All About Hunting In New Mexico

New Mexico was founded as a U.S. state in the year 1610. The diverse terrain of New Mexico offers diverse species of game animals.

The ‘Land of Enchantment’ is one of the rare states that offer hunting opportunities for exotic species such as Persian ibex, oryx, and Barbary Sheep. The state also has vast swathes of national forest lands open to public hunting.

Besides providing outstanding hunting opportunities to avid hunters from all over the world, the state bestows beautiful scenic views, thus, drawing hunters from the remotest corners of the world to New Mexico.

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1. Hunting Seasons

Hunting seasons in New Mexico are defined by taking into consideration certain important factors such as breeding or nesting, age or gender distribution, economic and recreational concerns.

The formula is that if the animal population is large, moderators will time it to give the hunters a greater hunting advantage. However, if the animal population is dwindling, the seasons will be set in such a way to give the animals a greater survival advantage. 

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has bifurcated the hunting season into two: Big Game Hunting Season and Small Game Hunting Season. 

How To Hunt New Mexico

1.1 Big Game Hunting Season

Big-game species in New Mexico include deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, ibex, Barbary sheep, oryx, bear, javelina, and cougar. 

  • The general hunting season of deer is from September 1 to November 29.
  • Elk can be hunted between September 1 and January 31.
  • Pronghorn hunting season commences from August 1 to December 15.
  • Bighorn sheep can be hunted from August 6 to January 3.
  • Ibex can be hunted between October 1 and March 31.
  • Barbary sheep can be hunted from October 10 to March 31.
  • Oryx and Javelina can be hunted from September 11 to February 28 and January 1 to March 31, respectively.

1.2 Small Game Hunting Season

Small game species in New Mexico include quail, dusky blue grouse, Eurasian-collared dove, pheasant, turkey, and squirrel.

  • Quail can be hunted from November 15 to February 15.
  • Dusky blue grouse hunting season commences from September 1 to November 30.
  • Eurasian-collared dove can be hunted between April 1 and March 31.
  • Pheasant and squirrel can be hunted from December 10 to 13 and September 1 to November 30, respectively. 
  • The New Mexico Turkey hunting season is from September 1 to 30.

2. What Species to Hunt in New Mexico?

2.1 Deer

In New Mexico, two subspecies of mule deer are found, that is, the Rocky Mountain mule deer and the desert mule deer. They can be spotted mostly in the early morning or late afternoon.

The mule deer are named so owing to its ears, which are large like those of mules. Their antlers fall off during winter and regrow in preparation for the next season’s rut.

A hunter needs to have proper hunting tags and permits to hunt mule deer in New Mexico.

2.2 Elk

Elk is a large animal with heavy antlers and a four-chambered stomach. They have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling.

Elk hides have been used to make blankets, clothing, and footwear. Bow-only either-sex hunts will be limited to 5 consecutive days.

What are Your Chances of Hunting Elk in New Mexico?

2.3 Pronghorn

Pronghorns are the fastest land animal in North America. They resemble deer with long legs, short tail, and a long snout. The females are the same height as males. The feet have two hooves, with no dewclaws.

However, pronghorn is not even slightly similar to any of the African antelope species.

2.4 Bighorn Sheep

Two subspecies of bighorn available in New Mexico are the Rocky Mountain bighorns and the desert bighorns. They are some of the most expensive animals in the world to hunt.

They have a brown skin coat, with a white rump on the backs of all four legs. Males’ horns can weigh up to 14 kg! 

2.5 Ibex

Persian Ibex, also known as Bezoar Ibex, was exported by Iran to New Mexico and was introduced in 1970. Hunting Ibex can be quite challenging because the rugged landscape of Florida, in which it is found, becomes a test for any hunters’ physical limitations and mental stamina. Ibex is considered to be a highly special trophy. 

The Bezoar Ibex is the main ancestor of the domestic goat. Ibex has a dark brown summer coat that changes into a grey-colored coat in the winter. They have a tuft of hair extending from the chin and have a stripe of black from the spine that extends over the shoulder, limbs, and neck.

It is found in rugged topography and is hunted by a spot-and-stalk hunting method. 

2.6 Barbary Sheep

Barbary Sheep, also known as Aoudad Sheep, was introduced in New Mexico during the 1940s. They dwell in the roughest country that they can find, and spot-and-stalk tactics with binoculars are used to locate the herds.

They are sandy-brown, with greyish-brown legs and shaggy hair on the throat. The horns grow outward and are triangular in cross-section. These are some of the most exciting and challenging animals to hunt in New Mexico.

New Mexico Carcass Tag Instructions

2.7 Oryx

Oryx are large animals, weighing 400 to 500 pounds. Black-and-white masks adorn their faces. The current oryx population is 5000 or more. Oryx is the national animal of the State of Qatar, and the company Qatar Airways has an oryx as its logo.

2.8 Javelina

In New Mexico, a majority of the visitors have reported sightings of a single Javelina and not multiple. To alert the javelina of your presence, you should make large noise, mainly, clapping of the hands. It is a medium-sized animal and resembles a pig. They are omnivores.

They have a special type of glands, that is, scent glands, and by the use of which they mark herd territories. 

2.9 Bear

In New Mexico, both black bears and grizzlies live. Black bears are more easily found as compared to a grizzly bear. A black bear has soft fur with broad skulls.

They possess the ability to run at high speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour and move rhythmically. They have excellent eyesight and the ability of visual color discrimination. 

2.10 Cougar

New Mexico has a healthy cougar population of around 4353. Its head is round and the ears are erect. The large front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey. It possesses the ability to leap from the ground up to 5.5m high into a tree. The bag limit is 2 cougars. 

2.11 Quail and Pheasant

New Mexico is the only state that offers four species of quail, that is, Scaled quail, Gambel’s Quail, Northern bobwhite, and Montezuma quail. The daily bag limit is 8.

Pheasant is a long-tailed game bird and has a beautiful plumage. New Mexico provides immense hunting opportunities for hunters willing to hunt pheasants. Hunters need to abide by the hunting norms while going for pheasant hunting. 

2.12 Eurasian-collared Dove

Eurasian-collared dove is a medium-sized bird with a long tail. They make a harsh loud screeching call (hah-hah) lasting about two seconds. It is not a migratory bird. There is no bag limit for dove as long as you have a valid hunting license. 

Hunting In New Mexico

3. Where to Hunt in New Mexico?

3.1 Public Lands

New Mexico owns almost 9 million acres of national forest and 13 million acres of BLM lands. The following list enumerates certain public-owned lands of New Mexico that offers abundant hunting opportunities. 

  • Marquez Wildlife Area, of 15,000 acres, offers excellent elk, turkey, and small game hunting opportunities.
  • Gila National Forest, of 2.7 million acres of land, provides good deer and elk hunting as well as prime trout fishing. 
  • Lincoln National Forest, of 1.1 million acres, offers good elk, deer, and turkey hunting scopes. 
  • Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge of 57331 acres offers good numbers of elk, oryx, and mule deer for hunting. 
  • Carson National Forest, of 1.5 million acres, provides good elk, turkey, and mountain lion hunting opportunities. 

3.2 Private Land

New Mexico has introduced the EPLUS program in recognition of the important benefits that private lands make to the elk populations and hunting opportunities.

Antelope Private Lands Use System (A-PLUS) and the Elk Private Lands Use System (EPLUS) programs are a voluntary agreement between the ranchers and the state. It permits hunters to use the private property in the season while ranchers gain access to public lands for their use. 

Open Gate is another such program in which private landowners can receive annual access payments, limited liability protection, and other benefits in exchange for signing a flexible hunting fishing lease with the Department.

Hunters are required to obtain written permission from the landowner before entering private property. 

4. License Requirements

Depending on the respective age of the hunters, they may be required to have the Hunter Education Number to legally buy a license or permit to hunt. 

4.1 Types of Licenses

4.1.1 New Mexico Resident

A resident is a person who has lived in New Mexico for at least 90 days. Active-duty military members stationed in New Mexico and non-resident students who live in New Mexico and attend an institution in New Mexico are considered residents. All the residents must possess a resident hunting license. 

4.1.2 Non-Resident

All non-residents must have a non-resident hunting license. They must also buy the Habitat Management & Access Validation and Habitat Stamp. 

4.1.3 Youth Hunting License

New Mexico residents and non-residents under 18 years of age may purchase reduced-fee junior licenses.

4.1.4 Senior Hunting License

All residents of age 65 or older are eligible for reduced-fee licenses. 

4.1.5 Disability License

New Mexico residents with severe physical disabilities may be eligible for the reduced-fee Resident Handicapped License. It allows hunters to shoot from a stationary vehicle, have assistance tracking, killing retrieving games.

Mobility Impaired Certificate is available to residents and non-residents with a permanent impairment that restricts mobility. 

4.1.6 Military and Veteran License

Active-duty military members who are New Mexico residents but stationed elsewhere may be eligible for 50% discounts on licenses, permits, and stamps. Moreover, veterans who are residents are also eligible for discounts.

New Mexico residents who were on active duty on or after April 30, 2003, are eligible for a free Game-hunting and Fishing License for a year following their return to New Mexico. 

Resident veterans who have a 100% service-connected disability may be eligible for a free lifetime Game-Hunting and Fishing License. Resident veterans who do not have a 100% disability may be eligible for a reduced-fee Game-Hunting and Fishing License.

4.2 License Expiration

Hunting licenses are valid from April 1 to March 31 of the next year. Special permits are valid only during their authorized hunting seasons.

5. Hunters Education

According to the law of New Mexico, all hunters who are under 18 years of age must complete hunter education certification to obtain a firearm hunting license in New Mexico.

International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA) has adopted a set of basic guidelines. Hunter Education enables students to learn new skills and information and have a safe and successful hunt. 

There are two modes by which you can complete your hunter education courses- Classroom and Online.

You must be at least 10 years old to take the online course.

6. Rules and Regulations

6.1 Distance Regulations

In New Mexico, it is illegal to discharge firearms within 600 feet of homes or businesses or toward others.

6.2 Legal Hunting Hours

In New Mexico, legal shooting hours for the big game, furbearers, and turkey are from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

6.3 Hunter Orange Requirement

In New Mexico, hunters on military properties must wear a minimum of 244 square inches of blaze orange. It is recommended for hunters to wear hunter orange for safe hunting.

6.4 Bag Limits

According to the size of the game animal, the bag limits or tag permits vary. If the size of the animal is small, the bag limit is more and vice-versa.

How to Apply for Draw Hunts

6.5 Can You Hunt at Night?

In New Mexico, raccoon hunters possessing a valid Trapper License may hunt raccoons with the aid of artificial light, which can either be a headlamp or handheld flashlight. It is illegal to shine spotlights or other artificial lights into areas where big game species are present. 

7. Bowhunting

In New Mexico, it is legal to use crossbows to harvest any big game species. They are also legal for use in muzzleloader or any legal sporting arm seasons. 

7.1 Bow and Arrow Requirements

  • It is illegal for hunters to equip crossbows with sights that project light or magnify targets not even when used by disabled hunters for archery-only seasons. 
  • There is no present required draw weights for crossbows in New Mexico.
  • Bolts must feature broadheads, mechanical or fixed, with cutting edges of steel.
  • Bolts are not allowed to be equipped with explosives or poisonous chemicals.
Basics of Bowhunting

8. Game Calls

Game calls refer to the signals emitted by the hunters to tempt the animals to the trap. There are two kinds of game calls: hand-held and electronic. Hand-held game calls are carried out with the aid of wood and plastic and are cost-friendly. 

Electronic game calls are, however, not always considered legal. Recorded or amplified sounds may not be used to hunt any game animal, except coyotes.

Hunter Education – Hunting Ethics


New Mexico is the only state that shelters exotic hunting species and thus automatically gains the status of being a hunter’s paradise. The beauty of the state leaves one in awe! To have a unique experience, you must follow the hunting rules and regulations.

For further details, you can visit the website of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department:


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