The New Mexico public draw for elk (and other big game) is now open and closes March 16th. 2023. New Mexico offers world-class elk hunting opportunities throughout the state and is considered a premier hunting destination. The state is known for productive elk herds across diverse landscapes along with good hunting access via both public-draw and private-landowner tags.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish offers many hunting opportunities on both public and private properties through rifle, muzzleloader, or archery hunting options. If you are wondering if New Mexico really has enough elk to hunt, think again. Recent population estimates by the NMDGF are approximately 105,000 all across the state!
Hunting elk in New Mexico offers diversified hunting methods and terrain types. The rut is usually in September and October of each year and during this time the bulls are responsive to calling.
Packing into more remote wilderness areas via horses and mules will give the hunter a true quality hunt experience. Hiring a guide and outfitter may be a wise choice in the case of wilderness hunting by horseback.
Driving backcountry roads in good elk habitat along with glassing from high vantage points and then conducting a stalk is another viable method.
Archery hunters often utilize blinds in key feeding and watering areas that elk often frequent and move to in their daily routine.
Elk are known to be tough so shot placement is critical for rifle, archery or muzzleloader hunters. Know your limitations and your gear and don’t push those limitations. I have taken elk with a variety of rifle calibers over the years including; .270 Win, .308 Win, 30-06 Springfield, .338 Win Mag, and .348 Winchester.
In 2022 the hunt success rate in New Mexico was about 41% across all weapon types and combining both public and private land hunts. Not bad!
So where in the state should you start looking to apply for the public draw? The following will give you some ideas:
Southwest (Fence Lake, Datil, Gila, San Mateo, Herd Units)
The southwestern region of New Mexico is known to produce some of the largest trophy bull elk in the state, primarily within the Greater Gila, San Mateo, and Datil herds. The majority of the herd units within this region of the state are managed for quality hunts.
Southeast (Ruidoso and Sacramento Herd Units)
Elk populations continue to thrive and increase within the Sacramento Mountains. Despite increased harvest, bull-to-cow ratios are highest within these two herd units. The Department has increased license availability within both of these regions in the form of additional antlerless hunts.
Northwest (San Juan, Mt. Taylor, Lindrith, and Zuni Herd Units)
Elk populations within the northwest herd units have been steady, with some populations slightly increasing. Overall hunt success rates have been similar to success rates statewide. The Mt. Taylor herd is the only exception, as license numbers have been reduced in recent years to numbers to address the smaller population size.
North-Central (North-Central Herd Unit)
This region is one of the most popular for elk hunting in the state, and the North-Central New Mexico Elk Herd Unit hosts the largest elk population in the state. Recent population estimates indicate the herd is stable, with healthy bull and calf ratios throughout.
Jemez (Jemez Herd Unit)
The Jemez Mountains, including the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), offer pristine elk habitat ranging from sagebrush winter range to upper montane meadow and mixed-conifer forests in high-elevation summer range. Populations within the Jemez herd unit are stable, with higher-than-average bull-to-cow ratios.
The bottom line is that elk hunt can be found in nearly all quadrants of the state, northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest.
Elk hunting offers a unique and challenging experience with the bulls often sporting tremendous antlers and sometimes scoring in the 350-to-400-inch Boone & Crockett class. Then there is the other reward, they are excellent table fare. Take either a mature cow or bull and you will easily fill your freezer.
For more information on hunting elk in New Mexico and how to apply, take a look at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website.
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