Here’s some options that might improve your odds of staying in the hunt, even if you don’t luck out in the lottery (for this year’s lottery results and ways to improve your odds see second story below).
First and foremost, check the state Department of Game and Fish’s website regularly at www.wildlife.state.nm.us. and read the Big Game rules and information manual carefully.
Hunters have until April 9 to apply for most big game public land hunts including elk pronghorn antelope, ibex, javelina and bighorn sheep with results available June 18, 2008.
If you fail to draw out, stay alert, the department frequently offers late season hunts to fill licenses that weren’t taken or to meet game management goals.
For instance, the Valles Caldera hosted special hunts for cow elk during the first two weekends of December 2007 for 37 lucky hunters at the cost of a $59 license and a $300 access fee.
Compare that with an outfitted and guided hunt on the Valles Caldera that can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 during the prime hunting season.
The Caldera boasts a herd of about 3,000 elk, spectacular country and restricted access that guarantees a quality hunting experience. They also offer their own lottery with results coming out before the state’s so hunters can participate in both. Check their website at www.vallescaldera.gov for more info.
Needless to say the late season special hunts were snapped up by online applicants within 30 minutes of going on sale, said Dan Williams, spokesman for the department.
“Anyone who gets to hunt there should feel very privileged,” he said.
But the hunt to meet management goals was marred by inclement weather that restricted hunter mobility, said Dennis Trujillo, Valles Caldera Preserve manager.
“It was challenging to say the least,” Trujillo said of the first year effort at managing such a hunt. Thirty-seven hunters harvested 22 animals, he said.
Those hunters got to go hunting because they were quick to jump on an opportunity that arose. The department issued a total of 329 licenses, 100 for muzzleloaders and 229 for any legal sporting arm during that particular special hunt.
Every year thousands of private landowners in New Mexico receive hunting authorizations from the Department of Game and Fish that they can use, sell or barter away.
The programs are called A and E-Plus and they issue landowners hunting permits in exchange for their providing habitat to wildlife. The permits can then be redeemed for a hunting license.
Hunters can negotiate with a landowner involved in the program to obtain an authorization and then use it to buy a license from the department.
For instance, during the 2006/2007 hunting season landowners received about 17,000 authorizations under the E-Plus program, which resulted in about 9,700 licenses being issued, Williams said.
The state also issued 31,878 elk tags in the public drawing that season with 78 percent going to New Mexico residents, he added.
Hunters on public land had a success rate of about 30 percent compared with 59 percent on private land that season, Williams said.
The state’s elk herd varies anywhere between 70,000 to 90,000 elk with about 30 to 35 percent of those being bulls, he said.
The A-Plus antelope program in 2006/2007 resulted in 4,326 authorizations being issued and 3,266 licenses being sold while the public drawing resulted in 1,524 licenses being issued, Williams said.
Many of these authorizations end up being sold to guides and outfitters who in turn offer them to out-of-state hunters who pay a premium for hunting here, said Bob Gerding of Bob Gerding’s Outdoor Adventures.
But some landowners hang on to their permits and then sell them on the open market if they don’t put them to use.
“Many times the offices know of someone who has them available,” he said.
Hunters can also find information about the E and A-Plus programs — including lists of participating landowners — online at the department’s website.
Gerding recommends a hunter pick a hunting unit that he or she may be familiar with and start their search from there.
Hunters playing the open market have to take into consideration a number of variables including whether the hunt is on a private ranch or unit wide, Gerding said.
Hunters should keep in mind that at the time of the hunt, animals may no longer frequent the private ranch for which the authorization was issued, thus a unit-wide authorization would be preferable.
However, on a large private ranch, that may not be an issue.
Another issue is hunters may want to make arrangements with a landowner before the public draw concludes in an effort to lock in a hunt.
But waiting until late in the season can sometimes result in a better deal, he said.
These and other variables are the reason why outfits such as Gerding’s are in business, to help hunters negotiate the complexities of hunting in New Mexico.
The department’s website also features lists of guides and outfitters for hunters to consult and Gerding said he is always willing to help someone in the hunt for a license.
Hunters who fail to draw out can also try to find a private landowner within a specified hunting unit where deer hunts are allowed – consult the proclamation for more information. A hunter with written permission to hunt deer on private land may then purchase an over-the-counter license.
Unlike the A and E-Plus programs, there is no departmental listing of private landowners who offer hunting on their land.
And if all else fails, hunters who draw out for a big game hunt can look into bear, cougar, turkey and other game that can be hunted with an over-the-counter license.
“If you’re like me, where getting out there is the most important thing,” said Williams, “then any hunt’s a great hunt.”
Hunters who submit multiple applications for different big game hunts stand the best chance of drawing a license, according to a recent state Department of Game and Fish study.
The study of drawing odds based on the 2003 through 2006 hunting season showed hunters who submitted an application for elk, deer, antelope and oryx stood a 77-percent chance of drawing a license for at least one of those hunts during the study period, said Dan Williams, department spokesman.
Submitting an application for just one hunt such as antelope or oryx resulted in less than a 10-percent chance of drawing a license in any one year, Williams said.
A single application for deer stood a 16-percent chance of drawing out at least once during the study period while the chances for elk were much better, coming in at 39-percent, Williams said.
Hunters can improve their luck of the draw next year by studying the department’s odds report and tips posted in the hunting section of the department’s website at www.wildlife.state.nm.us
This year hunters submitted 172,536 applications which resulted in 56,796 hunting licenses being awarded on June 18, Williams said. About a 33-percent success rate overall.
Williams released the following statistics related to the drawing for big game hunting licenses for the 2008/2009 season:
The department received 68,963 applications for 20,253 available elk licenses and 20,199 were awarded. State residents received 16,381 of those elk licenses while non-residents obtained 3,817.
Hunters submitted 66,717 applications for 34,814 available deer licenses and 32,717 were awarded. Non-residents picked up 5,382 of the deer licenses while state residents received 27,331.
Antelope drew 18,535 applications for 1,689 available licenses and 1,685 were awarded with 1,340 going to state residents and 342 to out-of-state hunters.
Bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex licenses do not fall under the department’s quota system which earmarks 78-percent of public draw, hunting licenses to state residents, Williams noted. However, it should be noted that Bighorn sheep drew more applications from out-of-state residents, 5,612, than state residents, 4,128.
Ibex attracted 5,132 applications for 175 available licenses, all of which were awarded with 118 going to residents and 57 to non-residents.
And Javelina resulted in 3,449 applications for 2,005 available licenses with 2,004 being awarded, Williams said. Residents obtained 1,846 of those licenses while non-residents received 157.
Any minor discrepancy in the final tally of some hunts reflects the issuance of licenses for military use on McGregor Range in southern New Mexico, Williams said.
More hunters used the online application system this year, about 75-percent, Williams said.
Adopted by the state several years ago, the online system allows hunters to forgo submitting money up front for a license and eliminates the paperwork involved.
And the system makes applying and checking for results as quick as the Internet will allow.
This year the department’s website performed well this year in handling the increased number of hunters going on online to check drawing results, Williams said.
“Everything went pretty smoothly,” he said. “We had plenty of bandwidth to work with this year.”
Last year the department’s website nearly crashed and burned as the site received about 1.8 million hits from hunters seeking results of the annual drawing.
This year the site saw 2.7 million hits but took it all in stride due to the increase in bandwidth designed to accommodate higher volume traffic, Williams said.
This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Outdoors section.