DIY Elk Hunting in New Mexico
Do it yourself elk hunting can be intimidating, but with a little planning, hunting elk in New Mexico is an achievable adventure for most hunters. Whether you are dreaming of rutting bulls that are ripping bugles and tending to their cows during the fall days of September, or spot and stalk hunting late-season solitary bulls in the high country, or filling a cow tag to put meat in the freezer; putting a plan together and applying it correctly is agenda item number one.
Elk Hunting New MexicoThe state of New Mexico has a lot to offer to the DIY hunter in pursuit of elk. From the high steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains, to foot hills, buttes, and the prairie fringe, New Mexico boasts plenty of elk habitat and public lands to explore.
Starting in the famed Gila Wilderness Area in the south to the Sande De Cristo Mountains in the north, elk hunters are sure to find a unit to apply for. New Mexico does not practice a preference point system, so your odds of drawing a quality unit are the same as everyone else year after year, making New Mexico a must-apply-for state. While New Mexico residents and hunters going with a registered outfitter do have better odds in the draw than the DIY hunter, there are still plenty of tags to be had for someone looking to go it on their own.
So where do you even start? Which unit is best for you? How do you even apply for an elk tag? These are all great questions, so let’s take a look at some of the answers.
Applying for a New Mexico Elk TagElk tag applications for the state of New Mexico can be done online. Elk tag applications are generally due sometime in the month of March, but the specific due date varies from year to year.
If you are hoping to hunt elk in the fall, planning and researching what hunting unit is right for you should take place in mid to late winter so that you can apply with confidence in the spring.
Choosing an Elk Unit in New MexicoWith so many units available, it can be overwhelming to try and narrow down what area you would like to try and hunt elk in. There are many factors to consider, including:
Draw Odds – Some units are much harder to draw than others, because of notoriety and historic success rates. Areas like the Gila National Forest are known for big bulls and healthy elk herds, making it a popular spot that is harder to draw a tag for.
Public Land Access – Accessing public lands (e.g., national forests, BLM lands, and some state lands) is a critical component for the DIY hunter. Consider the percentage of public lands in the unit you are looking at, and also the ease of access to that public land. Roads and ATV trails can offer easier access to certain areas of a unit, but at the same time provide pressure on the elk herd, which makes them harder to find or even pushes them into another unit.
Habitat and Terrain – Elk make their living in rough country, so it would stand to reason that hunting them would take you to rugged places that will test both your physical and mental toughness. While steep country, hidden canyons, and dark timber are all excellent places to look for elk, consider an elk’s needs aside from shelter. They need water and forage to survive. Look for areas with edges. Broken country where rough, difficult to access, and steep terrain intersects with mature timber, grass for grazing, and water will certainly attract elk.
Putting Your New Mexico Elk Hunting Plan Into ActionDeciding on a unit and successfully drawing a New Mexico elk tag is just one step (the easiest step) in the process of your DIY hunt. Take the time to get yourself into good physical shape before your hunt (especially if you’re not used to hiking at elevation), research your hunt unit in detail, and consider multiple areas of the unit to concentrate your hunt on. Remember to stay mobile during your hunt, and don’t expect the elk to come to you.
An elk tag in your pocket represents much more than the legal transfer of elk meat from the state of New Mexico to your freezer! That coveted elk tag represents adventure, discovery, and perhaps a new tradition.