Unit 23 Rifle Mule Deer: Hunt Overview
Updated: 4 days ago
Mule deer live in nearly every habitat type within unit 23. The unit is diverse and large. Overall mule deer populations in GMU 23 are well below their historic averages primarily due to prolonged drought conditions and an ever changing environment. In recent years precipitation has improved, benefitting the mule deer of Central, Arizona. The unit at times appears never-ending with great vehicular access to many unfettered wild areas. It is country that draws you in with curiosity and reveals enough to always pique your interest.
The Northern and high elevation portions of the unit are made up primarily of Ponderosa Pine dominated forests, below the Mogollon Rim and parts of the Sierra Ancha Mountains. Lower elevation and Southerly sloped are predominately Piñon-Juniper landscapes. Drier and more exposed sloped tend towards either Prickly Pear and grass or Shrub Live Oak and Mazanita biomes.
*Check out our Deer Hunt Application Picks page for info on our preferred draw choices for the year.*
What does it take to draw a 23 Mule Deer permit for Residents and Non-Residents?
November Mule Deer tags for unit 23 took from 4-10 Bonus Points to secure in most cases. With no Bonus Points the draw odds were roughly 8.5%.
The December rifle season will likely take at least 13 BPs to draw. With only 15 tags available it makes for a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.
The unit has somewhat of a cult like dedication from Resident hunters, despite the fact that it is not well known for big giant deer. Because trophy quality is moderate on this hunt, Non-Residents tend to apply elsewhere, thus the great draw odds. We consider the November season to be an "opportunity" category hunt with mature representative deer as the average but lacking in true trophy class potential. The December hunt would fall in the "Trophy" catagegory.
How do the 23 rifle Mule deer hunts compare to other draw rifle tags?
Our characterization of the early season rifle mule deer hunt is that of "Opportunity." Compared to other Central Arizona units like 21,22, and 24B unit 23 is pretty on par quality wise. Mule Deer inhabit pocketed areas throughout the unit and much of the desert transitional portions in the Southern end. Since unit 23 is below the Mogollon Rim, by definition all of the Mule deer in the unit would be categorized by SCI as Desert Mule deer. Many portions of the unit where Mule deer live are definitely not "desert" habitats, aside from the southern fifth near Roosevelt Lake. Since these deer are on the Northern extent of the desert sub species and butt up against the contiguous habitat of the "Rocky Mountain" sub species, above the rim, these deer physically exhibit characteristics that blend the two. Trophy potential on average is fairly moderate. 135-165 is the category most mature bucks will fall under. However, that isn't to say there is not potential for something larger to be taken. It simply just isn't the norm. The incredible and unique habitat Is what makes this hunt more than other Central AZ hunts.
The NEW, as of 2021, December Rifle Season offers a serious increase in opportunity to kill a "Trophy" class deer 170" or greater. This late-season opportunity overlaps the beginning of the Mule Deer rut and the higher deer activity lends itself tremendously to the increased quality. If you aren't caught up in competition of "score" then this hunt lacks nothing.
When we are looking for a reliable, relatively easy-to-draw, and fun mule deer hunt the unit 23 is high on our list. Our years of experience and generations of knowledge hunting the unit make it and experience that is always interesting and exciting. Although populations may still be well below their historic figures, it is our opinion that many of the mule deer groups in unit 23 have made substantial comebacks over the last 5-7 years.
The Arizona Deer Draw Deadline is the second Tuesday in June annually. Do not miss out on your opportunity to hunt Arizona!