The best term to describe 2021 sheep hunts is “status quo.” Looking at all the sheep units nonresidents are eligible to draw, there is only a two-tag difference from last year. No units were added to the mix, and none dropped out of the mix. The only major change to sheep hunts this year is the splitting of Arizona’s best Rocky mountain sheep area 6A/22 North. The number of tags stays the same, but now those two units are separated into individual hunts. This is in response to most hunters harvesting rams from the easier access areas in unit 6A. Outside of this change, Arizona sheep hunts this year look the same as 2020.
If you are looking for a giant Desert bighorn ram, Arizona is hard to beat. Out of 31 different units non-residents can draw a tag in, 13 of them produced a 170"+ ram in 2020. Of those 31 units, 3 of them have multiple hunts on them, so there are actually 35 separate Desert sheep hunts for non-residents to apply for. A 160"+ ram is possible in almost every unit in the state, but this extremely high trophy quality comes at a price. Arizona manages their sheep over and above the criteria they have set in place to maintain at least 75% of their class 3 and 4 rams into the following year. They are one of the most conservative states when it comes to protecting the older age class rams. It is a trophy hunter’s paradise with very low tag numbers in comparison to the population, which results in a chance to pick through multiple rams and be picky on the one you want to harvest.
Desert bighorns are by far and away the more abundant of the two sheep species in Arizona and have far more options to apply for. Just under 90% of all sheep tags issued in Arizona are for Desert bighorns. It is for this reason that if you are looking for the best odds of drawing a tag, it will be found in the Desert bighorn category. In Arizona, there are two main factors that dictate how many applicants apply for specific units, so when going down through the tables, keep these factors in mind. Number one is the ruggedness of the unit and how physically demanding it can be to locate rams. Number two is the trophy potential within that unit. One important note is that all units in Arizona are managed for 100% success even though some units might require more effort and have genetically smaller rams on average than others.
Although there are fewer Rocky bighorns, they make up for that in quality. Arizona now has seven different Rocky bighorn units and eight total hunts. Nonresidents are eligible to apply for five of the eight hunts. Even with the split in the once joint unit area of 6A and 22 North, there is not an increase in the overall number of hunts available. This area had two 21-day hunts that took place back to back, and there are still two hunts, but they are now a month long for each unit. Most Rocky bighorn units within Arizona can be as physically demanding as you want them to be, except for 27 Upper Blue River. All hunts have good trophy potential with the average ram score of Rocky units eligible for non-resident tags being 169". There is truly 170"+ potential in every Rocky unit.
The most important thing to pay attention to in Arizona is where the random permits typically go. The reason we want to focus on those units that don’t spit out as many giant rams is because of the way Arizona conducts its sheep draw. Arizona awards 20% of the permits to applicants with the highest number of bonus points in the draw (bonus pass).The non-resident quota is set up so that non-residents can only draw up to 10% of the overall statewide sheep quota, which is 12 total sheep permits for the 2021 season. That is the only bright spot when it comes to non-resident applications because typically 90%-100% of non-resident permits are allocated in the random draw where everyone has a shot at drawing them. The odds are that almost all of the bonus permits will be awarded to resident applicants in units that typically produce giant rams. In the sheep tables, we listed the total number of permits and number of available permits in the random draw for each unit. Pay attention to this stat if you have less than 31 points and avoid those units that historically issue all tags in the bonus pass.
General Season | Oct. 1-Dec. 31
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Ahe Arizona Big Game online application deadline for sheep is 11:59 p.m. Arizona time on June 8, 2021.
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Arizona Bighorn Sheep Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine