Big Game

Guide to Elk Hunting in Arizona

Arizona is a Mecca for big game hunters, and rightfully so. Giant mule deer, tremendous antelope, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, Coues deer, bear, buffalo, and world class elk grow to maturity every season in the big game state of Arizona. With ample public lands, relatively easy access, and a hybrid bonus point / preference point big game tag system, Arizona is a must-apply-for state. Here are some details to consider every year for any elk hunter looking for adventure and opportunity when it comes to elk hunting in Arizona.


Drawing an Arizona Elk Tag

It’s no secret that the state of Arizona grows trophy bull elk year after year, resulting in no shortage of hunters who apply for their limited elk tags annually in the Grand Canyon state. The biggest question then becomes, how do you get your name on a coveted Arizona elk tag?

Arizona Game and Fish has developed a system that works to reward both loyal patient hunters who are willing to invest and wait for their name to be drawn for a trophy unit hunt, and a random chance lottery system for hunters hoping to score a tag on fate or luck.

First things first, Arizona requires you to purchase a non-resident hunting license in order to apply for a big game tag. The combination hunting/fishing license for non-residents is currently $160, and can be purchased here. The hunting license is non-refundable, even if you are unsuccessful in the big game draw.

Now for hunters with a high accumulation of Arizona preference points for a certain species, the phase one drawing for Arizona big game tags allocates 20% of the available non-resident tags towards the applicants with the highest number of points (preference points in this case). In the phase one drawing, the applicants with the most points win, rewarding those who have invested long-term in the draw.

The bonus point drawing for Arizona big game tags is the phase two drawing, which is the allocation process for the remaining 80% of Arizona non-resident big game tags. The phase two drawing operates as a lottery, and applicants get a chance in the drawing for each bonus point they have accumulated. If it’s your first time applying, you get one chance. If it’s your fifth time applying without ever drawing a tag, you have five chances in the lottery. The phase two portion of the big game draw provides a chance for any hunter who applies to draw a tag, no matter how many years they have been submitting an application.


Arizona Game and Fish Permanent Preference Points

Like many big game permit draw systems, unsuccessful applicants receive a “point” to help increase the odds of drawing a tag the next year.

Arizona Game and Fish offers a couple unique opportunities that provide hunters with permanent bonus points:

  • Complete an Arizona Game and Fish hunter education course and you will receive a permanent bonus point to increase your odds of drawing a big game tag for any species you apply for.
  • Loyalty Points are earned by a hunter who applies consecutively for five years for a particular species unsuccessfully. Loyalty points remain intact (per species) year after year, even after you draw, so long as you continue to apply for that species annually.

Is Arizona Elk Hunting Worth the Wait?

Preference points, bonus points, loyalty points, phase one, phase two, and so on. Is it worth it? Is buying a non-resident hunting license year after year, in a state you may not even step foot in, worth all the effort, time, and money?

If the thought of hormone-raged, screaming 400” bulls bugling into the fall mountain air, trailing a herd of cows through a drainage sounds like a dream come true to you, then the short answer is YES!

The state of Arizona’s elk herd is blessed with absolutely phenomenal genetics, with 400”+ bulls taken on a consistent basis. While pursuing elk in any wilderness environment is still hunting, and not just shooting, Arizona is a magical place for any elk hunter willing to put in the work and the effort. Arizona Game and Fish works tirelessly to manage their elk herd for trophy potential rather than opportunity hunts, developing elk that grow into maturity.


A Variety of Hunting Opportunities

While golden September days in the Rocky Mountains pursuing rutting elk is a constant desire for elk hunters, drawing that coveted tag in Arizona can realistically take more than a decade for non-resident hunters. Looking toward other elk hunting opportunities in the state can increase your odds of drawing an elk tag for the Arizona wilderness.

  • Late Archery Season Elk Hunts – Hunting a mature, silent, and solitary bull recovering from the breeding season with a bow is tough. Success rates for late season archery bull hunts are generally low, but the trophy potential still exists! These tags can often be had for a third of the points of an archery elk rut hunt. If you’re looking for an opportunity hunt in Arizona and don’t mind tougher odds, then this hunt may be for you.
  • November / December Rifle Hunts – If glassing canyons, juniper flats, and rugged country for late season solitary bull elk sounds like a challenge you would like to try, your odds of drawing a tag are much better than those coveted September hunts. Be prepared to spend plenty of time behind quality optics, letting your eyes do the walking, and pack for cold weather and snow.
  • You Can’t Eat the Antlers – Pursuing majestic elk in beautiful, rugged, and wild country is arguably trophy enough. The experience of hunting elk in Arizona can be worth much more than a set of antlers to hang on the wall. If an easy to draw tag, high odds of a successful hunt, and delicious elk meat for the freezer sounds like a bonus on top of spending time in the wilderness, then an Arizona cow elk tag may be the way to go. Some units even have 100% successful draw odds for non-resident hunters with zero preference points!

An Elk Hunter’s Paradise

The state of Arizona has developed into the gold standard of elk hunting opportunities for elk hunters across the nation, and arguably the world. While tags may be limited, and drawing that coveted rut season bull permit may require a long-term investment, Arizona should be a part of your elk hunting and western game tag application strategy.