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Late season Arizona over-the-counter deer opportunities


Arizona over-the-counter archery deer opportunities
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Most hunters this time of year are doing something along the lines of sitting back in front of a fireplace with a hot cup of coffee, reflecting on their hunts from the past season. It is cold, gloomy, and hunting seasons are over for now. Bows are collecting dust, camo is nestled safely in a dark drawer, and the hunting boots that were left beside the back door have been stowed away on a shelf up in a closet. All there is left to do is look towards next year and try to stay warm in the process. I would imagine that's what most hunters are doing. I am not most hunters, though, and neither are my Arizona brethren. In fact, what we are doing this time of year is completely the opposite of what I just described. If you are an archery hunter in Arizona, you know exactly what I am talking about. They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, and I agree with that—not just because of the holiday though.

There's still plenty of time left in January to get a hunt planned!

So, what am I talking about?

Archery opportunities in Arizona

Arizona is a unique place to live and I love every part of it. One of the things that sets it apart from most places is that our deer rut much later than most of the country. Arizona mule deer typically start rutting during mid-December and Coues deer follow shortly behind them in the month of January. This is an extremely exciting time of year for us Arizona residents. Up until this point, we have been dealing with countless days over 100 degrees and probably enough sweat to fill a swimming pool. I know that sounds gross, but it's just the truth.

We look forward to our prized December and January seasons all year. Not only do we get to chase rutting bucks with our bows, but the weather is just unbeatable during these two months. While most of the country is shoveling snow, we are soaking up the rays with daytime temps hovering around 60 degrees and lows in the 30s. No more worrying about stepping on rattlesnakes or scorpions crawling up our pants. Our concern this time of year is how we are going to close the gap on that rut-crazed buck in the distance. It’s not a bad deal if you ask me. I'll take that over shoveling snow any day.

Price of admission

Endless stalking opportunities in Arizona for over-the-counter deer

So, what's the price of admission you ask? Surely, this is too good to be true and the only way to experience this archery rut hunt is by accumulating a ton of points and scoring with the luck of the draw. I feel like we have almost been conditioned to think like that and, sadly, I believe it turns off the idea of a western hunt to a lot of folks. They feel like their dream hunt is just always going to be out of reach. That is not true, though. This tag that I speak of is over-the-counter (OTC). Surely, that is only for residents of the state and nonresidents still have to draw? Wrong! As a nonresident, you have the same opportunity that I do. You get to hunt the same units and the same deer as residents.

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That brings me to another kicker. Through the month of January, most of the units in our great state are open to this season as well, which means that there is no shortage of country to choose from. You can hunt anywhere from the low flat desert up into the pine trees. Your OTC archery deer tag is also not species specific either. A lot of areas have overlapping populations of mule deer and Coues deer. Your tag is good for either species, so pick your pudding. Price of admission? A willing heart, a $160 nonresident hunting license and a $300 OTC deer tag and you will have the start of an adventure on your hands.

Using goHUNT's INSIDER research tools, you can quickly start your research to find the OTC unit that is perfect for you. Filtering 2.0 is one of my favorite tools. A quick search on late archery OTC hunts will give you a list of 57 options for mule deer and 22 options for Coues deer. From there you can filter by Trophy Potential, Public Land %, and even Harvest Success!

Triple threat

Josh Kirchner with an Arizona archery javelina
Josh with an archery javelina from Arizona.

On top of our ever so convenient OTC archery deer seasons, there is yet another kicker to add to the mix and I'm not spouting antler jargon. By kicker, I mean another species. Not only can you hunt mule deer and Coues deer with your bow, but if you play your cards right earlier in the year and put in for archery spring javelina, you can be hunting them as well. This tag spans most of the month of January. This means that while you are glassing for rutting bucks, you can also be glassing for javelina. These little critters are tailor-made for bowhunting and a perfect animal to chase—not only for experienced archers but also for anyone who is just getting into bowhunting. Their eyesight is not the greatest thing in the world; as long as you have the wind in your favor, hunters can usually close the distance and get into bow range. This is a great animal to hone your stalking skills on before closing the distance on that buck you've been watching. Not to mention, javelina are just plain fun to chase with a bow. So, if you are looking at planning an OTC archery deer hunt in Arizona, look out for the spring regulations beforehand and throw your name in the hat for an archery javelina tag. You might just get some wild game chorizo out of it.

Extend your season

 Josh Kirchner with his December 2017 Arizona archery mule deer
Josh took this great mule deer on an OTC Arizona tag in late December of 2017.

Every year, I have people from other parts of the country following along with my hunts via social media during December and January. They see the temperatures and the sunshine in photos I post up and almost are living vicariously through me. While their seasons are ending, mine are still continuing. Like I said above, most hunters are kicking back and staying warm this time of year. They are dreaming of last season and wishing they were still in the field. Well, with a little planning, you can make that a reality by heading down to Arizona. Your archery deer tag is not only good for the whole month of January, but good for the whole year. If you don't tag out in January, you have the options of coming back for the velvet hunt in August/September or the December hunt later in the year. On that note, if you do fill your tag during the end of December, you can buy another tag for the following month in January and tag out again if you wish! If you were so fortunate, you could literally fill a deer tag on New Year's Eve and then again on New Year's Day.

Josh Kirchner glassing for OTC Arizona deer

The end of hunting season is always a bittersweet moment for me, especially if I am able to fill a few tags. The second we pull the trigger, the hunt is over and it's onto the next one. A lot of times, for a lot of folks, that means next year. I don't know about you, but that's a long time to wait for an obsessed man like myself. If you are anything like me, check out the opportunity we have down here in my neck of the woods. Your season will be extended as well as your memories.

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Mark E. - posted 1 year ago on 12-26-2018 01:38:22 pm

Do you have any information on the uptick in rifle rags for some OTC AZ units? I’ve seen a serious decline in buck numbers and quality in the units I hunt. Just hunted hard for a week and it was night and day to what it was a few years ago.

Daniel E. - posted 1 year ago on 12-13-2018 11:17:53 am

@Brady Thanks a bunch Brady. Makes perfect sense now. I really appreciate all that you guys do. Outstanding product all the way around.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 12-13-2018 11:15:14 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Daniel - I understand you completely now.

If you have an OTC tag, you can hunt any open OTC unit statewide and do not have to commit to a single unit. So you could hunt Unit X for two days, bounce over to Unit B, then finally head over to Unit Z.

Daniel E. - posted 1 year ago on 12-13-2018 10:35:14 am

@Brady M. Thanks. I feel like your explanation helps but I guess what I am asking is, as long as there is an OTC season in that respective unit, can you hunt the OTC tag you purchased? In other words, if I buy an OTC tag on Jan 1, 2019 could I hunt several different units statewide on that tag (i.e. could I hunt units 7,8,9,10 as long as mule deer season is open) OR do I need to commit to one unit for the year and buy an OTC tag for that specific unit (i.e. tag only allows me to hunt unit 9 mule deer)?

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 12-13-2018 01:38:18 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Ben and Daniel. Sorry I didn't see your comment earlier. You can hunt almost the entire state of AZ with the OTC tag. There are a few exceptions on units that don't have an OTC season.

The easiest way to sort this out is on Filtering 2.0. You can Select Arizona, Mule Deer, then under Select Season - chose Late Archery OTC. This would be the direct link:

That will show you all the units you can hunt mule deer OTC. Note: some units only have a late January hunt, and others have a late December hunt.

If you're looking for an OTC Coues deer unit, the filter would be the same on Filtering 2.0, just would need to swap out the species. Here is the direct link:

Hope that helps! Happy to answer any other questions you might have.

Daniel E. - posted 1 year ago on 12-12-2018 09:45:58 pm

@Ben E. I was wondering the same thing? Some of the units have different season dates but for the most part, they are all the same. Makes me think that an OTC tag would be good in any OTC unit as long as the season dates are ok. However, I have been unable to find the answer to this question.

Ben E. - posted 1 year ago on 12-01-2018 03:04:39 pm

Can u hunt all the units with the OTC archery tag?

Brian E. - posted 2 years ago on 01-23-2018 06:49:28 am
Willcox, Arizona, my first trip 1998 as I headed back to Missouri after my first Coues hunt,I said, I will retire in Az. and guide archery Coues for the rest of my days.. Caution The Surgen General Knows... Coues Hunting is Addictive

Mike S. - posted 2 years ago on 01-23-2018 06:14:57 am

For OTC archery only. There are few left over tags after the first draw for rifle deer that are first come first serve in oct, nov, and sometimes early dec.

John A. - posted 2 years ago on 01-23-2018 01:06:14 am
Anaheim, Ca

Any rifle tags? Or archery only?

Mike S. - posted 2 years ago on 01-22-2018 01:58:23 pm

No it does not. In AZ you can move down in weapons in most cases but on archery its the lowest and AZ they do not allow crossbows instead of a bow. If you have a medical note from a doctor and contact the game and fish sometimes you can get a "Champ" permit but it requires paper work and I am not all the familiar with them. 602-942-3000 best to call the AZ game fish but you need will a medical reason and doctor's note.

DAVID M. - posted 2 years ago on 01-22-2018 01:53:53 pm

Does Arizona allow crossbows on this hunt.

Mike S. - posted 2 years ago on 01-19-2018 10:14:09 am

@Brad T
No a OTC tag in AZ will not affect your point. In fact even the left over deer tags after the initial draw will not affect your points. I rarely have a 3rd, 4th , 5th choice on my applications for this reason. there are always some decent whitetail hunts left to go on and your keep your points. Remember that an Archery OTC tag is good for the entire year; so you have three opportunities dates wise Jan, August, and Dec archery season the units that are open do vary through out the year. Javelina are more populated in the southern portion of AZ but can be found just anywhere but the far the north you go the fewer there are and once you hit the rim country very limited numbers.

Brad T. - posted 2 years ago on 01-19-2018 09:20:44 am
Rawlins, WY

By buying an OTC deer tag, would I lose my accumulated deer points? Thank you.

Joe W. - posted 2 years ago on 01-19-2018 05:55:43 am
Cedar Falls, IA

I did this OTC hunt January 1-6, 2018 as my first archery mule deer hunt and had an absolute blast. The weather was a welcomed treat and we had some awesome stalk opportunities on some great bucks all on public land. The article is spot on. Thanks GoHunt for providing the background research and keep up the great work !

Mike S. - posted 2 years ago on 01-18-2018 07:58:53 pm

My comments only apply on the border units just about the entire state is open for deer in January and units off the border don't have illegal issues but in the units close to the metro areas you get thiefs occassionaly targeting hunters because the know they will not be in camp at prime time but it's not the norm.

Mike S. - posted 2 years ago on 01-18-2018 07:50:31 pm

Yes it safe I lived hear all my 43 years hunting for 33 and over 15 hunts + down near the border and never had an issue. There are illegals coming through you see them depending where your at. Sometime they can screw up a hunt or the border patrol helicopter does and sometimes you don't see any just depends where you are. Occasional issues or encounters happen and sometimes even with guys hauling drugs but they all want to stay away from you. Ossicaly guys have had them come into camp looking for water or food. Real issues are rare but they do happen seen over a 100 illegals on a hunt in a week and sometimes none.

Dallas B. - posted 2 years ago on 01-18-2018 05:51:18 pm

Is it safe down there with all the border issues?