighorn sheep tags issued in the draw: 106 desert and 16 Rocky. Out of the 106 desert bighorn sheep tags issued, there were 103 rams harvested. Out of the 103 rams harvested, there were five (up two from 2019) rams that scored over 180” with the largest ram scoring 183 7/8” (auction ram) and a total of 33 rams that scored over the Boone and Crockett (B&C) minimum of 168”. That’s a decrease of two B&C rams from the 2019 season. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunters had an average year with all 16 hunters being successful. Out of the 16 rams harvested, no rams scored over 180" (down three from 2019) and a total of seven rams scored over 170”. That’s a decrease of three rams over 170” from the 2019 season.

2020 Arizona desert bighorn harvest data

2020 Arizona Rocky bighorn harvest data

2020 Arizona raffle and auction tag data

Tags drawn

In 2020, there were a total of 24 tags drawn by individuals with maximum points. Once again, all of the tags in Unit 22, 24B North, 24B South, 28 South were drawn in the bonus pass (maximum point pool). In addition to the usual units, all of the tags in the following units were taken in the bonus pass: Unit 3A North, 13B South, 37A (third hunt), 1, 27, 6A 22N (second hunt), 23, 24A. Therefore, these tags were never available to anyone other than those with maximum points.

2020 Arizona desert bighorn sheep tags
drawn to max point holders

Unit Tags drawn 31 points 30 points Total tags drawn
6005/13A North 1 1 1 1
6007/13B South 1 0 1 1
6017/22 South 2 6 17 2
6019/24B North 1 5 8 1
6020/24B South 2 5 11 2
6021/28 South 2 4 10 2
6022 31/32 1 0 10 3
6024/37A (second hunt) 1 1 17 2
6025/37A (third hunt) 2 1 15 2
6026/37B 2 1 10 2
6034/41 West 1 0 9 2
6041/44B North 1 1 16 3

Total tags drawn with maximum points: 17

2020 Arizona Rocky mountain bighorn sheep tags
draw to max point holders

Unit Tags drawn 31 points 30 points Total tags drawn
6051/1 & 27 1 3 8 1
6052 6A/22 North (first hunt) 1 2 27 3
6053 6A/22 North (second hunt) 2 2 26 2
6054 23/24A 1 1 4 1
6056 27/28 (first hunt) 1 2 21 3
6057 27/28 (second hunt) 1 1 18 3

Total tags drawn with maximum points: 24

Nonresident tags drawn

Unit Tags drawn Drawn at max
6003/12B East (first hunt) 1  
6004/12B East (second hunt) 2  
6023/37A (first hunt) 1  
6024/24B South 1 Drawn w/ max
of 31
6033/41 East 1  
6034/41 West 1  
6035 42/44A 1  
6041/44B North 1  
6042/44B South 1  
6045/45C 1  
6053 6A/22 North (second hunt) 1 Drawn w/ max
of 30

Total nonresident tags: 12

2020 Arizona desert bighorn sheep draw stats

2020 Arizona Rocky Bighorn Sheep Draw Stats


New for 2021

The number of desert bighorn sheep permits will remain at 106 for 2021. There were only a few minor changes for the 2021 desert bighorn sheep season. There will be a second hunt in Unit 9/10 with one permit. The only permit reduction occurred in 13B North with one permit being removed. This hunt will still be available to nonresidents with two total permits. Remember: if you are a nonresident, you must only apply for units with two or more tags.

The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tags will hold steady at 16. Although tag numbers will remain the same, one notable change is the split between 6A and 22 North. These units have been split with 6A having three total tags and 22 North having two total tags. This split will force hunters to focus on bighorn sheep in the more remote areas of Unit 22, which should disperse hunters and alleviate some pressure from bighorn sheep in 6A. We saw one tag removed from the 27 Upper Blue hunt, reducing the permits down to two. A new hunt was also created in 1/27 South Fork with one permit.

Applicants with maximum points (32)

Going into the 2021 drawing, there are only 11 residents with the maximum number of points, which is 32. You are in total control of your destiny at this point, so make sure you know what you want and only focus on the best. If you are considering using an outfitter, I would encourage you to call them before you apply and get their recommendations prior to applying. Make sure you purchase PointGuard, which will give you the opportunity to turn your tag in if something happens.

What you need to understand is your choices still matter. You have a chance to draw any unit in the state, but that does not mean every unit is right for you. If you are totally focused on size, then you need to stick with Unit 24B North, 24B South, 28 South, 22, 37A. Although these units have routinely been producing some of the best rams within the state, it does not mean there may not be a giant lurking somewhere else. Most people have waited a lifetime to draw a bighorn sheep tag, and, often, they plan to hire a guide. If you are going to hire a guide, talk to them before you apply and listen to what they say.

Something else to be aware of: Arizona has one desert bighorn sheep auction tag each year. Those hunts start on Aug. 15 and run for an entire year. The hunter can hunt any unit in the state. Typically, the auction rams are killed in Unit 24B North, 24B South and 22. The auction hunter for this year can begin hunting on Aug. 15 and it is not uncommon for the hunter to harvest a ram before the draw hunts begin.

If you are physically limited, but want to have a chance at the best ram possible, you should consider Unit 22, 44B North, 37A.

Applicants with 31 Points

Currently, there are 189 applicants with 31 points. Out of those 189 applicants, there are 159 residents and 30 nonresidents. With only 11 residents sitting with 32 points, we will see at least 13 individuals with 31 points being drawn in the maximum pool. With approximately 22 to 24 tags being issued to applicants with maximum points, a resident with 31 points can expect to draw a bighorn sheep tag within the next eight years.

If you are looking to kill a solid ram (168” to 172”) and have a great experience with the potential at a 175” type bighorn sheep, you should be looking at Unit 37A, 44B North, 44B South, 41 West, 37B, 31, 32, 15D North, 39 West and 40BT. Any outfitter can definitely help you achieve your goals in these units. 

Nonresident applicants

What I am going to discuss in this section applies to all nonresidents. Even if you have 31 points, this section applies to you because even though you are going to be considered in the maximum pool, typically, only one tag is drawn by a nonresident who has maximum points and there are currently 30 nonresidents with 31 points. The statistics show it will take approximately 27 to 30 years to get through all those applicants.

In 2021, nonresidents are eligible to draw up to 12 permits. The reality is that most nonresidents will never draw in Arizona, so you must be smart with your choices to give yourself a chance. 

Keys to success:

  1. Apply, apply, apply! Every year, thousands of nonresidents apply for a bonus point only. There is absolutely no reason to purchase a bighorn sheep bonus point — always apply! You can purchase PointGuard and, if for some reason something comes up, you can turn the tag in and get all your points back.
  2. As a nonresident you are not eligible to apply for one-tag units. Every year, we see hundreds of applicants who apply for one-tag units.
  3. Do not apply for the units where the tags are always drawn in the maximum pool (Unit 22, 24B West, 24B North, 24B South, 28 South, 37A first hunt. and 44B North). 

Now that we have covered the three fatal mistakes, let’s talk about where you should apply. Getting a tag is the key to killing a bighorn sheep, so don’t over focus on the units with the biggest rams. Focus on units that give you what appears to be the best opportunity to draw a tag, then you can worry about the size of bighorn sheep you hope to find. Odds are that most nonresidents will never get drawn, so why are you worrying about size? Would you rather draw a tag and kill a 150” to 160” ram or never draw because you were always chasing the units that produced the biggest bighorn sheep? Nearly every unit in Arizona can give you the opportunity at a 160” class ram, which is a great desert bighorn sheep — especially for a nonresident. Refer to my 2020 draw statistics table above and look at the total number of nonresident applicants applying in each unit. Also, look at the units where nonresidents are typically drawing tags. Just because a unit offers four tags does not mean it provides the best opportunity to draw a tag. Some of the two-tag units have much better odds even though they are only offering one tag to nonresidents. The goal is that when your number is picked, the unit you applied for still has a tag available for you. Once you have located a few units that you like, then look at the 2020 bighorn sheep harvest data table provided above and see what kind of rams it produces and what kind of hunt you can expect. 

Resident applicants without maximum points

In 2021, there will be 122 sheep tags with 24 of those being awarded to individuals with maximum points. So, you are applying for 98 sheep tags in 2021. If you happen to be a resident with one or two points below maximum (31 to 30), you can expect approximately 21 to 23 tags to be issued to maximum point holders each year, which will give you a ballpark idea when you may have a chance to draw in the maximum pool.

Keys to success:

  1. Apply, apply, apply! There is absolutely no reason to purchase a bighorn sheep bonus point, always apply! You can purchase PointGuard and, if for some reason something comes up, you can turn the tag in and get all your points back. 
  2. Do not apply for the units where the tags are always drawn in the maximum pool (Unit 22, 24B West, 24B North, 24B South, 28 South, 37A first hunt. and 44B North).

Now that I have told you where not to apply, let’s talk about where you should focus your efforts. Review my 2020 bighorn sheep draw statistics table above and look at the total number of applicants versus the number of nonresident applicants. Nonresidents on average get nine to 10 tags each year. So, if you want a better idea of draw odds, subtract them out of the number of total applicants. This is not an exact science, but it can give you a better idea of what the odds look like. Even though you are a resident, you must realize that there is no guarantee you will ever draw a bighorn sheep tag in your home state. Unless you have lots of the money to purchase a bighorn sheep tag, your best opportunity is drawing in your home state. So, focus on getting the tag then worry about the quality of ram you want to harvest. You can review the provided 2020 bighorn sheep harvest data table to see the quality of rams killed in 2020.

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