APPLICATION STRATEGY 2016: Arizona Elk and Antelope
Arizona's elk and antelope application overview
Arizona is infamous for offering some of the best trophy hunt choices in the West that are almost completely out of reach to nonresident hunters. 2016 marks a major change that will provide a “chance” for nonresident applicants with fewer or no points. Prior to reading further, we recommend that you become more acquainted with the new draw system changes.
Now that you are up to speed on the draw system in Arizona, let's talk about Arizona elk and antelope for 2016. Winter kill and wolf predation are never issues for Arizona big game species. Instead, drought is the primary concern among Arizona big game hunters and the last few years have been relatively wet with mild winters. The timing of moisture is actually more important in the arid Grand Canyon state than the actual amount of annual moisture when antler/horn growth is the topic. Arizona’s elk will experience great antler growth when the spring and early summer moisture is abundant and the growth of nutrient rich forage is optimal. Having adequate nutrition throughout the antler development months typically coincides with a phenomenal trophy elk year. The antelope also do very well when they drop their sheath and have an abundance of moisture to help them through their annual horn development process.
Note: The application deadline is Tuesday February 9, 2016. Don’t miss your chance to apply!
Why Arizona for elk and antelope
Draw change translates into new opportunity for nonresidents
If you have felt that Arizona’s premier elk and antelope hunts are impossible to draw, then think again. You now have a chance.
Every unit in the state that offers an elk season is capable of producing bulls that score over 320”.
Incredible antelope hunting experience
Arizona antelope have virtually no hunting pressure thanks to the conservative number of tags issued.
Mild winters with low predation
Arizona enjoys the most mild of winters that rarely sees any winter kill among the big game species. Wolves are also not a concern in Arizona.
Arizona has among the highest percentage of public land in the Western states. Access is rarely an issue in Arizona.
Although antelope opportunity is severely limited, late archery elk seasons can offer the hunter plenty of opportunity to get afield and experience what Arizona has to offer.
New for 2016
• Nonresident allocation change provides hope to applicants with less than maximum bonus points (see article here).
• All new Point Guard program will allow applicants to return their tag and redeem bonus points.
• Several early rifle and early muzzleloader elk hunt choices are again available.
• Some units have drastically cut back on bull elk tags during some seasons.
Arizona has always been the most rigid of states when it comes to returning a drawn tag. Beginning with the summer deer and sheep application period of 2016, Arizona will now offer their new Point Guard feature. At the time of application you will be able to select this option for an additional $5 upfront fee. Point Guard will allow you to return your drawn big game tag for any reason up until 24 hours prior to opening day of that season. Not only will your pre-draw bonus points be reinstated, but you will also be rewarded with an additional bonus point for the current year application. Tag fees are not refunded if you surrender your tag with this option. Point Guard is only available for online applicants. Paper applications are not eligible.
Early rifle and muzzleloader bull elk options
As is customary in Arizona, there are several rut rifle and muzzleloader seasons returning to the lineup as well as a few that are removed for 2016. Units 1, 2B and 2C will have a September 23 to 29 muzzleloader season and should be the best muzzleloader elk season offered for 2016. Unit 8 has also added an early muzzleloader season to the mix. With late September dates, this should prove to be a high quality option as well.
An early trophy rifle bull elk hunt will be returning to the famed Unit 9 that will run the last week of September. This is sure to be the most high demand hunt choice for elk. Unit 27 will also have a late September rifle season returning to the lineup; this unit provides a good chance at a mature bull elk. An additional early rifle elk season will now be offered in Unit 5B South. Although this is not known as a premium trophy rich unit, there is a high number of elk and this season should be a great option for a bull scoring 320 to 350” B&C.
Significant elk tag cuts
Unit 10 historically has been a unit with a shockingly high number of elk tags offered. Long considered to be a top unit in the state, Unit 10 began to show the impact of the high number of elk tags. High-end bulls were still harvested in recent years, but the number of giant bulls has certainly declined recently. Yet, the potential for a big bull still exists in Unit 10 and we applaud the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) on making a decision to cut back on the bull elk tags offered across the hunt choices in this unit. The early rifle bull season has reduced their tags from 100 down to 40 for 2016. The early archery season now has 125 tags available compared with 200 in recent years. The November muzzleloader season has shaved tags in half down to 75 while the late rifle season has dropped to 500 tags. All combined, that is a reduction of 260 bull elk tags in Unit 10 for 2016. This should help Unit 10 regain prominence among Western trophy elk hunting destinations in coming years.
Unit 6A is the undisputed king of elk tag allocation. This unit holds a vast amount of ideal elk habitat and the elk numbers in this unit are high. For the last three years, 775 bull tags have been offered during the archery season, but this year, AGFD has cut 75 tags, bringing the total down to 700. The late rifle bull elk season was also cut back by 125 permits to 700 bull tags for 2016.
Unit 4B continues to spiral its way down in elk numbers and quality. There has been a constant reduction in tag numbers in this unit and the overall harvest also struggles. This is not a unit that we would recommend unless you have past experience and a lot of time to commit.
View important information and an overview of the Arizona’s rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the Arizona Elk Profile and Antelope Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.
Important dates and information
• Deadline to apply is February 9 at 11:59 p.m. MST.
• You can apply online or with a paper application.
• July 1, 2016 will be the first day to apply for elk-only points.
• If you apply on paper, then Arizona must receive your application by the deadline.
• Permits and refunds will be mailed out by April 15, 2016.
• Payment must be by Visa or Mastercard for online applications.
• Paper applications can pay with a personal check, cashier’s check, money order, or certified check (no cash).
• Up to 10% of the available tags for any hunt code can be awarded to nonresidents.
• There will be no tag return feature for this elk and antelope draw period.
• The Point Guard option will begin with the deer and sheep draw period in June of 2016.
• If you are unsuccessful in the draw, then you will be awarded a bonus point for that species.
The draw system
Understanding the draw
In addition to the information contained within the article that we recently released on Arizona’s draw changes, it is vital to understand that with elk and antelope only your first two choices matter. There are not any bull elk or antelope tags left after all applications have cleared the Pass 1-2, which is also known as the random pass. Although the application has five hunt choices available, it is the first two that matter. This is why it is important to develop a solid strategy for your application. If you are an applicant with maximum points (or close to maximum points), then you should probably continue to apply for the hunt of your dreams since you are within striking distance of drawing your tag. For all the rest of us, understanding that there is a random chance of drawing will greatly influence how you fill out your choices. We recommend that you list your most desired tag as a first choice followed by a choice that is statistically easier to draw as your second choice. Keep in mind that the hunt choices with the highest number of overall tags will have more tags available for the random draw.
The points system
Arizona has a bonus point system in place. Each year that you apply and are unsuccessful in the draw, you will be awarded one additional bonus point. You can also apply for “points only” to gain a bonus point in the draw. You can also travel to Arizona and take a hunter education course and earn a permanent bonus point. Hunter education courses from other states do not apply for earning the permanent bonus point. If you have submitted a valid application for five consecutive years for a species, then you will earn an additional point known as a loyalty point. If you fail to apply for that species for one year, then the loyalty point is lost and must be re-earned.
If you are successful in the draw, then your bonus points will revert to zero. If you have earned a loyalty and/or hunter education point, then you will keep those. If you fail to apply for five consecutive years, then all points will be lost
The bonus point race
The comparison of resident vs. nonresident applicants among the bonus point tiers is normal among the big game species in Arizona. Nonresidents in the elk category occupy the majority of the higher point levels. This distribution is common and is why nonresidents have typically met their cap in the bonus pass of the elk draw on higher demand hunt choices (prior to the upcoming 2016 change).
• Elk maximum number of bonus points going into the 2016 draw = 26
• Antelope maximum number of bonus points going into the 2016 draw = 27
Antelope is the anomaly species and is actually in reverse when comparing residents and nonresidents along the point tiers. As you can see above, resident applicants occupy the majority of the total applicants among the higher bonus point tiers for antelope. For this reason, nonresidents have not historically drawn their share of the bonus draw tags like residents have. Over half of the nonresident antelope tags issued have actually come through the random phase of the draw.
Arizona elk breakdown
Current elk herd condition
The current winter of 2015-16 is already shaping up to be high in moisture. There is already a high amount of snowpack in the higher elevations along with plenty of desert rainfall. The elk were in great shape heading into the current winter thanks to adequate moisture and great range conditions in 2015. El Niño conditions are in place across the southern tier of the U.S., where Arizona is located. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. One of the important consequences of this El Niño pattern is increased rainfall across the southern tier of the U.S.. If this El Niño moisture pattern continues throughout the spring months, then 2016 could be another banner year for antler growth. 2015 will be hard to beat, but we feel that 2016 will be a year that you will want to be holding a tag for Arizona elk or antelope!
Historically, the biggest of bulls are usually taken during the early seasons in September. The early archery hunts get first opportunity. The hunt will generally begin prior to peak rut action and gain intensity as the season draws on. The final week of this season is typically the best as hunters begin to leave while the bulls are starting to really kick into gear.
The few early rifle and muzzleloader offerings are awesome because bulls are generally reaching peak rut. Having the ability to increase your effective range with longer shooting weapons will greatly increase your chance of harvesting a big bull. Unfortunately, these seasons are among the hardest to draw due to high demand and ultra low tag availability.
The seasons that take place in November are a challenge with higher tag numbers, no rut behavior and broken antlers. View these seasons as opportunity to experience Arizona elk hunting because the draw odds are far greater than the early seasons. A big bull can still be had here, but the odds are lower of harvesting one.
The goHUNT hit list units for Arizona elk
While any of the Arizona units are capable of providing a chance to harvest a 320” or better bull, there are a few units that are among the top for high-end trophy potential. Among the best are Unit 1, Unit 9, Unit 10, Unit 23 South, and Unit 23 North. These are obviously the most difficult to draw a tag. A few others to consider that are known to also generate solid bulls are Unit 3A, Unit 3C, Unit 5B North, Unit 5B South, Unit 7 West, Unit 8, and Unit 27.
Top resident hit list units to consider for 320" or better bulls
|Unit 1, 2B, 2C||11||17||8|
|Unit 23 North||17||21|
|Unit 23 South||14||*|
|Unit 3A, 3C||10||19||6|
|Unit 5B North||7|
|Unit 5B South||8|
|Unit 7 West||9||5|
Top nonresident hit list units to consider for 320" or better bulls
|Unit 1, 2B, 2C||14||18||9|
|Unit 23 North||18||21|
|Unit 23 South||18||21|
|Unit 3A, 3C||13||**||7|
|Unit 5B North||8|
|Unit 5B South||9|
|Unit 7 West||11||7|
How to uncover hidden gem elk units
Arizona is the land of the giants when it comes to elk. But if you look past those top tier units, there are a few other specific units that can be drawn with far fewer bonus points while still allowing you a chance at a respectable bull. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tool and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the hunting areas that have a legitimate chance at bulls that score 320” or better. Customize your search and click on a specific unit to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Arizona Elk Species Profile is another great way to determine other areas and regions of the state to consider.
Arizona's top B&C producing
|Gila||6||22, 23, 24A|
|Coconino||5||9, 10, 7W, 7E, 11M, 6A, 6B,|
8, 5BN, 5BS, 5A, 4A
|Apache||4||2A, 3A, 3B, 2C, 1, 27|
|Mohave||3||15A, 15BW, 15BE, 16A, 18A, 18B|
|Yavapai||2||6A, 6B, 8, 17A, 17B, 18A,|
18B, 19A, 20A, 20C
Arizona's top B&C producing
|Coconino||4||9, 10, 7W, 7E, 11M, 6A, 6B,|
8, 5BN, 5BS, 5A, 4A
|Gila||3||22, 23, 24A|
|Graham||2||27, 28, 31, 32|
|Apache||1||2A, 3A, 3B, 2C, 1, 27|
Trending bull:cow ratio areas
You have probably noticed that we provide data on bull to cow ratios for each hunt unit in Arizona. Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status of the herd. A higher bull to cow ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bulls compared to a unit with a lower bull to cow ratio. This doesn’t always indicate that the bulls will be the highest scoring bulls, but more bulls equates to more bulls to find and harvest. When selecting a unit, or comparing several units, take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in depth. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0.
Top Arizona units for bull:cow ratios
Does limited opportunity translate into opportunity?
Within the Arizona Elk and Antelope Regulations you will find hunts listed in sections titled Limited Opportunity Elk. The definition for these hunt choices reads, “Elk occur in low numbers in these nontraditional areas. Hunt success may be very low to no success.” While this is the general trend among these hunt options, there are some of these selections that can actually provide a very legitimate opportunity for not only harvesting a bull elk, but a chance for a giant bull as well.
Private ranches will become an access challenge throughout many of the limited opportunity elk units, but with extensive scouting and research (along with a good GPS and land status chip) it is possible to turn limited opportunity into trophy opportunity. The Peaks Hunt Area in Unit 7 East, Unit 15A, Unit 17A, Unit 18A, and Unit 18B are among the better limited opportunity hunt units to consider. These season choices are typically easier to draw than many of the regular elk hunt choices, but overall there is a greater challenge at finding success. To increase your chances of success among these limited opportunity hunt units, we encourage you to contact an outfitter with experience in the area. There are several large cattle ranches that are leased within these units by outfitters that will help you to gain access if you book a hunt.
Do not mistake these limited opportunity hunt choices with the non-permit tag hunt choices that are also found within the regulations. The non-permit tags are offered in areas where there may not be any elk living. This can be very frustrating.
Another great opportunity that may be easier to draw a tag are the late archery and muzzleloader hunts. Very few serious hunters considered these options when these seasons were first introduced several years ago. Historically, the harvest success was very low and very few quality bulls were harvested. This is slowly changing in recent years. As people get tired of waiting decades to draw, many serious hunters are taking advantage of these challenging primitive weapons options and are actually harvesting some great bulls. If you’re up for a challenge, then consider these seasons and you could get your hands on a tag in fewer years. The late muzzleloader seasons offered in Unit 6A and Unit 10 are decent options to consider if you can commit the time needed. Nearly all of the units now offer late archery choices in the month of November. Among the best choices will be Units 1, 2B, 2C, 9, 10, and 23.
Managing points and expectations
I have 0 elk points. What can I expect?
Without points you will be relying on good old fashioned luck. Remember that the new draw changes will allow nonresidents a chance to draw even the most coveted of hunt choices. With two choices considered when an application is drawn, use your first choice to apply for a hunt that would be a dream opportunity. Your second choice should be focused on a hunt that offers the trophy potential that you find acceptable, but make sure this choice is a season with a fair to high number of total tags. This will provide you with a better chance at pulling a tag in the random draw.
What can I do with 3 or 4 elk points?
At this level you don’t really have much more of chance than someone without points. Luck will be needed to draw a tag in the random draw for an early archery, early rifle, early muzzleloader or a late rifle season. If you would like to increase your odds of drawing and you are a bowhunter, then you could apply for a November archery choice. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the field if you bowhunt elk in November. Your first choice should still be occupied with a hunt choice that you would consider a dream opportunity since someone will get lucky and draw randomly.
What can I expect with 9 or 10 elk points?
The early rifle, early muzzleloader and many of the premier early archery choices are still not a guarantee at this point level. If you are a bowhunter, then you could consider several of the options that require less points to guarantee a draw, but will still provide a chance at a mature bull. Some archery choices to consider would be 4A, 5A, 5BN, 5BS, 6A, 6B, 7E, 8, 11M, 15A, 15BE, 18A. Late rifle seasons to consider would be 1, 2B, 2C, 10, 23, and 27.
Arizona antelope breakdown
Current antelope herd condition
Antelope in Arizona, like the other species found within the state, are doing very well thanks to mild winters and good moisture in recent years. Predation is never an issue and the state manages their herds very conservatively by allocating very few tags in the draw. This conservative management along with superior genetics and habitat creates the trophy quality that Arizona is known for. Arizona is a great destination for bucks scoring 80” or more.
Arizona offers seasons will all weapon types. Rifle seasons are available in most of the units and a few select units offer a muzzleloader option. Archery seasons are available in many of the units as well and give bowhunters the first shot at hunting antelope. All seasons take place during some stage of the antelope rut. Decoys are very effective during the archery season, but should not be used during the rifle or muzzleloader seasons.
Regardless of the season and weapon type you select, the odds of drawing an Arizona antelope tag are difficult at best. If you are fortunate enough to draw a tag, then you will find an experience with very little hunting pressure and a chance to harvest a great buck.
Arizona's top B&C producing
|Coconino||19||3C, 4A, 4B, 5A, 5BN, 5BS, 6A, 6B, 7E, 7W,|
8, 9, 10, 11M, 12AE, 12AW, 12B
|Yavapai||6||6A, 6B, 8, 17A, 17B, 18A, 18B|
|Apache||2||1, 2A, 2B, 2C, 3A, 3B|
|Navajo||2||2A, 3A, 3B, 3C, 4A, 4B, 5A|
|Mohave||1||13A, 13B, 15A, 15B East, 15B West, 18A, 18B|
Trending antelope buck:doe ratio areas
We provide data on buck to doe ratios for each hunt unit in Arizona for antelope. Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status of the herd. A higher buck to doe ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bucks compared to a unit with a lower buck to doe ratio. This doesn’t always indicate that the bucks will be the highest scoring, but more bucks equates to more bucks to find and harvest. When selecting an area, or comparing several areas, take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in depth.
Top Arizona units for antelope buck:doe ratios
The goHUNT hit list units for Arizona antelope
The standouts for Arizona trophy quality of buck antelope are Unit 4A, Unit 5A, Unit 5BN, Unit 5BS, Unit 9, Unit 10, Unit 17A, Unit 19A, and Unit 19B. Drawing an antelope hunt in Arizona is as difficult as drawing a sheep permit, but it is possible. No matter which unit you hunt in Arizona, you can count on some good weather, plenty of action and a chance to harvest an antelope scoring between 75” and 82”. Some of the premium units are capable of bucks scoring over 82”.
Is there opportunity among Arizona antelope?
Look to the archery choices for any opportunity. The odds will still be slim to draw, but they are easier to draw than the rifle choices. With the new changes to the Arizona nonresident allocation, focus on hunt choices that offer higher tag allocations. This will leave more available for the random draw. Remember that 31 of the 41 nonresident tags drawn in 2015 were drawn in the random draw! You do have a chance.
Managing points and expectations
I have 0 antelope points. What can I expect?
If you are just starting to apply for antelope in Arizona, then you should prepare yourself for a potential “long haul.” Only 41 total nonresident antelope tags were available in 2015. Compare that to 15,241 nonresident antelope applicants and you can see that the odds of drawing a tag are very low. Your best strategy? Apply for a dream hunt first choice. Your second choice should be one with the highest number of total tags to allow for a greater chance at drawing during the random pass.
If you are a bowhunter, then your odds will be a little better, but still a long shot.
What can I do with 3 or 4 antelope points?
If you have three or four points you should be employing the same thought process as those that have little or no points. Make sure that at least one of your selections is from a hunt choice that offers a high number of total tags. Avoid the choices that only have 10 or fewer total tags available. These will have a much lower chance of a tag being available during the random draw. Remember that 31 of the 41 total nonresident tags from 2015 were drawn during the random pass of the draw.
What can I expect with 9 or 10 antelope points?
Over 700 nonresident applicants have at least 15 accumulated bonus points. Although 9 or 10 points is nothing to take lightly, a guaranteed tag is still out of reach. It will take luck to draw, but do not give up! Employ the same strategy as the applicants with fewer points.