New Mexico Elk Hunting (Locations, Information, Tips)

If you are looking for one of the best adventure activities, hunting an elk can be an experience that is second to none. However, like any other adventure activity, elk hunting needs specific preparations and certain considerations. Elk hunting, unlike other activities, involves a certain level of danger and, of course, a lot of other aspects that you may have never known. If you are a beginner, who is planning to go Elk hunting in New Mexico for the first time, you will need to know what is involved or is required in Elk Hunting.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through some things that you need to know about New Mexico Elk Hunting and how you can go about accomplishing it safely. There are a lot of aspects that you need to know. But to begin with, let us find out what you can do to hunt elk in New Mexico if you are not a resident of the state.

Successful Elk Hunt, New Mexico
Successful Elk Hunt in new Mexico – Casey Kuehnlenz, Damon Hinshaw, Brendan Bersey, Rick Scheen, Jackson Scheen.

Hunting elk in Mexico as a non-resident

If you plan to travel to New Mexico to get your ultimate elk hunt, get the big game elk trophy, some delicious meat, and an experience that lasts a lifetime, New Mexico is the place to be. There are many areas in New Mexico, such as Gila, Carson, Cibola, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Lincoln, that are beautiful places and contain lots of Elk. You can get a guide to take you to these places, and getting a guide is smart because There are thousands of acres of untouched, unspoiled wilderness. This wilderness is so vast that people can get lost, and even if you do not get lost, there is not an elk behind every tree. And there is no reason to go hunting where there is no elk. 

Being a non-resident, you need to meet certain requirements for elk hunting. Before you can even think of going to New Mexico for your big game hunt., Each of the non-resident hunters will need to apply with the state for a stamp, license, and validation requirements for hunting. You will need a hunter’s safety certificate showing you know how to use a gun and know at least some of the laws, and how to be safe hunting. You will need to ensure you apply during the application period or get a tag another way. 

Getting an elk tag is mostly done in one of two different ways:

  1. Way of a draw by the state (Public Land Hunting) This will also allow you to hunt on private land if the landowner allows it.  The deadline to apply in 2021 is March 17 at 5 pm.
  2. Through buying a landowners permit (Private Land Hunting)

Let us discuss these two methods in detail:

  • Way of Draw by the State (Public Land Hunting) – You can opt for hunting in the state using state-issued tags. Some of these tags are held by outfitters who work as guides for elk hunting in the state. These outfitters are, in fact, working-class hunters who conduct guided hunts for people visiting the state for hunting. These tags are in high demand and are always limited. These tags are made available to the applicants through a lottery draw which we would discuss later.
  • Land Owners Permit (Private Land Hunting) – In this hunt type, you further get two more types of hunting – one is the ranch-only permit which permits you to hunt exclusively on private land. These hunts can produce huge Elk; however, after the hunt, the butchering, the dressing, transportation, etc., needs to be carried out by you. As such, these hunts are more costly. There are many of these hunts where there are not huge Elk. In fact, some of the ranches have very few Elk. So be careful on which private landowner tags you purchase.

Elk hunting in the state of New Mexico is an exciting experience. Hunters from around the world flock to New Mexico to hunt big elk and the excellent success rate in hunting in these areas. 

Where are the best elk hunting locations in New Mexico?

Best Elk Hunting Locations in New Mexico
Best Elk hunting locations in New Mexico. Thanks google for the map

We already mentioned some of the areas that are the best for elk hunting. Due to its amazingly diverse and remote landscape, New Mexico is home to some of the best elk hunting in the West of the country. New Mexico is rightly termed as the enchantment land for its fantastic beauty and wilderness that catches everyone’s imagination and attention. 

As per the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, there is an Elk population of around 80,000 elk in New Mexico, with startling hunter success rates of up to 50 percent. Some other areas have a better record of producing high-quality bull elk. Here are a few places that deserve mention:

Gila National Forest 

Gila National Forest is located in the County of Catron. There are areas within the Gila that have consistently produced the best bulls in the state for many years. The areas marked as “16” are known to produce a trophy, but as per some hunting magazines, the top hunting areas are 16A, 16C, and 16D. These areas are known for their challenging terrain and are remotely located, and require a pretty long hike or a pack-in trip to get there. Also, drawing a tag for these areas can be tough. But if you get one, you always stand a chance to shoot a 350-inch bull. 

Valles Caldera National Reserve

Valles Caldera National Reserve is a vast area spread over 95,000 acres of land in the state’s northern part. The reserve is known to provide the hunters with an excellent opportunity to hunt for 300 to 350-inch bulls. To hunt in the Valles Caldera, apart from the usual draw and license, you will need to purchase a Preserve ticket. Each hunter is given 20 chances per ticket, and New Mexico Game and Fish issue the permits for Unit 6B.

Cibola National Forest

As per some hunting magazines, area 15 and area 17 of the Apache National Forest gives you the chance to hunt 300 to 340-inch Elk. In this area, rifle use is restricted, and hence you can use archery equipment that lets you maintain the quality of the trophy. You can have better chances of drawing a tag for this area during the early hunting season.

Valle Vidal 

Also known as the Valley of Life, this area is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the northwest regions of New Mexico. This area, known as area 55, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an elk hunting tag you can get in New Mexico. This area is an excellent area for hunters as the success rates in this region are incredibly high on trophy bulls. You may get a truly huge monster elk in these areas, but most likely, you are hunting elk that would score up to 320 inches in this region.

Units 34 and 36 of the Lincoln National Forest and Unit 15 of the Carson National Forest are some of the other areas known to produce high-quality bulls. 

Now that we have looked at the top areas let us look at some seasons in which hunting success rates will be maximum or the best times to hunt. 

When is the season for hunting an elk in New Mexico?

The seasons or dates of elk hunting vary in different zones. As outlined earlier, the elk hunters in New Mexico can either obtain a private-land license or a public draw permit for hunting. The licenses need to be applied by March every year. The public land licenses, also known as elk hunting draw licenses, can be obtained for varying dates. The general season for elk hunting, however, starts from September 1st to January 31st. But it is always advisable to check the website of the NMDGF for the hunting calendar. When we speak of the general season, many reasons often fit this time frame. These can be archery or muzzleloaders. They can be rifle seasons. They can be early or late rifle seasons. There can be youth seasons. There are cow versus bull seasons in here as well. So in saying the general season goes from September 1st to January 31st, it just means that you will be in this time frame. The actual season is usually just a concise window of this long time frame. When trying to get the tag, you apply for the right seasons and weapon you intend to hunt with. And that you can be there to hunt when the season is open. If you do not show up for the dates the season is open with your own tag, then you’re just flat out of luck.

To go over this again during this hunting season, though, there is a restriction to the usage of weapons such as firearms. During the onset of the hunting season, firearms and guns may not be allowed, and only archery equipment and limited use of bows are allowed to hunt in private and public land. Muzzleloader weapons may be used after October, and then you can use any weapons in some of the private lands post-October. To get a detailed season and weapon usage, click here

The best time of hunting is the rut that usually begins in September and, as mentioned, is mostly covered by the archery season. The rifle season, as we discussed, starts after October 7th. The muzzleloader season discussed falls between the archery and the rifle seasons, which is also an excellent hunting season. 

A little pun on when is the season. Well, if you think about it, the odds of drawing some of these bull elk tags are very low. So low that it is easy to think that you may only get one season to hunt in your life. Some may apply their whole lives and never get a tag. The saying goes that someone has to draw. For sure, if you do not apply, you will not draw. That is a guarantee. So why not get your elk to season a chance by applying for an awesome elk tag.

Information on New Mexico elk hunting license

The elk hunting licenses for New Mexico are made available online over the phone or through license vendors across the country. You can either go to the official NMDGF website to get the licenses or call them on 888-248-6866 for information or contact a vendor in your city. 

Information on elk hunting public land in New Mexico

By public lands, we refer to the National Forests, State lands, and BLM lands. Hunting in public lands is a fantastic experience again. In getting this hunting experience of a lifetime, you can take guided elk hunt services. Many public lands offer good access to Elk for hunting. We already provided you with a list of some of the top public areas you can hunt in. However, these public land hunts will work best if you opt for a guided elk hunt.

Guided elk hunts save you a lot of hassle and make public land hunting easy for you. Though there is a cost, it is all worth it. But how much is the price – let us find out about the charges in detail in the next sections.

How much does it cost to hunt elk in New Mexico?

Going for a fully guided hunt would not be cheap. However, all the best things come with a cost. So is an experience of elk hunting in New Mexico. When you go on a guided hunt in New Mexico, you pay for an exciting and unmatchable experience that is second to none—as such, hunting in New Mexico can be expensive. There are many guided hunting services that you get in New Mexico – the idea is to choose the one that best suits your expectations and the results you want from your hunting adventure without going beyond your budget.

The pricing is different for different guided hunts; however, if you are looking for a hunting season in New Mexico – here is the price of the tags that you can get:

  • Either Sex Tag – $548
  • Mature Bull Tag – $548
  • Cow Elk – $345
  • High Demand or Quality Tag – $ 773

The state of New Mexico allows the landowners as well to sell the tags. Some of these tags are sold at as high as $10000.

These tags are available to non-residents on a first-come, first-serve basis, and there are only limited tags available. There may be additional game hunting and habitat fees which may be charged at the time of purchase. There is a lottery system in New Mexico, so you get a tag only if you apply and get a successful draw. So, no matter if you have been applying for ten years or are a fresh new applicant, both of you have equal chances of getting lucky to get a tag. But the amount of excitement and fun it offers is all worth the wait in the end.

The above prices are for adults.  There are youth tags that are much less and if you are a veteran or a senior you get a percentage off the adult prices.

The costs of a guided elk hunt In New Mexico

The best hunts in the state of New Mexico have guided hunts. These guided hunts are conducted by outfitters who stay in the areas where the elk are available. They scout the areas throughout the year so that they know the exact places where you can get your hunt. Guided hunts have a better success rate and hence are largely preferred and opted for by hunters across the world. But, all good things come at a cost, and so are guided hunts. 

Elk hunting is not a cheap affair. The guided elk hunting costs in New Mexico can be anywhere between $2000 to over $10,000. This price depends on many factors such as the area you are hunting, the type and caliber of the bulls you are targeting, accommodation arrangements, etc.

There may be outfitters who lease private hunting grounds, drive their clients around in trucks, and be charging more. 

Just like any other service, higher overheads will certainly lead to higher prices and costs. However, higher prices do not always mean a better hunting experience. The experience varies and depends on a lot of factors, and you have to make sure you have gathered enough information about the various outfitters and guided hunting services. You can get outfitters that provide you with lodging and meals as well, while some won’t. So choose a service that fits your budget and provides for everything that you will need.

For instance, if you book an outfitter that is charging you $6500 – the hunt would include the following – 

  • meals
  • lodging
  • hunting place with a guide for up to 6 days
  • transportation services

This hunt will, however, not include the following:

  • the elk hunting tags and licenses
  • personal gear
  • taxidermy
  • butchering
  • freezing and packaging the meat
  • transportation of the bull to your destination.

So, to sum it up – the total costs to hunt an elk in New Mexico will be something like this – 

  1. Elk License – $1057
  2. Guided Elk Hunting – $6500
  3. Transportation – $900
  4. Shipping Charges – $1200
  5. Processing and Taxidermy Charges – $1350
  6. Gear Upgrades – $1700
  7. Tips to outfitters and guides – $1300

Grand Total – $14007

Can you buy over-the-counter elk tags in New Mexico?

The elk hunting tags in New Mexico are limited and are available only through the means and sources that we mentioned: either online, through phone, or vendors. They are not available over the counter. The tags are available through a lottery draw and after you get a successful draw is when you can get the tag. 

If any provider is claiming to get you OTC tags, you may have to check if the vendor in question is genuine. For there are many unscrupulous people that may be selling fake tags claiming that they are real. The best is to visit the NMDGF website for details on the process and draws that are available.

In New Mexico, you must pay for the tag when you apply. If you do not draw the tag, you will get a refund for the tag’s amount. You do not get your license refunded nor your application fees. The license and application fee is only a small portion of the tag fee. So you will get the majority of your money back if you do not draw the tag.

Finding the best Hunting Outfitters for New Mexico Elk Hunt

Well, this is very subjective and is often based on what kind of elk hunting you want to do. Certain outfitters hunt in certain areas where elk are more prevalent at different times of the year. Do your homework. Make sure you are getting the right kind of guide for the experience you are looking for. Check references. Talk to other guides and see what they say about whom you are looking to hunt with.

Why is New Mexico elk hunting so marvelous?

Elk Hunting
Elk Hunting – Delilah Browning

The elk themselves are magnificent. If you can get a tag during the rut(mating season), then elk bugle, and it can be almost magical to hear what some people call singing. It is called bugling. Because the rut is so fun to hunt, the tags often are way harder to draw. When the elk are bugling, it is a significant advantage to the hunter as you can hear where they are. At night when you cannot hunt, the elk will often bugle even more. This is an eerie but magical thing to hear and behold. Sometimes you even get to hear them fighting, and the horns of too large bulls smacking together can make a very loud sound. This sound can echo in the canyons. As far as I know, there is nothing quite like hearing all this happen, and it is doubly exciting to be hunting them with all this commotion going on.

To think these animals can grow all this much antler in a few short months is amazing. These animals literally drop the horns every year and grow a new set of horns.

One of the things that many people do is go looking for the shed horns. If you can go right after they drop, then the horns will still have their color. These are called browns. If the horns are out in the sun for a while, then they are called whites. Some people find these shed horns to make money. People definitely buy them. Browns are worth a lot more than whites. Unless they are very large and a set, then the sheds are bought by the pound. If you can find a matching set from a large bull, it can be sold for even more money, and the value will be based on size and how good of condition the sheds are in.

Can you imagine growing 30 pounds of bone every year? And think of the diet plan. Literally one day, your antlers fall off, and you yup, you are 30 pounds lighter. Really large bull antlers could grow even with up to 40 pounds.

How to increase your odds of going on this experience.

There is a much higher demand for bull tags than cow tags. A cow tastes just as good as a bull. Cows do not have antlers. So some say it is not as good as a trophy to take home. But the experience can be very similar, so while trying to get a bull tag, maybe you draw a cow tag as a later choice in your hunts and still get to go hunting.

Sometimes it is hard to get a tag.  But youth have better odds of drawing a tag.  So think about taking your kid or grandkids as then you get to go on the experience as well.  There is one super unique thing about new mexico and youth.   There is no minimum age.  You can go hunting as soon as you can pass a hunters safety course.  Most states are a minimum of 12 years old. A few let you hunt at 10.  But New Mexico will really let you hunt at any age.  As long as you can pass the appropriate course.

The Bottom Line

To summarize and conclude, New Mexico is home to trophy elk and setting out on a hunting expedition to get one home is as exciting as it gets. Use this comprehensive guide to apply for draws for public land elk hunts or book private land elk guided hunts. The choice is yours. Look for the season information on the New Mexico Fish and Game website, look for the weapon you would love to use, and based on that, you can plan your hunting trip to New Mexico. One last bit of advice, If you can find someone who has experience in doing all this. Your life may have gotten much easier. Figuring it all out on your own can be a lot of work. Think of talking to someone who has done this and maybe someone who has done it many times. Come to New Mexico Elk Hunting and live an experience of a lifetime! There is nothing quite like it.

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