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2020 Arizona elk application strategy article

Main writer: Jordan Christensen of The Draw

Arizona's 2020 elk application overview

Jump to: NEW FOR 2020 State Information Draw System HIDDEN GEM UNITS ELK POINTS

Arizona has been considered a top-shelf destination for a chance at giant bulls for a long time. 2019 proved to be exactly what many predicted. The stars seem to align over and over again and not only in the historically popular units. It seemed as though giants were coming out of every unit in the state-it really was a sight to see. So, why did that happen and can we expect to see similar results out of The Grand Canyon State this coming fall? The short answer is most likely not, however, if we were to look at the past 10 years, 2020 has a real crack at being one of the best in the past decade-just not quite what 2019 was. The reason behind this lies directly on the fact that the 2018 season was so horrible and many of the right age class of bulls made it through the season either because of stunted growth or because they were broken early, becoming less desirable to hunters who had burned their points on an unfortunate year. The drought conditions from 2018 are also why 2020 has a real crack at being quite special as well. Many bulls that were taken in 2019 were, essentially a year older than normal, leaving the younger bulls on the mountain, making way for them to have a chance to put one more year on. With the current level of moisture already seen across much of the state, we have a real chance to see this year’s graduating class full of genetic potential. The long story short is if you have a chance to hunt Arizona for elk in 2020 you should do everything you can to make that a reality-it's shaping up to be another banner year. 

Note: The online application deadline for Arizona elk is Feb. 11, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. MST. You can apply online here.

New for 2020

Paper applications are no longer accepted

Last year was the last year for paper applications. Any applications submitted are required to be submitted on-line

Convenience fee

If you choose to purchase your hunting license or any other permits through any vendor other than the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) you could be subject to a convenience fee added to the transaction. Previously, vendors billed the state $1 for all transactions. This is no longer the case and if the vendor wants to be compensated for their time selling the license or permit, they are now allowed to add a service fee to the transaction in order to be compensated if they choose. 

Point Guard

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.

Failed credit card payments

If you're applying online, be sure to keep your credit card payment information current and up-to-date. 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. MST on Feb. 27, 2020.

State information

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. You can also view the Arizona Elk Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy units.

Arizona State Profile Elk Profile Draw Odds FILTERING 2.0

Important dates and information

  • The deadline to apply online is Feb. 11, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. MST.
  • The deadline to update credit card information is Feb. 27, 2020.
  • 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.
  • If you are unsuccessful in the draw, then you will be awarded a bonus point for that species.
  • The Arizona Big Game Super Raffle drawing will be held July 12, 2020. More information can be found here.

Continuing to provide the most accurate Arizona draw odds

You have access to the most accurate draw odds by utilizing Arizona Draw Odds on INSIDER. Since the change in the draw system in 2016, many nonresidents have the opportunity to draw tags that were previously unattainable for anyone who did not have a high number of points.

Arizona's 2016 bonus and random pass draw change
* There is no guarantee that nonresidents will draw all of their allotted tags in the Random Draw, so it is possible that the nonresident 10% cap may not be met in some hunt choices.

Using the draw odds detailed pages for Arizona, you’ll quickly be able to see how the draw system change affected hunters with minimal points and for those max point holders.

The current drought status in Arizona


Current Arizona drought status as of late January 2020

2020 Arizona drought monitor status as of January 21. Source: United States Drought Monitor

Compared to 2019 things have really taken a turn for the better in Arizona like many of the other western states. The bulk of the state is out of any drought conditions and the small section of the state in a moderate drought (23.0%) is largely in the northeast corner of the state outside of most elk hunting units.


Arizona drought status January 2019
Arizona drought status from January 15, 2019. Source: United States Drought Monitor

Arizona, like all western states, has been under historic drought conditions for many years. 2018 proved to be an extreme year and particularly tough for the elk. This was apparent by the lack of monster bulls that typically come out of Arizona compared to prior years. Although there have been abnormal amounts of snow in the upper elevations of Arizona this winter, the state as a whole is so far behind the curve that the snow and rain will need to stay consistent for some time in order to fully recover.


Arizona drought monitor January 2018

2018 Arizona drought status for a comparison. Source: United States Drought Monitor

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. 

Increasing Points

Arizona has a modified bonus system in place. Essentially this means this is a bucket of raffle tickets, 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 most number of points, only up to 50% of the potential nonresident permits are allowed to be issued in the max point pass. 

There are four ways to increase your bonus points:

  1. Earn a bonus point each time you are unsuccessful in the draw (one point per year).
  2. 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.
  3. You can also travel to Arizona and take a hunter education course and earn a permanent bonus point for every species.
  4. Earn a loyalty point. An applicant is awarded this point by applying for a species for five consecutive years. This is also a species-specific point and this point 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 loyalty and/or hunter education point, then you will keep those two potential points. 

Special note: Once a loyalty bonus point is accrued, the applicant shall retain the loyalty bonus point provided the applicant annually submits an application, with funds sufficient to cover all application fees and applicable license fees for each applicant listed on the application, for a hunt permit-tag or a bonus point for the genus for which the loyalty bonus point was accrued. An applicant who fails to apply in any calendar year for a hunt permit-tag or bonus point for the genus for which the loyalty bonus point was accrued shall forfeit the loyalty bonus point for that genus. If you fail to apply and lose your loyalty point, you will have to start over and continue to apply for that species again for five consecutive years to get the loyalty point again.

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.

2020 top hit list hunts to consider for 350" or better bulls



Public land
Unit 23380"+40:10098.1%
Unit 9380"+65:10076.6%
Unit 1370"+54:10091.1%
Unit 10360"+14:10039.2%
Unit 18A360"+NA52.1%
Unit 18B360"+3:10059.2%
Unit 27360"+24:10094.6%
Unit 3A360"+37:10029.5%
Unit 3C360"+37:10082.8%
Unit 15A350"+NA80.2%
Unit 17A350"+25:10072.5%
Unit 2C350"+50:10059.3%
Unit 7W350"+34:10087.7%
Unit 8350"+62:10094.9%

Use the Detailed Draw Odds view to look at draw trends and see where you can expect to draw in the maximum points pool and random draw.

Map of Arizona's top producing B&C typical elk counties all time - 2020

Map of Arizona's top producing B&C nontypical elk counties all time - 2020

How to uncover hidden gem elk units

Locating a hidden gem in Arizona is like many states: the more primitive the weapon, the further away from peak rut; and the further away you get from the higher density areas of the state for any given species, the better the odds of drawing. Arizona just about offers more of these opportunities in both archery and muzzleloader units than others state. If you are hung up on rifle hunting, there are also a few gems hidden in areas of the state that have lower elk populations as well as higher amounts of private land. Many applicants get started in Arizona swinging for the fence on a rut hunt in the early season, but, if you are just looking to hunt elk more often, use Filtering 2.0 to see that hunting elk in Arizona doesn’t have to be a long-term goal.

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 330" plus trophy potential that have 100% draw odds at 5 points

Public land %Harvest
5BNLate archery340"+87%53%
7ELate rifle330"+76.8%52%
3BLate muzzleloader330"+44.9%50%
17ALate rifle350"+72.5%60%
18BLate rifle360"+59.2%60%
19BLate rifle330"+38.9%60%

* Some hunts can be drawn with fewer points. Check out the Draw Odds details page for more information.

Hidden gem units: Elk units with 330" plus trophy potential that have 100% draw odds at 5 points

Public land %Harvest
7ELate Archery330"+76.8%15%
7ELate Rifle330"+76.8%52%
15ALate Rifle350"+80.2%38%
15BELate Rifle330"+60.3%38%
17ALate Rifle350"+72.5%60%
18ALate Rifle360"+52.1%38%
18BLate Rifle360"+59.2%60%
19BLate Rifle330"+38.9%60%
23Late Archery380"+98.1%43%

* Some hunts can be drawn with fewer points. Check out the Draw Odds details page for more information.

The points system for elk

  • 2020 maximum resident bonus points for elk: 27
  • 2020 maximum nonresident bonus points for elk: 30

Managing points and expectations

Arizona has one of the oldest point systems in the West. For three decades, applicants have been applying to hunt these awesome bulls and, unfortunately, many have not drawn in all these years. Hunts requiring 20+ points are more common with each passing year. Given the changes in 2016, applicants do still have a chance at drawing even the first year they apply although the odds are often less than 1% on the most popular units and hunts across the state. Each year, there are a few who beat the odds and draw something very special, even the first year they apply. However, because of how many applicants there are, it is almost impossible and definitely improbable that any-one could get started in Arizona and eventually end up in the max point pool in any of the early rifle hunts and most of the September archery hunts. So, with this knowledge and knowing that two selections are considered on the first pass, consider applying for something outside of your “dream hunt” that has a more realistic finish line as your second choice. This way you’ll never miss a year swinging for the fence and any year could be yours. Don’t get stuck in a rut where all you are doing is donating money to Arizona each year with no real goal in mind outside of blind luck.

Find your draw odds

Arizona resident elk bonus point totals going into the 2020 draw

Arizona nonresident elk bonus point totals 2020 draw

Arizona elk bonus points going into 2020

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

Nonresident and residents have similar odds when getting started in Arizona for elk. If you are looking to hunt as soon as possible, remember to look outside of prime season dates; and prime areas; The more primitive the weapon, the more likely you will find something that resembles decent drawing odds; Don’t plan on it being a hunt you will write home about, but at least you’re elk hunting. Antlerless hunts are always an option if you are simply looking for a chance to put some meat in the freezer and be in the mountains.


Last year there were two hunts, both late archery, that a resident could draw in the max point pool with zero points. They were Unit 7E and 22N. Unit 22S, late archers had a 32% chance of drawing with zero points, if you are looking for anything with even a little quality at all it may be best to avoid these units and plan on this process taking a few years. 


There were two hunts with above a 1:4 chance of drawing for nonresident last year in Arizona. They were both late archery hunts and located in Unit 7E with a 35% chance of drawing; and Unit 22N with a 44% chance. Neither of these hunts are likely to be the kind of out-of-state hunt you would be wise to invest in, but if you have a local contact; or happen to have grown up in the area, maybe it's a good fit; For the most part, Arizona should be more of mid to long-term goal and this process will likely take some time.

What can I do with 3 or 4 points?

Things have not progressed much at this point, but given that 50% of the available permits are issued to applications with less than max points there is always a chance. Consider swinging for the fence on a top-shelf hunt moving forward even if you have your eye on a more realistic hunt; Who knows? Anything is possible and you can’t draw the elite hunt if you don’t at least try.


Not much has changed in the last four years, but there is one additional late archery hunt in Unit 4B that is now available in the max point pool as well as the Block Units 18A, 15A; and 15BE; in the northwest corner of the state for a late rifle hunt. These units have a very low elk density and; a larger amount of private property than many areas of the state, which can prove to be a frustrating hunt, but if you’re up for the challenge, there have been some rather impressive bulls that have come off of these hunts this past year and historically.


There is now one more additional late archery hunt available in Unit 22 South; and, oddly enough, there is also now a late rifle hunt. Buyer beware in these Block Units 18A, 15A, and 15BE as these are some of the lowest elk density in all the state that is offering elk hunts. Be prepared to cover lots of ground and combat different levels of private property, but all this considered, if you are up for the challenge, there have been some rather special bulls taken in these areas over the years and, like always, never rule out any unit in the state when you are hunting elk in Arizona. 

What can I expect with 9 or 10 points?

There are beginning to be a number of hunts that are within reach, including some early archery and early rifle hunts for residents; and some off season hunts in some fantastic units. It is decision time as you are a ways out from the max point pool in the best units in the state, but have enough to plan a solid elk hunt. Regardless of the plan you should continue to swing for the fence on your first choice and, if you’re ready to go elk hunting, at a minimum, don’t forget to purchase your $5 Point Guard as you will want a backup plan if the conditions don’t look good leading up to your hunt. 


There are many hunts to consider at this point, and whether you are looking for an early archery hunt or an early rifle there are options to consider. Don’t rule out the easier to draw hunts in Arizona. Overall, there is not a hunt in the state that isn’t capable of producing low to mid 300 class bulls. With heavy snowfall already this year, and all things considered, even some of the less popular units should produce multiple above average bulls in 2020. Using Filtering 2.0, you can see all of your options. Pay close attention to bull:cow ratios, success rates, and caliber of bulls to expect. This could be your year. Take your time and make it count. 


If compared the worst units in Arizona to the bulk of elk hunting in the country, even a less than ideal unit in the Grand Canyon State has the potential for a bull that may take twice as many points in other states. Using Filtering 2.0, you can see that there are a number of hunts with each weapon to consider once you have 10 points. Given the moisture levels already this year, there is a real chance that many of these units will be producing above average bulls. It is also worth pointing out that some of the highest elk densities in the state are located in less popular units like Unit 6A, 6B and 8. If the idea of taking a 300’ to 330”+ caliber bull is very interesting to you, then what are you waiting for? You will likely get to hunt twice or more in the same number of years than the applicants who are only applying for the best units in the state.

What can I expect with 15 or 20 plus elk bonus points?


With 20 points, as a resident, there is not an archery hunt that you would not be in the max point pool for, there is only one muzzleloader hunt in Unit 9 that you do not have 100% chance of drawing and five early rifle hunts that are out of reach, both early Unit 23 hunts, Unit 1, 2B and 2C, 3A and 3C and Unit 10. These hunts are historically the best hunts in the state and, if you are looking for a chance to kill a 370+ bull, these are the hunts you need to consider. However if for one reason or another you are ready to hunt, with the moisture level as good as it is, consider a late rifle in a to-shelf unit or an early rifle in a unit that may not have the best track record. A year like this will produce a number of top-end bulls. 


15 years of applying for a hunt is a long time, so long, in fact, that it is common that when the day comes and you do finally draw, you will feel as though everything is at stake, all of the stars must line up and anything short of an absolute giant bull is considered a failure. This is unfortunate to say the least and a byproduct of how broken and mature these points systems have become. There is nothing that will help these feelings other than, hopefully, you have been applying in other states, too and have alternative hunts to fall back on if you do not end up with the bull of your dreams. Depending on your age, you have a serious decision to consider as you may feel that you have enough time to get started again and find your way back to the Grand Canyon state or you may feel as though coming back just isn’t in the cards as it will take too many years. Use Filtering 2.0 to consider some of the other options that are available with a lower number of points and see if there may be hunts that are interesting or have the kind of bulls you are interested in hunting. Often, I find that hunters filter to the exact number of points they have and they are always looking up. It's worth a quick peek at some of the lower point options. If you see hunts you're interested in, making the decision to use your 15+ points may be slightly easier.


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