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New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

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Hunting Information  

Last Updated: 2/10/2012

Some Tips on Drawing Success


Every year, New Mexico Game & Fish receives complaints from hunters who have gone another year without drawing a permit or license for their species of choice. The competition is fierce for a limited number of licenses/permits, especially in prime areas. Luck plays a big part in the drawing, but the following tips may help you increase your chances.


Always remember that there are no guarantees in the draw, even if you follow the advice given here. Likewise, there are no guarantees in hunting. Success in the draw doesn’t mean you’ll harvest a trophy or even see an animal—even if you draw a prime unit.


1) Know how the draw works

It’s important to understand that New Mexico’s big game drawings are subject to a quota system for most species (except oryx, ibex and bighorn sheep). In accordance with state law, the drawing attempts to distribute 84% of the licenses/permits for each hunt to New Mexico residents, 10% to residents and nonresidents who have contracted with an outfitter and 6% to nonresidents who haven’t contracted with an outfitter. New Mexico does NOT grant preference to applicants who were unsuccessful in previous drawings.


A random computer program shuffles all the applications like a deck of cards into a drawing sequence. The order your application lies in the sequence ultimately determines whether you’ll be successful or not.


When an application is drawn, the system attempts to distribute licenses/permits for the first hunt choice, subject to the quotas described above. If the drawing pool for the first hunt choice is already filled, the computer will try to assign the second hunt choice for that application and then the third choice. If the licenses/permits have been distributed, or there aren’t enough to fulfill the application (for example, if there are four unguided nonresident applicants, but only three licenses/permits remaining to fill the 6% quota), the system will not issue a license(s), and will move on to the next application.


2) Do your homework

Consult the drawing odds report on the New Mexico Game & Fish website. This report contains all the information regarding the previous year’s drawing you could ever want. Compare the number of applicants in your drawing pool with the number successfully drawn to come up with an approximation of your chances to draw a specific hunt.


Scout different areas and consult maps to find out how much public land is accessible within the unit(s) you want to hunt. Talk to other hunters. Call the local conservation officer well in advance of applying to check the current status of your preferred unit(s).


Consider how hard you’re willing to work to harvest an animal. Most conservation officers will tell you the further get from your truck, the better your chances will be. Some areas contain extremely rough terrain that may deter others from applying. If you’re willing to put forth the extra effort, some units you might not have thought of can offer rewarding hunts.


3) Expand your horizons

We can’t all be lucky enough to draw a bull elk license in the Valle Vidal or unit 16A or 16D, or a deer permit in unit 2B. Most of the units that contain prime habitat for any species are very difficult to draw because numerous hunters apply for those areas.


There is no harm in submitting a highly desirable unit as your first choice, but if all three of your choices are in prime units, your chances won’t be very good. Consider entering a less competitive unit for your second, or at least your third choice.
It doesn’t hurt to be willing to travel for your hunt either. The words “too far away” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary if you really want to hunt big game in New Mexico.


4) Think about different sporting arms

The majority of hunters prefer to hunt with high-powered rifles. Obviously the range of a rifle can make for a much easier hunt than a bow hunt where you have to be within 40 yards or so to have any hope of hitting your target. It also means that there will be many more applicants for any legal sporting arm (rifle) hunts, than for muzzleloader or bow-only hunts. Today’s muzzleloaders can shoot accurately to well over 100 yards, but you'll generally only get one shot.


The bow seasons for elk generally coincide with the rut, and the muzzleloader seasons are shortly thereafter, so there’s a possibility of calling elk into range that doesn’t exist during most of the rifle seasons. Some deer hunts for bows only also occur during January on the tail end of the rut.

It will be tougher to harvest an animal with a bow or muzzleloader, but the trade-off is that you’re more likely to get to go hunting if you apply.


5) Cow vs. Bull for elk

If you truly enjoy the experience of hunting, or you’re more concerned with putting food on your family’s table than a mount over your fireplace, think about applying for a cow hunt. The drawing odds are far better for antlerless elk hunts than for bull hunts. A lot of hunters are primarily interested in that elusive Boone & Crockett class bull, so antlerless hunts generally receive significantly fewer applications than bull hunts. If you really want to go elk hunting, think about using one or more of your choices for a cow hunt(s).


6) The Fourth Choice option

For deer and elk, you have the option of submitting a fourth choice. New Mexico Game & Fish has consistently emphasized that you must be willing to accept ANY hunt in the quadrant of the state you enter for these species. Keep in mind that these are the hunts that received fewer applications than others, and there’s probably a reason for that. You could end up hunting an area with scattered populations, or the unit might be very rugged terrain. Either way, you should be prepared for a tough hunt. If you really want to hunt and don’t care where or what the bag limit is (for elk), the fourth choice might be a good option.