Arizona Elk Hunt Draw: What Units Should I Apply For?
Updated: Feb 2
What elk units should I apply for? My go-to initial response is "it depends." The draw structure, management practices, elk population levels, and hunter interest results in Arizona being one of the more difficult states to acquire a tag in. What exactly you are looking for when it comes to an elk hunt is Arizona? There are four categories that most bull elk hunts fall into. In order to answer this question in the best way possible I often asked people a series of questions in response.
What is your experience level with hunting elk?
Are you after a particular size elk or is the opportunity to hunt more important?
Do you have a specific elk hunting experience you are after?
What weapon types are you familiar with?
How long are you willing to wait for a tag?
Many hunters already have a preconceived idea of what they would like to achieve, accomplish, or experience in a hunt. I start with a hunter's experience level when recommending hunts.
Experience is often going to dictate the level of difficulty an individual is willing to deal with, both in obtaining a tag and during the hunt.
Experience lends itself to patience. Patience allows for higher probabilities of drawing "trophy" quality hunts. Experience also makes much more difficult hunts a more reasonable option. In many cases seasoned hunters have far more specific considerations to evaluate. Arizona is a state you must intend to apply for multiple years in order to draw a tag.
It is my opinion that first-timers to elk hunting should be looking at tags with a balance of higher draw odds and moderate success rates. You can't hunt if you don't draw! For many new hunters, getting in the field is often the highest consideration. Elk trophy quality is not always a major concern. For someone in this category, I'd suggest easier to draw hunts like mid-tier early archery or late rifle and I would avoid any of the unusual or limited-opportunity hunts.
For the expert or for the novice, make the most of your elk hunting application and tailor you choices to fit with the exact hunt experience you're after. If you are unfamiliar with the AZ Draw process I'd suggest reading our post Understanding the Arizona Big Game Draw and Application Process.
Late Archery: Easiest to Draw, Hardest to Hunt
If you are looking for ultra-high draw opportunity then a late season archery tag can provide 100% draw odds in many units. The draw back to these hunts comes in the form of hunter success, which is very low. The time of year these hunts occur is post-rut in mid November. Finding quality bulls is extremely difficult. The terrain bulls are in during that timeframe is rugged and thick and its an archery season. These hunts are best suited for someone with a lot of free time, a high degree or skill, locals with inside knowledge, or those just bored or crazy enough to try it while knowing failure is very much an option. Drawing a late season archery bull elk tag can typically be done with 0 to 3 bonus points for a resident hunter. Non-residents get in the game from 2 to 5 bonus points in many cases. Understand what you are getting yourself into, this is a hunting opportunity with very low success rates and a track record for low quality bulls. We do not recommend these hunts.
Late Rifle: Best Draw odds for Firearms Hunts
The next rung up the ladder and a drastic increase in quality are late season "general" rifle bull elk hunts. Late season rifle hunts take place in late November to early December. Success rates are drastically higher than that of late archery seasons simply because firearms are substantially easier to kill elk with at much greater distances. As a result of the higher success rates draw odds are lower. These hunts are much more desirable. Elk antler sizes on bulls killed during the late season hunts average much less than those killed during the early bull elk seasons for several reasons. Many bulls have broken racks following the frenzy of the rut. Bulls prefer different habitat types during the late season tending toward secluded, isolated, and topographically rugged locations and many of the biggest bulls live in places where they cannot be reasonably hunted. Using a rifle and having a high success rate are the two most compelling factors for applying for a late rifle hunt. Many late season Arizona bull elk hunts for residents can be drawn with 6 to 11 bonus points. For non-residents most of the tags worth hunting will range from 7 to 12 bonus points. If you are at the upper end of these point ranges always consider changing your draw strategy to a higher quality hunt choice, such as early archery.
Early Archery: Peak Rut, Two Week Season
Next we move into the far more coveted tags of the early archery bull elk seasons. These coincide with the Arizona elk rut and make for a far different and often more dramatic experience when it come to elk interactions. Bulls are incredibly vocal during the rut and encounters can be close. If you have any familiarity with elk hunting "the rut" experience is probably high on your list, especially in Arizona. These hunts can be a nonstop adrenaline rush with screaming bulls and encounters with giants. Archery tags offer the best draw odds of any rut timeframe hunts. For a resident, most early Arizona archery hunts can be guaranteed to be drawn from 7 to 15 bonus points. Nonresidents can count on drawing AZ tags with anywhere from 8 to 20 bonus depending on the specific hunt number. Early archery hunts are at the top of our list when it comes to picking hunt choices that offer the greatest combination of experience, trophy quality, and draw odds.
Early Rifle/Muzzleloader: Most Coveted, Largest Bulls
Lastly, it doesn't get any harder to guarantee yourself an AZ tag than applying for "trophy" rifle or muzzleloader units. These hunts have phenomenal success rates, high quality bulls, and offer a great hunt experience. These hunts are again during the peak rut timeframe and big mature bulls are going to be the easiest to kill during these hunts. There is a catch however. Even as a resident of the state of Arizona it can take anywhere from 11 to 24 bonus points to get a tag. Nonresident odds are bleak for many of the top hunts taking 14 to 24 bonus points. If trophy quality and hunting the iconic top tiered units with a firearm is your goal, the only option is to wait.
There are many hunt options to choose from and many people will apply for the most sought after early season "trophy" hunts. If you aren't caught up in that game, your opportunity to hunt Arizona increases substantially. Most of the hunts we suggest people apply for are early archery and late rifle hunts. If you plan on hunting with us, check out our blog series of unit breakdowns labeled "Hunt Overview" describing some of our most preferred elk hunts throughout the years. We will continue to add and update individual hunts there.
Not all elk units are created equal. Neither are all elk hunts within that unit. There are trade offs for each and every situation. Use your resources wisely and make the most of your Arizona Elk hunting experience. If you have any questions regarding the Arizona elk hunt application process or if you'd like to hunt with us at CTK, we can get you applied for your optimal hunt choices.
The 2020 Arizona Elk Draw Deadline is February 11th. Don't miss out on your opportunity to chase giants, visit the Arizona Game & Fish Department website and select "Apply for a Draw." For season dates, review the 2020 Pronghorn and Elk Regulations.