Premium Content

Become an Insider member to gain access to this article,
plus all of GOHUNT's research and mapping tools.

Learn more about Insider

APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: New Mexico Sheep & Antelope


Main writer: Jordan Christensen of The Draw

New Mexico's 2021 bighorn sheep and antelope application overview

Jump to: NEW FOR 2021 State Information Draw System Rocky Bighorn Breakdown Desert Bighorn Breakdown Antelope Breakdown

With a random draw process that gives all applicants an equal chance at drawing every year, there are few states that are as exciting as the Land of Enchantment when it comes to the big game draw. This state is a true roll of the dice and the “what if” we all feel when the draw results are about to post is as exciting as any draw in the country. This is also a major pivot for many when it comes to your overall application strategy. If you are unsuccessful here, it is time to seriously start considering some of your backup plan applications like Wyoming deer and antelope, Arizona Coues deer or, even, Iowa whitetail deer. These are all more of deciding if you want to go hunting instead of another roll of the dice if you apply correctly. 

In New Mexico, with a total of six bighorn ram hunts up for grabs between both the nonresident and guide pool, this is an exciting chance to get your name in the hat. Plus with the caliber of rams coming out of many units across the state for both species, not only is it a bighorn sheep hunt, but it is one of the best bighorn sheep hunts in the country. The antelope are a tough hunt to draw in most situations, but not as tough as bighorn sheep. With a little research (like you are currently doing), not only could you have a speedgoat tag in your pocket for the upcoming fall, but you may just have one of the best tags in the country. If you are not interested in checking the box on either of these species, but, instead, more interested in hunting some of the best locations in the country for both, New Mexico is a solid addition to any serious application warrior’s strategy every year. 

Note: The online application deadline for New Mexico Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, ibex, javelina, antelope and oryx is March 17 by 5 p.m. MST. Apply online here.

New for 2021


Department offices may be closed or have restricted access due to the Covid-19 public health crisis. Customers can purchase licenses by credit card online or by phone. Please check the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) website for updates

Unit-wide ranch maps

Unit-wide elk hunting property maps are available online here. These maps allow you to see all of the different properties that have enrolled in the unit-wide program allowing you access to their properties during a hunt in which you have a permit for either through the draw or by purchasing the permit. 

Electronic tag (e-tag) option for all big game and turkey

Hunters may choose the e-tag option when purchasing or applying for any big game or turkey hunts. You will not receive a carcass tag if you choose this option. Hunters who choose to e-tag will be required to download the New Mexico e-tag app on their phone, upload their license and carry their phone in the field. A printed license and/or carcass tag are not required, but the animal or turkey must still be physically tagged.

No electronic check payments

Electronic check payments are not accepted. Payments may be made in person by cash or credit card, online and by telephone with credit card only.

Purchase 2021 game hunting license through draw application

Draw applicants purchasing 2021 game hunting licenses to apply for draw hunts must click "Draw Hunt Applications" in the main menu and purchase the license as part of the application process. Do not click "License Sales".

2021–2022 duplicate license fee

A $6 duplicate license fee will be charged for all duplicate tags/licenses in accordance with New Mexico state law. This fee will be charged only when a duplicate tag is obtained requiring reprinting of the license with a new tag number. Big game and turkey hunters are advised not to purchase their licenses online if they plan to obtain the tag(s) at a license vendor.

Draw refunds

Draw license fee refunds for unsuccessful applicants will be processed shortly after draw results are released in April. Applications paid by credit card will be refunded directly to the credit card used for the transaction within 10 business days. Applications paid by cash will be refunded by check by the end of May. Game hunting license and stamp purchases will not be refunded.

Early purchase available for 2021–22 licenses

Licenses for the 2021–22 license year, which begins April 1, will be available online, by telephone and at license vendors and NMDGF offices beginning March 24.

Game hunting license options

Big game draw applicants will be required to purchase a habitat management and access validation (HMAV) with their game hunting or game hunting and fishing license. Applicants will have the option to add the habitat stamp, harvest information program (HIP) number and/or second rod validation, if applicable, to their purchase. Hunters must purchase the habitat stamp prior to May 17, 2021 to avoid having to print it separately.

Habitat stamp

The habitat stamp must be purchased prior to hunting, fishing or trapping on BLM and Forest Service lands. To be included in a combined license/tag, the habitat stamp must be purchased before May 17, 2021. Proof of habitat stamp purchase must be carried while in the field. The habitat stamp fee will be $5 if purchased prior to April 1, 2021. If purchased on or after April 1, 2021, the fee will be $10.

No more rounding up in the license quotas

It now requires that an applicant in the unguided pool to apply for a hunt with a minimum of 13 permits in order to have a chance at drawing. The same is for the guided pool except that the minimum number of permits required in order to have a chance of drawing in this pool of tags is 7.

Cost to apply

Cost for license and permits for New Mexico

Hunting license$15$65
Habitat stamp$10$10
Habitat management
and access validation

Species Costs

Deer$41Standard: $283
High demand/quality: $368
Elk$90Standard: $548
High demand/quality: $773
Barbary sheep$110$373
Desert bighorn/Rocky Mountain
bighorn sheep

State information

View important information and an overview of the New Mexico rules/regulations, the draw system, permit and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the New Mexico Bighorn Sheep and Antelope species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.

New Mexico State Profile Rocky Bighorn Profile Desert Bighorn Profile Antelope Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0 goHUNT MAPS

Important dates and information

  • Applications for desert bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, antelope, deer, elk, ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep and javelina must be submitted by 5 p.m. MST on March 17, 2021.
  • Applications can be submitted by phone or online here.
  • Up to four hunters can apply together on a group application for deer, elk, Barbary sheep and javelina. Up to two applicants can apply together on antelope, oryx and ibex applications. Group applications are not allowed for bighorn sheep applications.
  • Successful applicants will be notified by email, online, telephone or at any NMDFG office on April 28.

The guided pool

Currently, in New Mexico, the permits are allocated by quota in three categories. These three categories include residents (who receive 84% of the permits), nonresidents (who receive 6% of the permits) and the guided pool, which allows both residents and nonresidents to apply in, and is allocated the remaining 10% of the permits. Because there are more permits available in the guided pool, the odds tend to be higher in the guided pool than they are in the normal nonresident pool on any given hunt code each year. In order to qualify for the guided pool, an applicant must be under contract with a licensed outfitter in New Mexico. Once you are under contract with the outfitter, they will give you their unique outfitter’s number to use during the application process online. Once you are under contract with an outfitter, during the application process, this basically ensures the outfitter that if you are successful in drawing a permit that you will, in fact, solicit that business to conduct a hunt of some nature. This could be as extensive as an all-inclusive hunt that covers many days and includes all meals, lodging, etc. or as simple as a two-day guide only hunt where you will be escorted into the field for two days and then left to hunt the duration of the hunt on your own. Two days fully escorted is the minimum requirement from the state of New Mexico to be considered a legally guided hunt. This is a change from prior years. Previously, you simply had to check in with your outfitter twice during the hunt; however, this is no longer the case and hunters are required to be with their guide for a minimum of two days of hunting.

For more information on applying in the guide draw, check out this article here.

Working with an outfitter in regards to the guided pool

A normal situation in regards to the guided pool in New Mexico is that the applicant pays a fee of some level — often $500 to $1,000 — to the outfitter in order to receive the outfitter’s code. These funds go towards the hunt if the hunter is lucky enough to draw the permit they have applied for. Because New Mexico has a random draw process, neither party knows when this may happen — if ever — depending on which hunts they are applying for. This also can be complicated as you may decide that the same outfitter you would like to hunt elk with is not the outfitter you would like to hunt ibex, oryx or bighorn sheep with if you were to get lucky. So this begs the question: without tying up thousands of dollars with multiple outfitters across the state on applications that are inherently difficult to draw, is there a better way? We believe that at The Draw, our process is much better and allows for much more flexibility for the hunter. Essentially, when working with The Draw as a customer, we will get you under contract with an outfitter — the only outfitter that is legal in all corners of the state. We apply you based on your goals and are as involved as you would like us to be in unit and hunt selections. We submit your applications in the guided pool and, once the permit has been drawn, we then use a transfer document to place you with the outfitter that you prefer to hunt with on the permit that you have drawn. Again, we are as involved in this process as you would like us to be, but in no way are you obligated to book a hunt with one of our outfitters. If you would like to get into the guided pool, but do not want to be married to one outfitter or the other until you have successfully drawn a permit, our method is the only way to keep all your options on the table throughout the process. Call The Draw today at 575-222-1234 to speak with us about this program and how they can help. 

Note: If you would like to apply in New Mexico, but do not like the idea of tying up over $3,000 during the application process, call and talk to The Draw about their Float Service. You will be in the draw for a fraction of the upfront costs and only liable for the full cost of the permit if you are successfully drawn.

Drought in New Mexico


New Mexico Drought Monitor

New Mexico drought status update as of February 9, 2021. Source: New Mexico Drought Monitor

Well, to put it lightly, things couldn’t get much worse in New Mexico in regards to the drought we are currently experiencing. There is hope though since even this week we have seen some moisture across much of the state with some more in the forecast. However, both bighorn sheep and antelope will likely fare much better this year compared to what we are expecting to see on the deer and elk this coming year.


New Mexico 2020 Drought Monitor

New Mexico drought status update as of February 25, 2020. Source: New Mexico Drought Monitor

The New Mexico draw system

Understanding the draw

New Mexico’s draw system is labeled as a random drawing system. What this means is that each applicant has an equal chance at drawing, regardless of how many times they have applied. This obviously lends itself to applicants who are just getting started as you could fasttrack your way into a top-shelf hunt sooner rather than later. When it comes to elite opportunities in the western states, units commonly referred to as “the best” have equal odds, which are good odds. An applicant can apply with confidence that they are not behind or suffering from a point curve. When applying, the permits are segregated into three categories: the resident pool (84%), the guided pool (10%), and the nonresident pool (6%). It is important to note that the guided pool is not exclusively for nonresidents and, although it would often be a mistake for residents to apply in this category, they are allowed to if they see fit. 

New Mexico offers their applicants five choices when applying. Unlike many states, the first three selections are going to be considered prior to moving to the next applicant. This means that you need to, at a minimum, apply for three choices you would be interested in hunting as you are essentially as likely to draw your third choice as you are your first on any given application. The fourth choice is often when you select a quadrant of the state to be considered for, meaning prior to the leftover list being published. If you select a fourth choice, you will be awarded a permit in an area that had leftover permits once the draw process is complete. The fifth choice is typically reserved for some sort of population reduction opportunity. 

Apply with caution on the fourth choice as these opportunities are often selected by the state depending on the species. Often, there are valid reasons these permits are leftover. Generally, these hunts would not line up with a nonresident hunter’s goals when looking to hunt in new areas. 

Applying for a fifth choice is recommended as you will receive your refund for an unsuccessful application and have the option to accept or decline the opportunity when it comes and you never know what it may be. 

New Mexico's 2021 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep breakdown

There are 26 ram permits and 58 ewe permits listed in this year's regulations pamphlet. There will be two rams awarded in the guided pool and one in the nonresident. As the cost of a ewe permit costs the same as the ram permit in New Mexico ($3,160), there are very few applicants in either the guided pool or nonresident pool that apply for these permits, leaving the odds quite high in both categories. The largest herd in the state by far is located in the Pecos Mountains. Each unit in the state is capable of producing 180”+ rams; however, typically, the best rams in the state are taken on the Wheeler peak or the Pecos. Despite the overall lack of sheep in the state compared to Colorado, Montana and other northern states, New Mexico continues to produce high quality rams and high quality experiences for the hunters lucky enough to draw one of these elite hunts. The long story short is that each unit in the state can and does produce 170”+ rams and many produce 180”+ rams on a regular basis. If you are the kind of bighorn sheep hunter who is looking for a crack at a B&C Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, New Mexico is a state you should consider in your annual application strategy for sure.

Average score and age for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in New Mexico - 2021

New Mexico Rocky bighorn sheep unit info

UnitTrophy potentialPublic land %No. of permits
16B, 22-24
San Francisco River/Turkey Creek
Pecos Wilderness
180”+74.7%5 early
4 late
1 youth
49, 50, 53
Rio Grande Gorge
170”+64.5%3 early
3 late
53, 55A
170”+36.7%1 early
1 late
Dry Cimarron
170”+47.4%2 early
2 late

*When considering Unit 58 and 55A, it is worth mentioning that the rams in these units are very nomadic and often not present with the resident herd of ewes. The two permit holders should be prepared to hunt on call when the rams are present in the herd. As a result, the season dates for this hunt are six months in length. Often, you will need to access private land in order to be successful on this hunt and access is not guaranteed. For more information, you can call NMDGF at 1-888-248-6866 prior to applying. 

**This is new hunt offering in 2021 for New Mexico Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

New Mexico's 2021 desert bighorn sheep breakdown

There are 24 total desert bighorn permits up for grabs in New Mexico this coming year. One of these is set aside for youth hunters only while the other will be distributed among the rest of the applicants. In regards to the quotas, there will be two permits issued in the guided pool while there will be only one in the nonresident pool. These could come from any unit and there is no limit to the number of guided pool or nonresidents issued per unit. As it is, all three of these permits could, although unlikely, come from the same hunt code. This is a good thing as you can apply with confidence that you will not be rejected simply for the fact that another nonresident or guided pool applicant drew in a hunt code prior to you. Overall, the only two units that struggle to produce Boone & Crockett (B&C) rams are the Fra Cristobal and the Caballo units. Although possible, it is not as likely to find a ram that will qualify for the books in either of these units. However, Unit 27 — the Peloncillos — has not produced a 170”+ ram in a number of years and all three tag holders were able to connect on 170”+ rams on opening day with two of the three rams scoring over 175” so you really never know. There really isn’t a bad tag in the state. Currently, there is an estimate of 1,300 total desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico, which is more than twice as many bighorn sheep that existed a mere 10 years ago. This is exciting news and, with any luck, there will be more where this comes from in the coming years.


New Mexico desert bighorn sheep units

UnitTrophy potentialPublic land %No. of permits
13, 17
San Andres
175”+97.5%3 early
2 late
South (Caballos)
165”+65.1%4 early
3 late
North (Fra Cristobals)
165”+65.1%1 early
1 youth
165”+53.9%3 early
2 late

Note: Unit 20 North (Fra Cristobal) hunts are conducted on the Armendaris Ranch. This is 100% private property, but the successful applicants will be allowed access. This is a very low impact bighorn sheep hunt if you are looking for something less physical with a very high success rate. 

Note: Unit 19 hunt is conducted entirely in conjunction with White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). Hunters will be allowed to bring with them no more than three guests and each attendee, including the hunter, will be required to pass a background check conducted by the Department of Defense prior to the hunt. Also, successful applicants will be charged an additional $150 access fee to WSMR and be required to attend an orientation prior to the hunt.

Managing expectations for sheep in New Mexico

Remember, equal odds are the best odds no matter how low they are and this is one of the most exciting bighorn sheep applications in the country for that reason. You can’t win if you don’t play. All applicants have an equal chance at drawing in their respective categories. Once you log into your profile on the New Mexico state website, select to apply, and then select to apply for bighorn sheep. You will be allowed to select either Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (DBH-1-201), desert bighorn sheep (DBH-1-204) or Rocky Mountain bighorn ewe. Permits can be applied for as a rifle hunt (DBH-1-202) or archery (DBH-2-203). These are all of the available hunt selections in the drop down menu. Once you make your selection, three boxes will populate under your choice. Within these drop down boxes are listed each of the available hunts for that species and sex. You will select three different hunts and then move onto your next hunt selection with another hunt code and repeat. If you are not interested in hunting ewes, then simply leave the third choice blank. Your application at that point should have six different hunt selections: three for each species. If you are going to be applying in the guided pool, there are four permits up for grabs: two for each species. If you are applying in the nonresident category, then there are two permits: one for each species that you are allowed to apply for. The remaining permits will be awarded to resident hunters. Because the cost of a successful ewe application is the same price ($3,160) as a ram, there are very few applicants — if any — most years applying for these permits. 

Rocky Mountain ewe bighorn opportunities

Find your resident ewe Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Find your nonresident ewe Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Find your guided draw ewe Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Rocky Mountain bighorn ram opportunities

Find your resident Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Find your nonresident Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Guided draw

For those who want to have the combination of the best chance of drawing and the best chance at a successful hunt, contracting with an outfitter is a great way to go. Be prepared for a long wait, but you only need lightning to strike once for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For more information on the guided draw, check out this article here.

Find your guided draw Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Desert bighorn ram opportunities

Just like with Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, drawing a desert bighorn tag is a long shot, but not impossible.

Find your resident Desert bighorn draw odds here

Find your nonresident Desert bighorn draw odds here

Guided draw

Draw odds in the guide draw are at 0.15%. Residents would do better to put in on their own since the guided odds are not as good as the resident odds.

Find your guided draw Desert bighorn draw odds here

New Mexico's 2021 antelope breakdown

There is a theory that when the drought is at its worst, antelope are at their best. The folks who believe this tend to believe that it has something to do with how broad of a diet an antelope has and that the amount of protein and nutrients in his diet on a drought year is much higher than on years where there is a lot of grass. This results in large antelope. After many years of living in southern New Mexico, I would have to agree with this thought process. However, if this theory was, in fact, true, then for all of the doom and gloom we are expecting at this point for the upcoming deer and elk season, it should be the year of all years for giant antelope in New Mexico. 

With just over 50,000 antelope across the state, New Mexico holds its own in trophy quality year after year. Although it is a much different hunt than many places since the overall number of animals you will see on any given day tends to be much lower than many other states, this along with the fact that all of the rifle hunts are only three-day seasons, means that unless you plan on arriving early and scouting, this hunt doesn’t really allow you to settle in for a long hunt to grind it out for a giant — especially if you draw anything other than an archery hunt or the first rifle. This is because the second and third rifle seasons are stacked up on top of each other so even with a lot of scouting, your target buck might not even be alive by opening day. 

Overall, the best antelope populations are located in the northeast corner of the state. These Game Management Units (GMUs) have excessive amounts of private property so be sure to use goHUNT MAPS feature and Filtering 2.0 when selecting your hunts. If not, you could easily end up with a hunt in this part of the state where there is very little area to actually hunt. 

Note: Just as a reminder: if a hunt code does not have at least 7 permits, there will not be a guided pool or nonresident permit issued. If there are not at least 13 permits on a hunt code, then there will not be a nonresident permit issued. If that’s the case, this would be a wasted selection on your application. 

New Mexico Antelope GMU’s with 80”+ trophy potential, a hunt with at least 1 guided pool permit and 1 nonresident permit

UnitTrophy potentialPublic land %No. of permits
1580”+77.5%Archery - 20 permits
16A, C, D, E80”+82.83%Archery - 20 permits
Late Rifle - 20 permits
1780”+73.7%Archery - 20 permits
1880”+66.6%Archery - 25 permits
2980”+84%Late Muzzleloader - 25 permits
36, 3780”+53.3%Archery - 20 permits
3880”+31.9%Archery - 20 permits
Early and mid-rifle - 15 permits
Late rifle - 30 permits
4180”+20.4%Archery - 35 permits
Early and mid rifle - 30 permits
Late rifle - 35 permits
4780”+23.6%Early rifle - 25 permits
Mid rifle - 30 permits
Late rifle - 35 permits

Note: Just because a unit shows “X%” of public land does not mean all of that land is accessible without crossing private property, essentially meaning it could be landlocked. Take a close look at the maps prior to applying. 

Managing expectations

What to expect when I apply for antelope in New Mexico

There are very few available hunts possible for a party application in New Mexico. None of them really make sense because you would be gambling that your party application would be the first and only one drawn. As you can imagine, this is very detrimental to your odds. Besides that, swing for the fence. Ensure that there are enough permits in your hunt selection so there is at least one permit awarded in the category you will be applying for whether it’s nonresident or guide pool. As a general rule, the amount of private land in the northeast will deter a number of applicants; however, if you are comfortable hunting in these environments, it's arguably the best hunting in the state as this is where the bulk of the antelope reside. 

Historically, the center of the state along with the west and southwest portions are where the biggest speedgoats in the state come from; however, there are very limited permits and many of these units don’t have enough permits per hunt to even allow a nonresident applicant a chance at drawing. If you are a bowhunter, it is worth noting that because of the monsoon rains that frequent New Mexico during July and August, most of the archery hunting here is done with decoys, spot and stalk and other similar methods. Simply sitting over a waterhole does not seem to have the same results as many other states because on a normal year there will be water everywhere during your hunt. As for muzzleloaders, as long as you push the bullet down the barrel and use black powder or a synthetic, you are good to go. These can be some excellent hunts that fly slightly under the radar year after year. If you have gotten serious about harvesting a big antelope that measures 80”+, New Mexico is a no-brainer application you should have in your strategy each year. There are no units in the state where this goal is unattainable and some places have strong histories of producing antelope much bigger than just 80”.

How do I apply if I am only concerned with trophy quality?

If your biggest goal is a record book antelope, then you need to swing for the fences on your application. Whether you are a resident or a nonresident, make sure to put your most desired hunt first as there is only one pass and your application has three choices that will be evaluated.

Find your resident antelope draw odds here

Find your nonresident antelope draw odds here

Guided draw

Find your guided draw antelope draw odds here

How do I apply if I am interested in opportunities more than quality?

No matter how you slice it, antelope tags are hard to come by in New Mexico. But there are some other options that are easier to draw than others. You should still pick your preferred hunt as your first choice, just in case you get lucky. Utilize the standalone Draw Odds page to find which unit groups to use as your second and third choices by adjusting the draw odds slider.

When looking at units for an opportunity more than a record book antelope, look to units with higher draw odds as well as archery seasons. With the draw odds so low, there really isn't any opportunity to be found in the low draw odds of muzzleloader and rifle seasons.




Free Trial
INSIDER Free Trial
Free Sample Unit Profile