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Getting started with New Mexico elk hunting units

New Mexico elk hunting is still vastly under-rated yet growing in popularity.  Many people hunting elk in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are now seeing New Mexico as a prime location for a life changing experience. The state’s popularity as an elk hunting destination is no surprise given the massive amount of public land available.  While New Mexico Game and Fish divide the states into 59 different hunting units. We’ve selected the top units for chasing trophy bulls.

New Mexico Elk Hunting Units

Unit 10

Overview: New Mexico Unit 10 is dominated by ponderosa pine and juniper. It’s thick country and a very challenging areas to hunt if you don’t know where to go or haven’t scouted the area during the off season. This unit doesn’t have a lot of glassing opportunities. If you are seeking a trophy elk you’ll have use calling as a primary hunting tactic. Cibola National Forest makes up a significant portion of this elk hunting unit. The Cibola National Forest (pronounced SEE-bo-lah) is a 1,633,783 acre (6,611.7 km2) area with elevations ranging from 5,000 ft (1,500 m) to 11,301 ft (3,445 m). The Cibola National Forest currently has 137,701 acres designated as Wilderness.

Unit 10 is known for bugling bulls and the rut hunt is often described as a hunt you’ll talk about for the rest of your life. Be prepared to cover a lot of ground in a very rough country. All opportunities are earned.

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons 

Early Elk Muzzleloader season is October 10-14.

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We recommend a combination of maps including the use of Google Earth and available mapping apps like OnyX to really dial in the specific areas you want to hunt.

Maps for GMU 10

BLM Maps: Zuni Quad, Gallup Quad, Grants Quad, and Acoma Pueblo Quad.

US Forest Service Maps: Cibola National Forest, Mount Taylor District.

These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or you can go to their website http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/

Unit 13

Overview: We consider unit 13 to be one of our home units. Our guides spend a ton of time scouting this unit for elk and deer. Over the years we have had great success harvesting bulls that range from 300-340”+. It is a huge unit with a lot of country to cover. The early archery hunt can be a great time to harvest a herd bull if you are willing to sit water and be very patient. The second archery season the bulls should be screaming and make for a fun exciting archery elk hunt. But the second season can be a bit tougher to draw that mature herd bull off his cows. This unit is never rifle hunted so bulls are able to grow and get to their full potential on good wet years. Unit 13 does have a youth muzzleloader hunt in early October which is probably the best hunt to harvest a true New Mexico giant. The bulls could still be bugling on the first muzzleloader hunt but won’t be consistent. The Muzzleloader hunts are still a great time to find giant bulls if you are willing to spend a lot of time behind glass with us and able to hike in some of the deep canyons that the bulls will be headed into this time of year. If you do not draw in the state draw we do offer land owner tags in unit 13 if you are interested.

Forest Areas: Cibola National Forest makes up a significant portion of this elk hunting unit. The Cibola National Forest (pronounced SEE-bo-lah) is a 1,633,783 acre (6,611.7 km2) area with elevations ranging from 5,000 ft (1,500 m) to 11,301 ft (3,445 m). The Cibola National Forest currently has 137,701 acres designated as Wilderness. This unit is excellent for primitive weapon hunts (bow and muzzleloader. We covered this in a recent blog post

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons

  • Elk Youth Muzzleloader season is October 10 – 14.
  • Elk 1st Muzzleloader October 17-21.
  • Elk 2nd Muzzleloader October 24-28

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We also recommend using Google Earth or OnX for finding water sources and recent burn areas.

Maps for GMU 13

BLM Maps: Acoma Pueblo Quad, Magdalena Quad, Fence Lake Quad, Belen Quad, Quemado Quad, and Socorro Quad.

U.S. FOREST SERVICE:
Cibola National Forest, Magdalena District. These and other maps may be found at the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center:
1-877-851-8946 and http://plicmapcerter.org/NM/.

Unit 15

Overview: Unit 15 is one of those units that if you like seeing a lot of elk this unit is for you. The unit is in the famous Gila national forest right on the Arizona boarder. We have been hunting this unit for many years and have very high success rates on 290-320”+ bulls. The quality in unit 15 has gone down a bit from what it ounce was but the numbers have not. The early archery hunt can be tough as the bulls are not quit in the full rut yet. But if you are willing to sit water and be patient this can be a great hunt to harvest one of the top end bulls unit 15 has to offer. The second archery season is a very fun hunt with tons of screaming bulls. If you like chasing bulls during the rut with archery equipment then this is the hunt for you. Unit 15 also offers a Youth muzzleloader hunt which is probably the best hunt dates in this unit. The 1st and 2nd muzzleloader hunts are very fun hunts as well but don’t expect much bugling activity at these times. You will spend a lot of time hiking and glassing during these hunts looking for that special bull. Unit 15 is not considered to be one of the tougher terrain units but you will still need to be in the best shape possible to give you the best chance of harvesting a true Gila giant. We do offer Land Owner tags in unit 15 if you are interested.

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons 

  • Early Elk Muzzleloader season is October 10-14
  • Elk First Muzzleloader season is October 17-21
  • Elk Second Muzzleloader season is October 21 -28

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We recommend a combination of maps including the use of Google Earth and available mapping apps like OnyX to really dial in the specific areas you want to hunt.

Maps for GMU 15

BLM Maps: Quemado Quad and Tularosa Mountains Quad.

US Forest Service Maps: Gila National Forest. These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or visit http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/

Unit 16A

Overview: One of the most well know units in the state for quality and quantity. This is another unit that lays right in the Gila National Forrest. If you like seeing a ton of elk and having a chance at a true giant then 16A might be the unit for you. With this unit being so swell know it makes it very hard to draw. But someone has to be the lucky one. This is a great unit for bulls ranging from 320-350”+. The archery hunts in this unit are truly some of the best in the world for just seeing numbers. If you are wanting to harvest a true giant though you will have to pass on all the bulls close to the road and put in a little hiking time into some of the more remote country where the big old smart bulls live. This unit offers 2 archery hunts. The first archery is like many others in New Mexico. It can be slow as the temps are usually pretty warm but if you are willing to sit water and be patient you will have a great chance at a giant. The second archery is more of your run and gun type hunt. You will be chasing bugles all around you. This unit does not offer Youth hunts or muzzleloader hunts. It does offer 2 different rifle hunt seasons, the same time that most muzzleloader hunts are going on throughout the state. Landowner tags available in Unit 16A if you don’t draw through the state draw.

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons 

  • Elk Rifle season is October 17-21
  • Elk Rifle season is October 24-28

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We recommend a combination of maps including the use of Google Earth and available mapping apps like OnyX to really dial in the specific areas you want to hunt.

Maps for GMU 16A

BLM Maps: Mogollon Mountains Quad and Tularosa Mountains Quad.

US Forest Service Maps: Gila National Forest, Gila Wilderness.
These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or visit http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/.

Unit 16B

Overview: If you are one that wants to experience the wilderness and backpack in or ride horse’s way back where no one else is then this is the hunt for you. 16B is considered to be the Gila Wilderness area. You either have to go in on foot or jump on the back of a horse and enjoy the ride. We spend a good amount of time in the wilderness each year and have harvested some amazing bulls. This is a great hunt for bulls ranging from 290-330” with a few giants around each year. A lot of these elk have not seen very many people in their life. This unit can be very rough country so you will need to be in shape on this hunt. Only one Archery hunt is available in this unit but it is right in the middle of the rut. Bulls will be screaming. You will be chasing bugles in the wilderness. If you want to have a chance at a true giant you will have to pass on some of the nice bulls that will come running into calls. Since the elk in this unit don’t get pressured much it makes them very callable. This is another unit that does not offer a Youth hunt or muzzleloader hunt but does offer 2 separate rifle hunts in October.

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We recommend a combination of maps including the use of Google Earth and available mapping apps like OnyX to really dial in the specific areas you want to hunt.

Maps for GMU 16B

BLM Maps: Mogollon Mountains Quad and Truth or Consequences Quad.

US Forest Service Maps: Gila National Forest, Gila Wilderness.

These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or visit http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/

Unit 16D

Overview: One of the hardest units to draw in the state. This unit has a ton of roads in it making it pretty easy to get around in. This unit is another unit in the Gila National forest that has a ton of elk in it with a lot of great bulls. This is a great unit for bulls ranging from 320-350”+. Not many tags in this unit. Unit 16B offers 2 separate archery hunts. The 1st archery is like most in New Mexico. Sitting water and being patient. The second archery is the run and gun hunt where you will be chasing bugles and doing a good bit of calling trying to pull that big bull away from his girls. This unit is not known to be very physical but if you will still need to be in the best shape you can to get around in some of the canyons the bulls live in. This is another unit that does not offer Youth hunts or muzzleloader hunts. It does offer 2 rifle hunts in October that can produce some very big bulls. Land Owner tags available.

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons 

  • Elk Rifle season is October 17-21
  • Elk Rifle season is October 24-28

Scouting:  General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We recommend a combination of maps including the use of Google Earth and available mapping apps like OnyX to really dial in the specific areas you want to hunt.

Maps for GMU 16D

BLM Maps: Tularosa Mountains Quad.

US Forest Service Maps: Gila National Forest.
These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or visit http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/

Unit 17

Overview:

Unit 17 is a very physical hunt especially if you are a run and gun type elk hunter. Unit 17’s 1.56 million acres is very vast country with 2 different mountain ranges the Magdalena mountains, and the San Mateo mountains. This unit has prairie, and rolling hills that will hold elk in September. Common hunting tactics include sitting water, spot and stalk, and chasing bugles when they are rutting. If you are not in great physical shape and don’t mind sitting water during archery season you have a great chance of harvesting a bull of a lifetime. Sitting water can be very long and boring days but the bulls will eventually show up in front of you if you can be patient. If hiking is not your strongpoint, we will do everything in ability to get you a bull opportunity for this unit. This unit is considered a primitive weapons unit.  

Key Characteristics:

  • Unit 17 Is known to hold some of the biggest bull elk in New Mexico
  • Every year it will produce a couple bulls pushing at or above the 400″ mark
  • It’s a reasonable expectation to hunt for a 330″ – 350″ type bull on a good moisture year
  • We have killed bulls ranging from 280″ – 390″
  • Muzzleloaders are the only gun allowed starting in October – November.
  • This hunt is known to be very rugged and physically demanding in the higher country 7,000 – 9,500 feet in elevation

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons

  • Archery takes place September 1-14 & 15-24th.

Scouting:

Our guides spend a lot of time running trail cams and scouting around water in the early season.

Maps for GMU 17

BLM Maps: 

Magdalena Quad, San Mateo Mountains Quad, Truth or Consequences Quad, and Oscura Mountains Quad.

US Forest Service Maps:

Cibola National Forest, Magdalena District, Apache Kid/Withington Wildernesses
These and other maps may be found at NM Public Lands Information Center, (877) 851-8946, or visit http://plicmapcenter.org/NM/.

 

Unit 36

Overview

This is one of those units that you are going to see a ton of elk. It is nothing for us in this unit to see 10-20 bulls a day. Unit 36 is a very fun hunt is some very rough country. Bulls usually range from 280-310” with a few bigger bulls each year. If you are the elk hunter that loves to be in the middle of them all day every day then this is a great unit for you. Unit 36 offers 2 archery hunts. The first archery can be a little bit slower in action but you will still be in a ton of elk. The second archery the bulls will be screaming and you will need to be in great shape to run up and down the mountains chasing bugles. Unit 36 has a early Muzzleloader hunt where the bulls will still most likely be rutting hard. Unit 36 does not offer any youth hunts in it. It does though offer 2 separate rifle hunt dates. The bulls most likely will not be bugling on these hunts. You will be hiking to high glassing points looking for the right bull on these hunts. Land owner tags available

Forest Area: Lincoln National Forest is located in southern New Mexico.  This forest covers over 1,103,897 acres and stretches across three counties near the Texas border. The terrain includes four mountain ranges and a mix of desert to heavily forested mountains and sub-alpine grasslands.  

New Mexico Elk Hunting Seasons

  • Elk Early Muzzleloader season is October 10 -14
  • Elk Rifle is October 17- 21 and October 31 – November 4

Scouting

Hunting in unit 36 is featured in one of our recent blog posts. General area maps include BLM and U.S. Forest Service Maps.  We also recommend using Google Earth or OnX for finding water sources and recent burn areas. Our guides scout this unit regularly and help our clients more easily locate bull elk.

Maps for GMU 36

U.S. Forest Service 

Lincoln National Forest, Sacramento Ranger District. These and other maps may be found at the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center: 1-877-851-8946 and http://plicmapcerter.org/NM/.