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Stewart's Test Strategy Article

Main writer: Jordan Christensen of The Draw


Jump to: NEW FOR 2021State InformationDraw SystemMule Deer BreakdownCoues Deer BreakdownBIGHORN SHEEP BREAKDOWNBison Breakdown

The Arizona deer and bighorn sheep draw is one of the most exciting draws of the year. Each year, you will have a number of hunters who beat the odds and are not just going on a nice deer or bighorn sheep hunt, but, instead, are arguably going to some of the very best destinations in the world for the respective species. Whether you are looking for the biggest mule deer, Coues deer or desert bighorns in the country, Arizona has a track record that is as good or better than any other state. Arizona also has ample opportunity for hunters who would like to just get out and hunt. Between hidden gems, the draw process and the number of hunts to choose from, there are plenty of above average opportunities available. Filtering 2.0 was built for draws like this. After you spent a little time filtering through all of the different options in Arizona, you are bound to find something that gets you excited. And whether you decide to hunt sooner rather than later or try your luck with some of the harder to draw areas, Arizona is a state that should be a part of every serious western hunter’s annual application strategy.

Note: The online application deadline for Arizona deer, bighorn sheep and bison is June 8, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ARIZONA time. You can apply online here.

New for 2021

  • Keep credit cards current. Applicants must have a current credit card through the time of the drawing. If your credit card is declined, your application will not be drawn. It’s a good idea to contact your bank prior to the draw to let them know that charges from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) could be processed. Because there is not a published deadline for this, it’s important to always keep your card current.
  • Hunter harvest questionnaire. You will receive your hunter harvest questionnaire in the mail and/or by email. Please take a moment to respond. A unique QR scan code and web link will be located on the back of hunt permit tags. Scan the code to access your hunter harvest questionnaire webpage, then select your species (you may need to download a QR reader app to scan the code). Completing your hunter questionnaire honestly and accurately is very important to the management of wildlife in Arizona.
  • Youth deer hunters may be eligible to purchase a companion javelina tag valid during their deer hunt and hunt both deer and javelina. See the state regulations for more details.
  • For Unit 12A, 13A, and 13B deer hunters may be eligible to purchase a companion elk tag that is valid during your deer hunt at a reduced cost. Look for note 39 associated with your deer hunt.
  • Attention archery deer hunters: Check for season closures. The open season dates for many units have changed. Be sure to double check that the unit you hope to hunt is open and what the legal deer is (see page 35 of the state regulations). 
  • Game Management Units (GMU) 15B and 18A boundary change. Refer to R12-4-108 on page 91 of the state regulations for the boundary change. 
  • Supplemental hunt applications/population management hunts. When submitting a supplemental hunt application in order to be considered if a population management hunt is initiated, you must submit a separate application and fee per species

State information

View important information and an overview of Arizona’s rules/regulations, the draw system, permit and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile.

Arizona State Profile Mule Deer Profile Coues Deer ProfileDesert Bighorn Profile Rocky Bighorn Profile Bison Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0 goHUNT MAPS

Important dates and information

  • The deadline to apply is June 8 at 11:59 p.m. MST. You can apply online here.
  • Draw results are typically available to everyone by mid-July.
  • Permits for successful applicants will be mailed out by Aug. 9, 2021.
  • Hunters must have completed a certified hunter’s education course.
  • Applicants must turn 10 years old by opening day of the hunt they apply for. Youth can apply for bonus points only if they are at least 10 by the application deadline.
  • Applicants must purchase a nonrefundable hunting license prior to or at the time of applying. 
  • Your hunting license is valid for 365 days from date of purchase, but applicants must have a valid license at the time of the drawing to successfully draw a license. 
  • Permit fee(s) are not required when you apply. The fees that are required are the hunting license fee and an application fee for each species you apply for.
  • Arizona has a modified bonus point system for deer, bighorn sheep and bison.
  • If you are unsuccessful in the draw, then you will be awarded a bonus point for that species if you have purchased a hunting license.
  • Arizona offers a PointGuard program, which allows applicants to return a drawn permit one time in their life in exchange for having their bonus points reinstated. The cost is $5 per species. You can purchase PointGuard when you apply or within your AZGFD portal until June 8 at 11:59 pm MST. 
  • If you do not have PointGuard, you cannot return a drawn permit for a refund or have your points reinstated. 
  • Arizona offers a loyalty program for applicants who have applied for five consecutive years. You will obtain one loyalty bonus point. If you miss a year of applying, that point will be dropped. These points are species specific and are independent of each other.
  • Arizona offers a permanent hunter’s education point. You must travel to Arizona and take the state-approved hunter’s education course. After completion, you will be given a permanent bonus point.

Cost to apply




Combo hunting/fishing license$57$160
Youth combo hunting/fishing license (10 to 17 years old)$5$5
Application fee/per species$13$15
PointGuard/per species (optional)$5$5

Permit cost if successful in the draw

Deer permit$58$315
Bighorn sheep permit$313$1,815
Bison bull permit$1,113$5,415
Cow/yearling bison permit$663$3,265
Yearling only bison permit$363$1,765

Drought in Arizona

We are currently sitting nearly in a worst case scenario in Arizona, at least when it comes to the drought. There is not a county in the state that is not in some level of drought and all of the most notable units are in the worst shape. There isn’t much to hope for other than possibly a strong monsoon season this summer that would at least help get the herds healthy again. As it sits now, fawn survival is expected to be quite low and antler growth is likely to be less than ideal as well. 


Arizona drought status as of May 18 2021

Source: United States Drought Monitor


Arizona drought monitor 2020

Source: United States Drought Monitor

Border activity

The truth is that there are illegal immigrants crossing the US/Mexico border. Unfortunately, there seems to be as much traffic now as there has ever been. The good news is that if you are hunting north of Interstate 10 there is little to worry about in this regard as most illegal immigrants will be picked up on the interstate and head to different parts of the country. 

If you choose to hunt south of Interstate 10, the odds of having any type of interaction with illegal immigrants is quite low. Those who are south of the border are very aware of the hunting seasons, the influx of hunters in the mountains at these times and do what they can to curb the number of potential interactions they have with civilians of any kind. 

One piece of advice since I love hunting in these mountains is that the bulk of the movement happens at night. In the daytime, these groups of people are often in the bottom of a canyon or cut during the day sleeping. They will travel all night, sleep all day. The most common time to have interaction is right at sun up or right at sundown. However, it is a good idea to stay out of the bottom of these canyons and cuts during the day. If you are traveling, stay on the ridgebacks and, if you cross a canyon, don’t travel down it. Again, the odds of having an interaction are low, but this will help curb your odds of interaction even further.

The draw system

Understanding the draw

Arizona offers a modified bonus point draw for deer, bighorn sheep and bison where 20% of the permits will be given to maximum point holders and the other 80% will be randomly allocated. They reserve 20% of the permits for each deer hunt code for maximum point applicants. For bighorn sheep and bison, 20% of the total number of permits statewide are reserved for maximum point applicants. In the random portion of the draw, weight is given to the number of points applicants have. For example, an applicant with five bonus points will have five chances — plus one for that year's application — to draw a random permit.

If you apply for a species and are unsuccessful in the draw, you will receive a bonus point for that species. You may also apply for bonus points only. We highly encourage applicants to apply for a hunt as your first and second choice. Remember that there is a random portion of the draw; you never know when you might draw a great tag.

Resident/nonresident quotas

Nonresidents are limited to no more than 10% of the total permits for each hunt code for antlered deer. Out of that 10%, up to 5% can be allocated to hunters in the bonus pass. [Bonus pass is the process that awards permits to maximum point holders.] After that, the remaining 5% can be allocated to nonresidents in the random pass (second pass). 

Nonresidents are issued up to 10% of the total statewide bighorn sheep and bison permits. No more than 50% of the permits per hunt code can be allocated to nonresidents. One nonresident permit can be allocated when a hunt offers between two and four permits. Two nonresident permits can be allocated for hunts that offer five or more permits total. If a hunt only has one permit, a nonresident cannot apply for and draw that permit. 

Hunt choices

You can apply with a first and second choice. An applicant’s first and second choices are considered before moving onto the next applicant. This means that once your application is pulled, they will try to allocate you your first choice and, if there are no permits remaining or the quota has been met, they will consider your second choice and do the same thing. If you do not draw your second choice, they will move to the next applicant. Your third, fourth and fifth choices will only be considered if there are leftover permits after every application's first and second choices have been considered. 

If you draw any choice — one through five — your points will be purged. If you fail to apply for five consecutive years, your points will be purged. Bonus points will not be impacted if you obtain a leftover deer permit in the first come, first served process. 

What are draw passes?

People commonly talk about draw passes in Arizona because the draw happens in three different passes. The first pass is the bonus pass where they allocate maximum point holders’ permits up until the quotas are met. The second pass is random and the state looks at each applicant’s first and second choices and awards permits until the quotas have been met. If you are unsuccessful in the second pass for your first and second choice, then the third and final pass looks at third through fifth choices and awards hunts that were leftover in the second pass. Apply with caution on your third through fifth choices. If you are not willing to burn your points on those hunts, do not include hunts for your third, fourth and fifth choices. 

More information can be found on the Arizona State Profile about the specifics of the Arizona draw system.

Arizona's 2021 mule deer breakdown

Current mule deer herd condition

Like most western states Arizona has seen a steady decline in the number of mule deer found within its borders. Currently, there are roughly 110,000+ mule deer in the Grand Canyon State. However, once you are south of “the ditch,” meaning the Grand Canyon, Arizona mainly manages these units more for an opportunity to go hunting than age class of deer. There are big bucks that come out of many units each year in Arizona, but they only come out of the far northern units year after year. This is not always the case, but most of the time, you don’t see big bucks come from the same place in back to back years once you are south of the Grand Canyon. 

If you are looking for a chance to hunt often and for the best bucks an area has to offer, then the OTC December and January archery hunts are typically your best bet to have a big buck crawl out of whatever hole he’s been living in. 

Other than simply wanting a tag to go hunting, plan on Arizona being a long term goal kind of state as the Kaibab and the Arizona Strip are going to take some serious luck to draw early and, other than the archery hunt on 12 east and west, it will take close or over to two decades to currently be in a maximum point situation for these hunts.

The goHUNT hit list units for Arizona mule deer

Top units to consider for 180” or better mule deer
(not in order of quality)

Public land
13A190"+45:100Archery - 80%
Rifle - 81%
13B190"+49:100Archery - 75%
Rifle - 100%
12B190"+40:100Archery - 36%
Muzzleloader - 31%
Rifle - 84%
Rifle - 61% (12BW)
Rifle - 84%
Rifle - 93% (12BW)
12AE180"+50:100Archery - 30%
Muzzleloader - 58%
Rifle - 45%
Rifle - 81%
12AW180"+48:100Archery - 30%
Rifle - 58%
Rifle - 84%
3A/3C180"+34:100Archery - 44%
Rifle - 62%
3A - 29.5%
3C - 82.8%
45C180"+31:100Archery - 24%
Rifle - 44%

How to uncover hidden gem deer units

A hidden gem can come in a number of different ways in Arizona. The first and most glaring are the archery hunts because of the reasonable number of points required to hunt the Kaibab or the 50+ units available to hunt OTC during the rut. Folks who do it year in and year out have taken some above-average bucks out of many different units. All this being said, and unfortunately so, a hidden gem may still take a decade or more to draw; however, given your odds on a late Kaibab or an Arizona strip tag, if you are looking to hunt with a rifle, keep your eyes peeled for the late December rifle tags in the units between Interstate 40 and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. These hunts are offered in different units each year, but with prime rut dates. Even a unit that may not have the strongest track record can produce a giant that time of year, especially with a rifle. 

Use Filtering 2.0 so you can search for exactly the type of hunt you are looking for. Sort success rates, percentage of public land and trophy quality to find a quality hunt that most hunters may not be keying into.

To get started with Filtering 2.0

  • Select state.
  • Select species.
  • Adjust the Trophy Slider to your desired size (e.g. 170”+).
  • Click whether you are a resident or nonresident and indicate how many points you currently possess.
  • Select your minimum percentage of odds for drawing the tag. This can be very good for weeding out units with unlimited (100%) tags.
  • Select which season(s) you are wishing to hunt. Have other hunts already scheduled for the fall? You can also set your date parameters and Filtering 2.0 will automatically find what's in season during that time of the year.
  • Choose what harvest percentages you would like to see in the units.
  • Lastly, click on any of the remaining units to read in-depth profiles containing valuable information.

The points system

Managing points and expectations

Coues deer and mule deer use the same bonus points pool.

2021 maximum bonus points for deer: 24


Bonus pointsResidentsNonresidents

Find your draw odds

I have 0 to 3 mule deer bonus points. What can I expect?


There are many ways to go about things as a resident in Arizona who is just getting started. If your goal is to hunt mule deer with a rifle or muzzleloader, there are currently six muzzleloader hunts available with 100% drawing odds at zero points and one rifle hunt. If you were to wait until you had three points to draw, you would have 33 rifle hunts available at 100% odds of drawing as well as 15 muzzleloader hunts. The stand out would be Unit 45C because it has a 44% success rate and a 180”+ trophy potential; however, be aware that while this hunt can have some amazing results, the bulk of the big deer are killed during the January archery season. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the desert to locate and hunt one of these big bucks outside of the rut.


If you are looking to hunt mule deer sooner rather than later with a rifle or a muzzleloader, there are a few options with zero points even for nonresidents. Currently, there are six muzzleloader hunts available in the northwest corner of the state near Kingman as well as Unit 30B available for a rifle deer hunt at 100% chance of drawing. If you choose to apply for one of these hunts, at least do it on your second if not third choice and swing for the fence on an elite tag like the late hunts in the Kaibab or the Arizona Strip. If you come out early, at least you won't miss your chance at being lucky.

Note: for hunters who aspire to hunt the Arizona Strip, consider that one archery tag is typically allocated to a nonresident in 13A and two are allocated in 13B. The odds for those archery hunts are less than 1% from zero to 21 points. The rifle odds are worse. If you want to try to draw the Strip and are just starting, realize you may never actually draw those hunts. 

Find your resident mule deer draw odds with 0 points here

Find your nonresident mule deer draw odds with 0 points here

What can I do with 4 to 10 mule deer bonus points?


If you have waited for 10 years to draw a tag in your home state, chances are that you are looking for a chance at an above average deer in a unit with a track record for some older age class bucks. Currently, you have enough to draw the archery hunts in Unit 12 as well as Unit 3A/3C. You also have enough to draw the early rifle in Unit 12A West, 12A East12B West and 3A/3C. You also have enough to draw the muzzleloader hunt in 12A East and the rifle hunt in 45C. Both of these units have 180”+ potential, but none of these hunts are typically when the majority of these kinds of bucks are taken as they are well outside of the rut. If you choose to roll the dice in any of these, plan on some serious time scouting to get the most out of these opportunities


If you have waited around for 10 years to draw your Arizona permit, chances are that you are likely not looking for just a chance to go hunting. However, if you are ready to get out there, the few options available in units with a 180”+ trophy potential are the Unit 12 archery hunt that covers all of 12AE, 12AW and 12B. The other option would be the rifle hunt in Unit 45C, but you do have way more points to draw this hunt than it requires if you have waited a decade and the season dates that are available in November are well outside of the rut that far south as those deer won’t start until the first week of January during a normal year.

Find your resident mule deer draw odds with 10 points here

Find your nonresident mule deer draw odds with 10 points here

What can I expect with 11 or more mule deer bonus points?


Last year, residents were able to draw the archery hunts in the maximum point pool in Unit 13A with 14 points and Unit 13B with 16 points. If you are waiting it out for the late Kaibab or Strip rifle hunts you will need to wait a bit longer. Currently, the number of points that it took last year to draw these permits were:


Even though you have waited a long time already, unfortunately, if your goal is to wait it out for one of the elite tags in the state, it's going to be a while. Currently, your odds in the hardest hunts in the state are as follows. 

Find your resident mule deer draw odds with 15 points here

Find your nonresident mule deer draw odds with 15 points here

Leftover and OTC deer tags

The majority of the state has OTC archery hunts so there is a chance that the unit you are looking to hunt is available to hunt every year as long as you are willing to pick up your bow and head out. Season dates are either in August or closer to the new year as the rut activity picks up. 

Any leftover permits after the main draw will become available on a first come, first served basis. The list will be available on the AZGFD website under “Big Game Draw.” We will also publish those in an article. Applications for the leftover permits will be accepted by mail at 8:00 a.m on July 19.

Find your Arizona MULE DEER OTC opportunities here

Find your Arizona COUES DEER OTC opportunities here

Arizona's 2021 Coues deer breakdown

Coues deer hunting in Arizona is the best you can find north of the Mexico border. There are units in Arizona managed for quality while others are managed for an opportunity to go hunting. There are options to hunt with a rifle that you can draw with zero points as well as others that take north of a decade to draw in a maximum point situation. Whether you are looking to check the box on this species and a first time applicant in Arizona or you are tired of waiting on some near impossible mule deer hunt in northern Arizona, there are options for everyone that will give you equivalent value for your current investment. There are typically three or four rifle seasons available per year, depending on what part of the state you are researching.

As a general rule, the first two or three seasons are relatively easy to draw compared to the late December hunts, which are considered rut rifle hunts and are typically the hardest hunt to draw in each unit. Coues deer hunting is truly the poor man's mountain hunt. If you like lots of glassing, lots of hiking and long-range shooting, these amazing deer will give you everything you are looking for and more.

Current Coues deer herd condition

I was once told that everything likes to eat Coues deer and it is the reason they are so stealthy. Whether it be coyotes, lions, humans or eagles, these small deer are quite vulnerable to just about any predator found in the Southwest. This is likely why their ranges are so diverse. From the thick conifer forests that stretch all the way towards Interstate 40 to the sparse grass and oak covered ridges of the far south, these deer thrive in just about any environment the Southwest has to offer. They can be found in pockets on a plateau as well as the steep canyon walls along the different river systems. The further south you go, the stronger the population seems to get, but with the increase in deer comes the increase in hunters. Although a big buck can come from just about any unit in the state, the further north you are in their range, the more likely you will find an older age class buck.

Top units to consider for 100” or better Coues deer
(not in order of quality)

Public land
6A100"+23:100Rifle - 33%
Rifle - 46%
Rifle - 52%
21100"+27:100Rifle - 53%
Rifle - 41%
Rifle - 43%
22110"+43:100Rifle - 33%
Rifle - 32%
Rifle - 39%
23110"+27:100Rifle - 36%
Rifle - 24%
Rifle - 38%
30A105"+30:100Rifle - 52%
Rifle - 63%
Rifle - 55%
Rifle - 74%
30B100”+35:100Rifle - 54%
Rifle - 48%
Rifle - 56%
Rifle - 47%
33100”+14:100Rifle - 49%
Rifle - 48%
Rifle - 36%
Rifle - 43%
Rifle - 39%
32105"+30:100Rifle - 50%
Rifle - 55%
Rifle - 50%
Rifle - 38%
34A100”+32:100Rifle - 51%
Rifle - 36%
Rifle - 39%
Rifle - 47%
34B100”+53:100Rifle - 46%
Rifle - 42%
Rifle - 41%
Rifle - 50%
36A100”+17:100Rifle - 58%
Rifle - 45%
Rifle - 46%
Rifle - 39%
36C105”+23:100Rifle - 48%
Rifle - 52%
Rifle - 58%
Rifle - 49%
35A105”+33:100Rifle - 40%
Rifle - 34%
Rifle - 34%
Rifle - 43%
35B105”+39:100Rifle - 38%
Rifle - 37%
Rifle - 47%
Rifle - 51%
36B100”+33:100Rifle - 52%
Rifle - 42%
Rifle - 49%
Rifle - 50%
31100”+40:100Rifle - 68%
Rifle - 60%
Rifle - 69%
Rifle - 72%
24A100”+22:100Rifle - 31%
Rifle - 30%
Rifle - 37%
Rifle - 59%
24B100”+26:100Rifle - 54%
Rifle - 41%
Rifle - 41%
Rifle - 60%
29100”+39:100Rifle - 52%
Rifle - 46%
Rifle - 50%
Rifle - 62%

How to uncover hidden gem units

Hunting south of Interstate 10, there are many different units that have multiple seasons both in October and November that have been undersubscribed for many years. Most of these units have above average deer densities and have incredible glassing potential versus units further north in the dense ponderosa forest. The main reason is that many hunters are avoiding these areas because of interactions with illegal immigrants and drug traffic that is happening in these remote areas of the state. The hunting in these units can be very good and picking up a permit is not that hard. Use caution when hunting these areas.

Using Filtering 2.0 and Draw Odds, you will be able to study additional information like trophy potential and success rates to narrow down where you would like to hunt. If you want to hunt Coues deer every year, you can. In the table below, we offer hunts that were drawn with no points and have harvest success rates greater than 30%. In addition, there are many hunts that can be drawn that have slightly lower harvest success rates.

Coues deer hunts drawn with 0 points with 40%+ harvest success

UnitTrophy potentialBuck:doe ratioHarvest
24B100”+26:100Rifle (Nov 5 to 11) - 41%
Rifle (Nov. 26 to Dec. 5) - 41%
30A100”+30:100Rifle (Oct. 22 to 28) - 52%
Rifle (Nov. 5 to 11) - 63%
Rifle (Nov. 26 to Dec. 5) - 55%
30B100”+35:100Rifle (Oct. 22 to 28) - 54%
Rifle (Nov. 5 to 11) - 48%
32105”+30:100Rifle (Nov. 5 to 11) - 55%
34B100”+53:100Rifle (Oct. 22 to 28) - 40%
Rifle (Nov. 5 to 11) - 42%
35A105”+33:100Rifle (Oct 22 to 28) - 40%
36A100”+17:100Rifle (Nov. 5 to 11) - 45%
Rifle (Nov. 26 to Dec. 5) - 46%

The point system

Coues deer and mule deer use the same bonus points pool.

2021 maximum bonus points for deer: 24

(Points are not species-specific. Deer points are deer points whether you apply them to mule deer or Coues deer.)

Currently, the two hardest tags to draw in the state for Coues Deer are the late rifle hunts in Unit 22 and 23. They took 16 points to have a 100% chance of drawing in 2020.

Find your draw odds

Managing points and expectations

I have 0 Coues deer bonus points. What can I expect?

Whether you are just getting started in Arizona or possibly you have just burned your deer points last year on another hunt, there are a number of options to consider if you are looking for a rifle Coues deer hunt this coming fall. The bulk of these options are the earlier season hunts south of Interstate 10 and in some of the highest deer densities in the state. A couple of ideas with this few points to consider are: first apply with your first choice in a top shelf unit. Because you have two selections that are considered before they move to the next applicant, you might as well swing for the fence and see if you get lucky. If you choose to back up your first choice with a hunt you will likely draw, at least you didn’t miss a year trying for a top tier hunt.

Another idea would be to use both choices to apply for a harder to draw hunt, then use your third through fifth choice to apply for a hunt that typically goes under subscribed so you don’t miss out on a lightning strike, but, instead, hedge your bets by avoiding the uncertainty of picking up a tag when they are sold as leftovers. The last way to go about getting a deer tag this year would be to try for an elite tag with your first two selections. Leave your third through fifth choices blank. Wait it out to see what's available on the leftover list and move quickly to secure the hunt you want. This is the only way to have a rifle deer hunt in Arizona without burning your points.

Find your resident Coues deer draw odds with 0 points here

Find your nonresident Coues deer draw odds with 0 points here

What can I do with 5 to 10 Coues deer bonus points?


With five points, resident applicants have 49 hunts they could draw. All of these hunts are early season hunts except for one late hunt in Unit 30B.

With seven points, hunters might consider the December hunt in 24A, 24B, 29 and 33. Applicants with eight points should consider the December hunt in Unit 6A and 6B/8. Finally, with nine and 10 points, the best options are the December hunts in Unit 21, 22, 27/28. Every hunt should be available to residents with 10 points going into this draw.


With five points, nonresident applicants have 52 hunts they could have drawn. Intriguing options include rifle hunts in 6A (November), 8 (October), 23 (November), 30B (December) and 31 (November). With six points, the December rifle hunts in 30A and 34B were great options. The December hunts in Unit 32, 34A, 36A, 36B and 36C were good hunts for applicants with seven points. 

With eight points, applicants should consider the December hunt in Unit 35A. Moving to nine and 10 points, applicants should research the December hunts in 6A and 6B/8. The best hunts in the state require more points. The December hunts in Unit 21 required 11 points, 27/28 and 29 required 14, Unit 22 required 17 points and 23 required 16 points.

Find your resident Coues deer draw odds with 8 points here

Find your nonresident Coues deer draw odds with 8 points here

Arizona's 2021 bighorn sheep breakdown

Arizona offers hunts for both desert bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Your points are simply for bighorn sheep so the decision to hunt Rockies or deserts happens each year when you apply. Truth be told: you could apply for both species using one of your two selections for desert bighorn sheep while using the other for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. This strategy doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you could do it. Because there are so many desert bighorn sheep options to choose from and this fact spreads out the applicants much better unless you are hard up for a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep specifically, your sights should really be set on a desert bighorn sheep. However, if you luck into a desert bighorn sheep in another state, it's nice to know that all your bighorn sheep points are still in play in Arizona and you can simply shift over to applying for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep moving forward and take advantage of whatever points you have built leading up to that point. 

The big thing to remember when applying for bighorn sheep in Arizona is if you are a nonresident, it is a wasted selection to apply for any hunt that only has one permit up for grabs as there is no way for a nonresident to draw that one permit. The hunt code must at least have two permits available in order for there to be a nonresident permit issued. This, along with the fact that the maximum point pool pass will happen first, means that if a unit has two permits available and the permit is issued to a nonresident then this selection is out. Applying for a top-shelf unit will mean that you will likely be running a risk of there not being a tag available by the time the random pass happens. There is an up to 10% cap on the number of bighorn sheep permits allotted to nonresidents as well. Although a nonresident random permit can come out of any qualifying unit, you will need to come out early because when the smoke clears, there will only be a total of up to 12 nonresidents selected out of the 122 total tags up for grabs. This includes Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn sheep. 

The table below shows the number of desert bighorn sheep permits available for 2021 and it also indicates if there are nonresident permits available. In the fourth column, we indicate whether or not each hunt is the “Best, Good or Worst” option for applicants with fewer than maximum points. Those suggestions are based on odds of drawing a permit in the random pool. The worst options are the best trophy hunts and will most likely be drawn by maximum point holders. Good hunts have good trophy potential and a permit that may slip through to a random applicant. The best options are the better bets for low point applicants. Still, the odds are less than 1%.

Desert bighorn sheep permit numbers for 2021

UnitTotal permitsNonresident
permits available
Best, Good, or Worst option for a
nonresident with less than maximum points
9/10 Early1NoResident only
9/10 Late1NoResident only
12A/12B/13A1NoResident only
12B East (Nov 19 - Dec 9)3Yes (1)Best
12B East (Dec 10 - Dec 31)4Yes (2)Best
13A North1NoResident only
13B North2Yes (1)Best
13B South1NoResident only
15A/15B East1NoResident only
15B West1NoResident only
15C North1NoResident only
15C South1NoResident only
15D North4Yes (2)Best
15D South2Yes (1)Best
16A2Yes (1)Best
16A South/18B2Yes (1)Best
16B1NoResident only
22 South2Yes (1)Worst
24B North1NoResident only
24B South2Yes (1)Worst
282Yes (1)Worst
31/323Yes (1)Good
37A (Nov 12 - Dec 2)2Yes (1)Worst
37A (Nov 26 - Dec 16)2Yes (1)Worst
37A (Dec 10 - Dec 31)2Yes (1)Worst
37B2Yes (1)Worst
39 East2Yes (1)Good
39 West2Yes (1)Good
40A2Yes (1)Good
40B Gila Mtns4Yes (2)Best
40B Mohawk2Yes (1)Good
40B Tinajas2Yes (1)Best
41 East2Yes (1)Good
41 West2Yes (1)Good
42/44A2Yes (1)Good
43A1NoResident only
43B (Nov 20 - Dec 10)4Yes (2)Best
43B (Dec 11 - Dec 31)4Yes (2)Best
44A East2Yes (1)Good
44A West1NoResident only
44B North3Yes (1)Best
44B South2Yes (1)Good
45A3Yes (1)Best
45B4Yes (2)Best
45C4Yes (2)Best
24B Superstition2Yes (1)Worst
46A East2Yes (1)Good
46A West1NoResident only
46B East1NoGood
46B West5Yes (2)Best

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep permit numbers for 2021

UnitTotal permitsNonresident
permits available
Best, Good, or Worst option for a
nonresident with less than maximum points
1/271NoResident only
1/2B1NoResident only
6A3Yes (1)Good
Unit 22 Rocky Area in North2Yes (1)Good
23/24A1NoResident only
27 Upper Blue River2Yes (1)Best
27/28 (Nov 19 - Dec 9)3Yes (1)Best
27/28 (Dec 10 - Dec 31)3Yes (1)Good

The goHUNT hit list units for Arizona desert bighorn sheep

As previously noted, the best odds of drawing a permit are in areas where the trophy potential is not quite as good. The top-tier units in the state will produce 170” to 180” class rams most years. Those units are also the ones that will require maximum points or all the luck you can muster. 

Top units to consider for 170” or better desert bighorn sheep


Managing bighorn sheep points and expectations

The bighorn sheep point system

Arizona desert bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep use the same bonus points pool.

2021 maximum bonus points for Arizona bighorn sheep: 32


Bonus pointsResidentsNonresident

Find your draw odds

I have less than the maximum (31) bonus points. What can I expect?

If you are more than a year or two behind the maximum number of points possible, your odds are going to be less than 1% for any selection you make. However, double check that there is going to be a nonresident permit potentially available for the hunt you would like to draw, use Filtering 2.0 to study where the least number of applicants are applying, try and avoid the most glaring of these choices (as usually you will see a sharp increase one year to the next on the hunts that had the absolute least number of applicants) and say a quick prayer before you hit the submit button on your applications. This will take a full on lightning strike in order to be successful, but as we discussed: lightning will strike for potentially 12 nonresidents this year and you can’t win if you don’t play.

Find your resident Rocky bighorn sheep draw odds with 0 points here

Find your nonresident Rocky bighorn sheep draw odds with 0 points here

Find your resident Desert bighorn sheep draw odds with 0 points here

Find your nonresident Desert bighorn sheep draw odds with 0 points here

I have 31 bighorn sheep bonus points. What can I expect?

If you have waited this long for your chance to hunt bighorn sheep, apply with caution. The less notable units will be a glaring choice as you should be a shoe-in for a maximum point draw. The sad reality is though that physicality is likely to be a major concern as you are not quite as young as you were when you started down this path. All this considered, my guess is your goal is for a giant ram and, if so, consider applying for Unit 22, 24B, 31, 32 or 44B North for desert bighorn sheep and Unit 1/27 (residents only), 1/2B (residents only) 6A, 22 and 27/28 for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep this coming draw.

Find your resident Rocky bighorn sheep draw odds with 25 points here

Find your nonresident Rocky bighorn sheep draw odds with 25 points here

Find your resident Desert bighorn sheep draw odds with 25 points here

Find your nonresident Desert bighorn sheep draw odds with 25 points here

Arizona's 2021 bison breakdown

Arizona offers two different application periods for bison each year. The current application period is exclusively for hunters who would like a chance to harvest a cow bison with two hunts and five tag exceptions for yearling bison that are designated to be harvested by the biologist managing the herds. For many hunters, this application period is simple. They simply apply for a point only application, build their point because they can and wait for the fall application period to apply for the hunts that would allow them to harvest a bull next spring and summer. 

If you are interested in harvesting a cow, the odds on these hunts are still rough, but exponentially better than the odds of drawing a hunt that would allow you to hunt a bull next year.

Currently, an applicant could have as many as 52 bonus points because of the way this system works. However, there are only seven residents with more than 40 points and two nonresidents.

Arizona bison permits spring application period 2021

UnitPermit typeTotal permits
5A/5BDesignated cow bison8
5A/5BDesignated yearling bison3
12A EastDesignated cow bison4
12A EastDesignated yearling bison2
(Sept. 24 to Oct. 6)
Cow bison only10
(Oct. 8 to 21)
Cow bison only10
(Oct. 29 to Dec. 31)
Cow bison only10
Cow bison only10
Cow bison only10

The point system

2021 maximum bonus points for bison: 52


Bonus pointsResidentsNonresidents

Managing points and expectations

There is currently not a mature bull bison hunt available in this application period. If you are looking for a chance to hunt a trophy bull, you will need to apply for a point in this application period and wait until the fall application period to submit your application for an actual hunt. 

If your goal is to simply draw a bison hunt and a cow or a yearling bull sounds like exactly what you are looking for, then this is the draw period for you. The odds are steep even for the cows, but you don’t want to miss any chance to draw whether it's this deadline or the fall deadline. 

Find your resident bison draw odds here

Find your nonresident bison draw odds here


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