Not to be left out of the revenue generation game, New Mexico has implemented their own. For 2019, the previously refundable hunting license fee ($65) will no longer be refundable. In addition to that, the Habitat Stamp and Habitat Management and Access Validation Stamp is now required to apply, at a cost of $10. The draw itself remains the same, with 84% of the tags going to residents, 6% to nonresidents, and 10% in the outfitted draw.

 

Antelope

The big change is in any-weapon draw tags. No longer will successful applicants be assigned a private ranch within the unit(s). Rather, the tag will be for all the public ground within the unit(s) and any private land within the unit(s) with written permission.

The private-land-only tags in the northern units of 4, 14, 46, 48, 54, and 55 will now be over the counter and unlimited. There are no draw tags offered for the public land in those units. In addition, they are all in August, when there will no doubt be bucks harvested pre-rut. The draw tag change has been a long time coming, but unlimited OTC private land tags cannot end well for antelope populations in the northern units.

My best guess at this time is that the best units in the past will continue for at least the 2019 season. These would be units (18, 36-38) and (15-17, and 21).

Photo: Mark Cataldo

Deer

New Mexico is generally considered an opportunity state for mule deer other than a handful of units. These include the 5B and 2C, which are trophy managed units and have draw odds to match. Units 2B and 5A do produce occasional giants. All of these units have nosebleed draw odds. I’d suggest picking a unit like 16. The tag encompasses a ton of ground and hunt hard! Giants can and do come out of many units.

For 2019, the combined archery seasons of September and January will be separated for 2019.

New Mexico also has highly coveted Coues deer. These units are located in extreme southwest New Mexico. The primary units would be 23 (Burro Mtns.), 24, and 27. Unit 27 had the highest harvest percentage. Keep in mind that 27 borders Mexico. There are illegals crossing daily and can and will disrupt the deer.

Photo: Tony Bynum

Elk

New Mexico is world famous for its elk hunting. The lack of a point system, as well as the relatively low out of pocket costs, make applying a must for any serious elk hunter. The hunt choices span from September to January and include archery, muzzleloader, and rifle hunts. The choices include units that vary from plateau-like desert to full blown wilderness.

The southwest region – which includes the iconic Gila units – is still the go-to area. This includes 13, 15, 16A-16E,17, 21A/B, 22, 23, and 24. It’s no secret that 16A and 16D are the holy grail. Draw odds are next to impossible, but someone has to draw. Unit 16B/22 is a good choice for those looking to get away from other hunters. Virtually any hunt in this region would make a good 1st choice pick!

Other top picks would have to include 34, 36, 55 (Valle Vidal), and 6B. Units 34 and 36 are located in the Sacramento Mountains. With an overall harvest rate of 42% and definitely harboring big bulls, it’s hard to not include one of these units on an application. Valle Vidal (Unit 55) and 6B (Valle Caldera) are dedicated to conservation of nature and its game. They both have very limited tags and offer higher harvest rates than virtually anywhere else.

One item of interest for 2019 is that late archery tags will now be offered in the drawing rather than an online secondary sale.

Photo: Tony Bynum

Sheep

New Mexico is home to huntable populations of both desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The state has become a powerhouse in producing B&C entries of both. Populations are doing well, so this should continue. The application process lumps the desert choices together and the Rocky choices together for both rams and ewes. Within these species choices, there are individual unit choices. There are up to three choices for each.

All the choices have terrible odds (way less than 1%) and require putting up $3173 for a few months with $3160 returned to unsuccessful applicants. Still, 3400+ nonresidents applied in 2018.

Random notes: Both Fra Cristobal (Unit 20) and Dry Cimarron (Unit 58) are conducted on private land. The Fra Cristobal hunts have extra rules. The Dry Cimarron hunts have widely dispersed rams and are generally located on a single large ranch that outfits the hunts. The White Sands tags require a mandatory $150 access fee/background check. There is no camping allowed or facilities available, so successful applicants have to check in and out of the base daily.

Wheeler Peak (53) always seems to float to the top on the Rocky side, followed closely by the Rio Grande Gorge unit (49, 50, and 53). These units consistently produce B&C rams and 100% harvest rates. The Dry Cimarron unit sure looks like it is hiding in the shadows based on the same criteria.

On the desert side, it’s hard to argue with the Ladrons (12/17) as a top producer. The “original” sheep unit – the Peloncillos (27) – is one of a handful of units that warrant a second-choice pick. They both boast 100% harvest rates and annual entries into B&C. The White Sands unit (19) is a sleeper for those who can deal with the additional rules and regulations and are looking for a BIG ram.

If you have $3200 lying around and want to “loan” it to New Mexico for a couple months, you might as well apply!

Barbary Sheep

New Mexico would never be complete without mentioning the three fair chase exotic species available. The state has great huntable populations of Barbary sheep, ibex, and oryx.

There are currently three draw hunt choices for Barbary sheep – Unit 28 (McGregor Range), 29/30, and 32/34(east)/36/37. Additionally, there are both “private land only” and “public land over-the-counter” tags available for other units that Barbary sheep inhabit.

The McGregor Range is an active military range. Like any military range hunt, this hunt has additional restrictions. It’s also only two days in length. Odds are low, but giant rams inhabit the range. Unit 29/30 would be the most popular of the other draw tags. The harvest rate hovers over 50%, versus slightly over 40% for the other draw units 32-37.

Ibex: Ibex are located in the isolated Florida Mountains near Deming. These mountains are spire type mountains jutting up from high plateau country. This makes these tags a very tough physical proposition. There are archery, muzzleloader, and any-weapon seasons.

The once-in-a-lifetime any-weapon choice has to be an applicant’s first choice. The harvest stats year after year are 80%+. The muzzleloader choice warrants a second-choice pick with a harvest rate the hang around 50% annually.

The archery tags are less cut and dried. There are October and January seasons. The draw odds are twice as good for October (5%/2.5%). The trade-off is that the weather can still be extremely hot in October and the mountains have a large rattlesnake population. Success rates are all over the board, but vary from 1% up to the mid-to-high teens for both hunts. Terrain is not conducive to shots that are close enough for archery tackle, hence the low harvest.

Much like sheep, if you have $1623 to throw down, you might as well try.

Oryx

Oryx is the most popular exotic. There is a large and growing population, and they’re hunted like antelope, which translates into keen interest. The most sought-after tags are the once-in-lifetime tags on White Sands Missile Range.

Changes for this year include the addition of two areas that haven’t had hunts for years – Small Missile Range and Red Canyon. There will be an additional hunt for 2019-2020 for both the Rhoads Canyon and Stallion areas. The total once-in-a-lifetime tags in 2018-2019 were 250; for 2019-2020 that number has been increased to 585! These hunts are 3-day affairs that have high harvest rates – well over 90% most years.

There are broken horn hunts that are also conducted simultaneously with the premium tags. They are not once in a lifetime and are somewhat easier to draw.

There are also a handful of tags offered on the McGregor Range (Unit 28). These tags are probably the best opportunity at a giant oryx for those who are no longer eligible for the once-in-a-lifetime tags. As expected, the draw odds are long. These hunts are two days in length, and like the White Sands hunts, have additional rules/requirements. These include security checks, blaze orange, and having to travel to El Paso to obtain an access pass. Harvest stats are usually greater than 70%.

Rounding out the oryx hunts are the off-range tags. These hunts are month-long seasons offered in every month but April and May. They are valid on all public ground (minus military areas) and private ground with written permission. The harvest rates on these hunts varies, but averaged 58% in 2017-2018. These hunts are generally undertaken on vast tracts of overgrown BLM where oryx are difficult to locate. With enough time spent in the field and/or some local input, these can be some great hunts, many outside of normal hunting seasons.