If 2022 was any indication of what good feed and timely moisture will do for Arizona elk, 2023 is looking to be even better. Moisture levels and feed are great going into this winter, and bulls harvested during the late hunts were in good shape. We wouldn’t say 2022 was a banner year, but it was definitely better than average with plenty of 350"+ bulls hitting the dirt. The late hunts also proved that with good feed and ample water to spread the elk populations out, busted up racks were at a minimum this year.
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Quality in general if you look at the last five years is up and looking good, although for those who are still looking back to 10+ years ago and comparing, quality is still down from then. Often, we look back to the “good old days” as the bar we measure quality from, and management has changed so much over the last 10-15 years in Arizona that realistically the bar is better measured over the last 5 years. Current management has AZGFD maximising the amount of tags issued in units until there is clearly an issue with quality and then they will slowly start to reduce tags until they can see an upswing and then it’s back to pedal to the metal. The exception to this practice is the units that are managed as “Alternative Management Units,” 1, 9, 10, and 23. Out of all these units, unit 1 has been the black sheep with quality being noticeably lower, but with recent tag cuts and a great population, it is looking better and better.
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Unit 10 has been getting better for quality the last five to six years and has always been home to some of the biggest bulls in Arizona. The tricky part with this unit is the relationship with Navajo Nation who own the Boquillas Ranch, which holds most of the elk within that unit. AZGFD has had a contract to allow unit 10 hunters the opportunity to hunt on this ranch for a minimal trespass fee in the past. That contract expired, and contract negotiations have been much more difficult. As a result, there is no contract in place at this time. This means that as of the time permit recommendations were passed, AZGFD made them based on unit 10 hunters not being allowed to hunt the Boquillas Ranch. Therefore, permits have been cut drastically. Negotiations are ongoing, and if they reach an agreement, permits numbers will go back to the same for elk.
While there is always a puncher’s chance at turning up a giant in the rest of the units throughout Arizona, most have been slowly digressing in quality and 340"+ bulls are becoming very hard to find. Since AZGFD manages their elk herd aggressively, meaning that if a unit has over 35% harvest on the late firearm hunt and has over a 35:100 bull to cow ratio, they don’t hesitate to increase tags. The problem lies in units with topography like 8 and 27 that leaves elk vulnerable to being spotted in big canyons and long-range rifles can pick them off at 800+ yards. Units like these will never gain ground for long because hunters are getting more determined and have better technology to maintain high harvest despite lowering age class. Units with less topography are equally as difficult during the late season to find older age class bulls with no rut and very few vantage points to give hunters the edge.
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Arizona has two separate archery and rifle seasons in most units. They are conducted in September and November/December. The late seasons can be difficult hunts for obvious reasons, like weather and isolated bulls being harder to locate, but they offer significantly better draw odds to allow hunters to still be in a unit with quality animals. However, they have their work cut out for them to harvest an older age class bull. Pay attention to the overall number of late rifle tags as they are very high and often catch hunters off guard who think this is going to be a low-pressure hunting situation due to the number of points required to draw. They are not, and oftentimes, they have the feel of an over-the-counter Colorado or Idaho elk hunt rather than a trophy bull hunt that hunters have come to expect from Arizona. Also, pay attention to a few units that have early and late muzzleloader hunts on them as some units like 1, 9, and 27 will have alternating early hunts that switch from rifle to muzzleloader every other year.
An Arizona elk tag is still one of the most coveted and is among one of the best hunting experiences any hunter can have. It has become a long-haul state for any early archery or rifle bull tag, but it is well worth the wait. We try to give you the best, most reasonable expectations of what Arizona has to offer to allow you to make your own decision if Arizona fits your hunting goals.
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The Arizona Big Game Application Deadline for Elk is 11:59 P.M. (Arizona Time) Feb 14, 2023
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|365-Day Hunting & Fishing License||$160|
|Youth Combo Hunting & Fishing License (ages 10-17)||$5|
|Bonus Point Only Application||$15|
|PointGuard Option (per species)||$10|
|PointGuard+ Option (per year)||$25|
|Elk Permit (youth cow-only hunts)||$50|
Arizona Elk Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine