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The Best Elk Hunting Units in New Mexico for Your Next Hunt

Best Elk Hunting Units in New Mexico

I was fortunate enough to go to New Mexico and put my elk-hunting skills to the test.

If you are in the area and want to try it out for yourself, you’ve come to the right place.

New Mexico offers a lot of public and private units for hunting, so you can expect to spend a lot of time outdoors and get your feet wet in the elk-hunting game.

To find the best units, keep reading!

The Best Elk Units in New Mexico

1. Cibola National Forest: GMU 13 & GMU 17

In the state of New Mexico, there are many game management units.

At the top of the list are GMU 13 and GMU 17, which are in Cibola National Forest. These are some of the best elk units I’ve found!

According to IUCN, this forest is category VI. It’s a protected area with sustainable uses for its natural resources.

There’s a mix of areas in natural conditions with areas that are under non-industrial use. Thus, only primitive weapons are allowed here.

The place is well-controlled by the officials to be safe for all hunters. It’s unlikely to catch a monster bull or other kinds of dangerous animals too. 

I like that I was the only one in this unit at the time as there is a limitation for the permitted people who can enter the zone.

In New Mexico, both game management units 13 and 17 have the best draw odds. They produce a portion of trophy bull elks every year for the state.

I’ve had a lot of successful hunts in this area, and I’m sure you will too!

GMU 13

GMU 13 is 6,000 – 7,500 feet in height with rough terrain and rocky mountains.

There are also various kinds of vegetables that cover these units like pinion and ponderosa.

The number of elks inhabiting here is dramatically lower than other places in New Mexico.

The small and average deer may be lured away by bigger ones here too. 

However, game management unit 13 is the place where the largest subspecies in the state live.

GMU 17

GMU 17 has the same physical structure as GMU 13, but it is even higher. 

Although it’s steeper and more dangerous, hunting in this unit is more rewarding.

It has a better population of elks, and some of the biggest elks that are harvested each year come from GMU 17.

If you choose this unit, it’s likely you can hunt trophy bulls and elks annually.

2. Northwest Region: GMU 2A, 2B and 2C

Another place among the best elk units in New Mexico is in the northwest region, which is where the GMU 2A, 2B, and 2C lie.

While the population in the first area was more controlled, this area had a MUCH HIGHER population.

I saw so much wildlife that I didn’t know where to start.

Plus, a higher population means more chances and targets for hunting. Along with the quantity, GMU 2 is also a very high-quality location.

I saw lots of big bucks here which are 400 class or above. These are also the units that produce a bunch of trophy bulls every year.

Combining this with its high population, you’ll surely enjoy and have a good hunting session.

I didn’t feel too bad if I missed an elk or large deer because there was always another one roaming around!

It would be best to not be hesitant in these areas because you can always catch a bigger buck every so often.

What are Game Management Units?

Of course, it’s dangerous to let people just go and shoot everywhere and anytime they want.

It would be best to have officials moderate hunting and support elk hunters to have a better experience.

For this reason, game management units (GMUs) were developed and their job is to control various hunting activities.

The best elk hunting units in New Mexico are professionally handled by said GMUs.

Moreover, by dividing each state into many units, the officials can make hunting regulations simpler and more specified based on each area.

Many GMUs are chosen based on different aspects.

Some of these aspects could be land use, human density, habitat, and recognizable physical features, among others.

Two Men posing with a hunted elk

However, there is one aspect that defines a game management unit: private/public land ownership.

With that, having a private landowner permit is very important to hunters. 

Having this license allows you to shoot every species within the entire unit, regardless if it’s private or not.

This can be a lot more convenient than trying to find a good hunting area in public land.

Any GMU that offers applications for a private permit will be more attractive and promising than other units that do not.

Criteria for the Best Elk Hunting Units in New Mexico

In order to figure out the best units for New Mexico elk hunting, I narrowed down four points of criteria for a good elk hunting unit.

Elk Population

Obviously, this is an important factor to consider. Crowded units full of elks will increase the chances of getting a buck.

Large Bulls

The size of elks in the units is also something to take into account. Big bulls are more valuable and attractive than smaller ones.

Beating these powerful animals is also more exciting and can prove your efficiency even more.

The common large elks are the 400 class, which are the most common targets for hunters in the U.S.

The Popularity of the Unit

People will prefer better places to hunt, so more popular units are actually more successful. You can count on these units the most!

The downside of a popular unit is that the more popular it is, the more likely that more people with also try to elk hunt there.

The increased number of shooters can reduce the number of targets you can hunt.

This can also greatly reduce the already slim chances of getting a big buck.

Why New Mexico?

Landscape of New Mexico

New Mexico is the ideal place to shoot big bucks! 

There are a lot of advantages for elk hunters in this state, from geological characteristics to management styles.

You can even purchase your own hunting land in New Mexico as well! New Mexico elk hunting is definitely popular among experienced hunters.

The population of bulls is HIGH, and some trophy bulls are produced each year too. 

When you check the draw odds from many websites, you’ll still often see this state sitting at the top spot.

Moreover, New Mexico allows up to 4 people per application, which is great for those who are hunting in a group.

In some quality units, when you purchase the private permit, you also have guaranteed tags.

This helps make hunting elk herds feel easier, more relaxing, and more enjoyable.


People posing with hunted bull elks

New Mexico is definitely one of the best places for elk-hunting.

With nearly a hundred of game management units in New Mexico, the Cibola National Forest and Northwest Region stand out to be the best out there.

There are A LOT more places that I have yet to discover, but for now, I’m perfectly fine settling with these two units.

Whenever you want to elk hunt for some 400 class bucks or even a trophy bull elk herd, head out to unit 13, unit 17, unit 2A, 2B, and 2C.

My New Mexico elk hunting experience was truly memorable, and I’m sure yours will be too!

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