New Mexico Hunting and Fishing

New Mexico State Wildlife Agency

Hunting at Bosque del Apache

Hunting in New Mexico

By Martin Frenzel

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

Whether you seek game in the desert or game in the mountains, the state of New Mexico offers sportsmen and women tremendous diversity of opportunity. Quail and javelina frequent our deserts, and gigantic bull elk are found high on our mountains. Even African oryx and Persian ibex are available to the hunters lucky enough to be issued a license during our annual special-hunts drawing of numbers for the tightly regulated seasons.

Big Game

Elk are the premier big game in New Mexico. The state has between 70,000 and 90,000 of the large, regal deer. That's quite a recovery since the beginning of the 20th century, when the state's herds had been decimated and elk were considered extirpated here. But then numerous releases on both private and public lands, combined with conservative hunting strategies, brought these 600- to 800-pound animals back.

The state has many fabulous areas in which to hunt elk, private ranches and Indian reservations among them, but hunters can also find plenty of elk on public lands. A national forest with a worldwide reputation for elk-hunting is the Gila, in southwestern

 New Mexico. Huge bulls are taken every year in the Gila, designated as Game Management Units 16-A through 16-E. Hunters drawing a license for 16-B will need horses, because that unit is predominantly within the Gila Wilderness (the nation's first designated wilderness area), where motorized vehicles are prohibited. Hunters using muzzleloaders or bows go to Units 15-A and 15-B, managed by the Gila National Forest.

In the Lincoln National Forest, elk hunting is good in Game Management Units 34 and 36. Portions of Unit 36 are within the White Mountain Wilderness, where horses would be useful in packing out an animal as big as an elk. In fact, hunting in or near wilderness areas is always a good idea when seeking reclusive species like elk. Other places to consider hunting are the Cibola National Forest in Unit 17; the Santa Fe National Forest in Unites 6, 44 and 45; and the Carson National Forest in Unit 52 and the Valle Vidal.

New Mexico's State Game Commission owns several properties around the state, and some of them-the Colin Neblett, the Sargent, the Urraca and the Humphries/Rio Chama-are excellent places to hunt elk. But they are managed as essentially roadless areas, so hunters are advised to use horses.

Hunters seeking exotic game can apply for the oryx hunts on White Sands Missile Range. These productive African antelope make striking trophies, and the meat is excellent. Although the imported oryx feels quite at home in New Mexico's desert and reproduces easily here, the state does not have enough for everyone who wants one. So these licenses are issued by drawing on a once-in-a-lifetime basis. Other limited-entry licenses include javelina, Persian ibex and both Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn sheep.

Although the numbers are somewhat depressed now due to drought and other problems, the state also has over-the-counter licenses for mule deer and white-tailed deer. Other over-the-counter licenses include wild turkeys, Barbary sheep, bear and cougar.

Hunters may choose their weapons: modern rifles, archery equipment or muzzleloaders. To review the Big Game Proclamation, visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Web site at

Small Game

You won't need horses to pack a limit of blue grouse out of the mountains, but you will enjoy much the same scenery frequented by the elk hunter. The grouse is perhaps New Mexico's premier upland game bird, but quail hunters can argue long and hard with that statement. Quail hunters, however, usually find their quarry at much lower altitudes, in desert grasslands that have their own beauty.

There are four species of quail in the state. The bobwhite quail is found along the east side, from Tucumcari south. Scaled quail and Gambel's quail frequent the grasslands from Carlsbad to Lordsburg. The most rare quail in New Mexico is the Montezuma or Mearn's, a species scattered throughout southwestern New Mexico at higher altitudes than the others.

Mourning and white-wing doves are two other species popular with bird hunters. The numbers of these birds fluctuate depending upon breeding success; and late-summer rainfall can also send them south before the September season opens.

Although New Mexico is frequently thought of as desert, the major rivers and reservoirs do provide some waterfowl hunting. The Game Commission owns farms on the Pecos River and in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, where crops are grown especially for migrating waterfowl and hunting is allowed on portions of those waterfowl-management areas. The farms along the Pecos River also provide some good pheasant hunting, although demand far exceeds supply. For that reason, hunters must apply for permits to hunt the Seven Rivers and W. S. Huey wildlife management areas for pheasants.

Sandhill cranes migrate through the state each winter, and hunts are held along the eastern side of the state from Quay to Eddy counties. Permits for this east-side hunt are available for anyone who wants to participate; but you must get one though a drawing if you want to hunt in the Middle Rio Grande Valley or southwestern New Mexico.

Band-tailed pigeons and two species of squirrel complete the small-game picture in New Mexico. A special federal permit is required to hunt the band-tails, but it is available free from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Division of Wildlife.

So as the old-timers say, Pick your poison, hunters. And good luck the next time you go afield in New Mexico, the Land of Opportunity.

For more information, call the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, 505-827-7911, or visit our Web site at The mailing address is: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, P. O. Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504. 

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