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Elk Hunting Rocky Mountains

Southwestern Bulls In 2008

by Darren Choate   |  October 4th, 2010 0

Arizona and New Mexico are fired up for an elk season that promises very good opportunities for trophy back-scratchers.

Even in what most would consider a drought, the 2007 elk seasons in Arizona and New Mexico were grand, to say the least.


The Southwest offers some of the nation’s best elk hunting.
Photo by Jason Coil.

Many factors have changed since the end of the season, but the outlook for the 2008 season looks exceptionally promising.

2007 RECAP
When it comes to trophy elk hunting, both Arizona and New Mexico are annual hotspots.

Of the Boone and Crockett Club bulls measuring more than 385 inches and entered in either the All-time Awards or Awards Period during the 20th Awards Program, 35 percent were harvested in Arizona or New Mexico.

This past elk season was no exception. Hunters in both states bagged their share of bulls that scored near or above the magical 400-inch mark.

Last fall, Brian Stephenson took a dandy Arizona bull. However, the hunt did not go as he planned.

Stephenson had expected that the bulls would be screaming and rutting hard. But that wasn’t the case. The bulls didn’t respond to calls.

“The hunt had its highs and lows, and most of the hunt was slow and tough,” he said.

Last season, several archery hunters across the state had similar experiences. Local hunters attributed this phenomenon to the lack of spring rain and plentiful monsoon rains, which came later in the year and caused cows to reach estrus later as well.



During the 2007 season, hunters in Arizona’s Unit 9 took at least six bulls that measured more than 400 inches.
 

Under tough conditions, Stephenson changed his tactics and still-hunted areas where he had seen bulls earlier in the hunt.

Eventually, he scored on a trophy when he arrowed and harvested a massive palmated bull that gross-scored 346 inches.

Longtime Arizona hunter Jayson Coil helped his 16-year-old nephew Garrett on a late rifle bull hunt in northern Arizona.

Pre-season scouting contributed to their success. After locating several stock tanks that elk frequented, Coil and his nephew sat on a vantage point overlooking one of the tanks in hopes of catching a thirsty bull coming to get a drink in the late afternoon.

In freezing temperatures and facing a constant 15-mph wind, the two waited patiently. As the sun started to fade below the horizon, with only a few minutes of shooting light left, a lone bull finally appeared — and moved toward the tank.

Quickly, the two closed the distance. Garrett readied his rifle and killed the bull from more than 300 yards.

Coil described Garrett’s trophy as “an old 7×6 bull with a rough gross measurement of 350 inches.”

Ross Johnson, of Ross Johnson Outfitters Inc., located in Magdalena, N.M., said that 2007’s late-spring rains created an average rut and consequently, average rut hunting for New Mexico elk hunters — at least in the western portion of the state.

Overall, Johnson thought that New Mexico’s 2007 elk season, from rut through rifle season, was fairly average. For New Mexico, of course, “average” usually means big bulls, especially in the Gila National Forest.

In January 2008, one of Johnson’s clients bought the New Mexico’s Governor’s Tag and knocked down a huge bull that measured 441 5/8 and broke the state record. (For the story of Tod Reichert’s bull, look in the September issue of Rocky Mountain Game & Fish.)

A different 2007 hunter found the best of both worlds, so to speak.

Don Roach purchased a landowner bull elk tag in New Mexico, drew a coveted Unit 9 bull tag in Arizona as well — and harvested two exceptional bulls.

During the early archery bull hunt in New Mexico, Roach saw numerous bulls, and got close to a few.

With another tag in his back pocket, Roach hunted hard and scored on a 335-inch bull.

In Arizona, with one bull already to his credit and knowing the value of the tag he held, Roach was exceptionally selective. Hunting with Mullins Outfitters, Roach passed up several bulls in the 350-plus range.

Eventually, his patience paid off, and he harvested a magnificent bull that scored 400 4/8 inches net. I guess if you’re going to dream, dream big!

ARIZONA’S TOP SPOTS IN 2008
The outlook for Arizona’s 2008 elk season is incredible! And the reasons are simple.

  • Winter storms across elk country brought much needed precipitation to this normally arid state.

    Last winter, the majority of elk country was blanketed by above-normal snowpack conditions.

    Most areas received over 100 percent of their 30-year annual average precipitation.

    That wet winter coupled with normal precipitation for the remainder of the year should produce high-quality habitat and forage, and provide a stable water supply for the 2008 season.

  • Arizona’s elk have quality genes. Several bulls that scored over the 400-inch mark were taken in 2007. Antler growth should be stellar again in 2008.

    Something New
    The Arizona Department of Game and Fish is now offering over-the-counter elk non-permit tags. These tags are being issued for locations within the boundaries of specific hunt units with few or no resident elk.

    The areas identified are not considered historic elk habitat, but have been identified as areas that elk could impact negatively.

    According to the DGF, elk numbers in these hunt areas are very low. And unfortunately, hunt success is expected to be very low as well.

    Region 1
    The White Mountains region experienced an extremely wet winter, which should provide quality habitat and a healthy elk herd.

    Pat Feldt, owner of Arizona Guided Hunts, said he’s excited about the vast amount of snow that fell over the winter and feels quite confident that 2008 will be great for elk hunting.

    Region 1 game specialist Rick Langley expects that our above-average precipitation will do good things for the habitat — which usually translates into good things for elk.

    With that in mind, there are a few units that stand out above the rest.

    Unit 1 is managed on an alternative basis (up to 40 bulls per 100 cows) and is always mentioned as one of Arizona’s leaders for trophy bulls.

    Unit 27 has similar habitat and has several whopper bulls as well.

    According to Langley, Unit 3C has become a favorite for trophy bulls in recent years. He noted that the area burned by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002 has rebounded well and offers quality habitat for elk.

    Considering winter precipitation totals in Region 1, conditions should be suitable to produce another round of great elk-hunting opportunities and several big bulls.

    Region 2
    This year, finding elk and good bulls in Region 2 should be easy.

    With the amount of winter precipitation that the region experienced, local guide Lance Crowther expects extremely good conditions and is hopeful that 2008’s rut activity will be better than the previous year’s.

    Dave Rigo, a DGF wildlife manager in the region, said that the conditions are right to grow big bulls, and predicts that Region 2 will produce another group of monster bulls in 2008.

    Of course, you can’t discuss the region without bringing up Unit 9, historically, one of Arizona’s best units. Rigo noted that six 400-inch bulls were taken in this unit alone in 2007. He also noted that neighboring Unit 7 is a “sleeper” for big bulls and shows promise for 2008.

    Unit 6A offers approximately a fifth of Arizona’s elk hunting opportunities, largely because of its size and resident elk herd. It can’t be overlooked as a contender for a trophy bull in 2008.

    Region 3
    Compared with other areas of the state, Region 3’s elk population is relatively low, but it’s a prime locale for harvesting a quality trophy animal. Unit 10, this region’s leading elk unit, has long been a leader in the state for monster bulls.

    In 2007, elk hunters in Unit 10 experienced below-average elk hunting conditions. But current conditions are looking better for a great year. There should be big bulls throughout the region, especially in Unit 10.

    Region 6
    The units “under the rim” have always been good locales for elk hunting throughout the year.

    Drought conditions have affected elk populations in the region. The DGF reported poor calf recruitment in 2007. However, the winter was good to this region.

    Normal precipitation before the hunt should provide an improvement in elk habitat and elk herd conditions.

    Units 22 and 23 are the region’s top choices, and both are capable of producing quality bulls this fall.

    NEW MEXICO’S TOP SPOTS FOR 2008
    New Mexico’s elk hunting should be above average this year, for several reasons.


    Ors Johnson guided Tod Reichert, who had the New Mexico Governor’s elk tag. They took this bull — sporting his previous year’s headgear — in early 2008.
    Photo courtesy of Ors Johnson Outfitters.

  • New Mexico continues to support a large population of elk located across three major regions within the state, offering the elk hunter diverse opportunities.

  • Precipitation has been good for the last few years. New Mexico has had two consecutive wet springs dating back to 2006.

  • In 2007, normal precipitation continued through the summer and fall. Except in the southern portion of the state, this past winter’s snowfall was slightly above average.

    Most areas, according to Darrel Weybright of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, experienced a good calf crop last year.

    Past years’ raghorns should be developing into nice bulls, he said. The overall elk herd should be in top form.

    North

    Northern New Mexico has a large population of elk and offers several areas to take a mature bull.

    Longtime guide Tom Quinn said that if you put forth the effort, your chances of taking a 300-class bull in the north are “real good.”

    Famous for its quality elk-hunting opportunities, Unit 4 near Chama will most likely produce a few big bulls in 2008. However, this unit is exclusively private land.

    You’ll need a guaranteed landowner tag or lots of money. If you could afford one, a landowner tag is a great way to avoid the luck of the draw, and enjoy some of the finest hunting with little pressure.

    To the east lies Unit 52, which offers good public hunting opportunities on the Carson National Forest.

    Probably the most coveted tag in the north is Unit 6B, or the Valle Vidal area. Unit 6B has one of the largest elk populations in the state and offers a genuine opportunity at a once-in-a-lifetime trophy bull.

    Elk tags are dispersed using a special draw system. Most of Northern New Mexico experienced an abundance of snowfall this past winter, and this fall the herds should be in great shape.

    West
    Just the mention of the Gila conjures up visions of big bulls. As always, the units around the Gila National Forest produced some of the biggest bulls in 2007.



    New Mexico continues to support a large population of elk located across three major regions within the state, offering the elk hunter diverse opportunities.
     

    Unit 15, a primitive-only unit, has consistently produced large trophy bulls and will continue to do so in 2008. Trophy bulls also reside in Units 16A/D, where a wet winter should ensure quality habitat and plentiful big bulls.

    To the north, units 12 and 13 offer quality elk-hunting opportunities, though they have lower overall elk densities. Still, a few b
    ig bulls will come from these lesser-known units in 2008.

    Just recently, Unit 17 has popped onto the radar as well. This unit provides some rugged country where big bulls prosper throughout the year.

    South
    Earlier this year, the southern portion of the state received below-average precipitation.

    However, the consensus among elk hunters, guides, and wildlife biologists is that elk are extremely adaptive and will find a way to overcome those harsh conditions.

    Weybright, of the DGF, also noted that New Mexico doesn’t face the extreme winter weather conditions that can winterkill the elk herds in the northern states.

    Leading the way in the south is Unit 34, which should provide quality numbers of elk to hunt this fall.

    Although the western elk units should lead the way in New Mexico this year, any tag holder should be happy with the opportunities that 2008 will offer this fall.

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