San Juan River Outfitters

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What are my odds ………………………............  

One of the most frequent conversations I have with potential hunters is regarding the odds of a successful elk hunt in New Mexico. While success is really a multi-faceted issue, generally we’re talking about two major questions: “What are my odds of being drawn for an elk tag?” and “What are my odds of bagging an elk?”

There are virtually no over-the-counter elk tags in New Mexico, so the first step in a successful hunt is being successful in the lottery drawing for a tag. New Mexico apportions a certain number of tags in each hunt unit for each weapon choice and season. These tags are awarded by a random lottery to hunters who meet an April deadline with a proper application. Quality units always draw a higher number of applicants and present harder odds of drawing a tag; One of our most important jobs as an outfitter and responsibilities to you is to study success statistics and present you an educated recommendation. We scout heavily and choose carefully the units in which to set our camps. We select for good game numbers and trophy quality.

While there are many good hunt units in NM , we choose to concentrate our efforts in a limited number of units. We personally attend to our camps and feel we can best serve you by limiting ourselves geographically to certain select areas. Odds of bagging an elk are highly variable in accordance with a number of factors. Your drawn hunting unit as well as seasonal conditions within a given hunt unit change hunting success. Drought has been a big factor in New Mexico in recent years. Personal preparedness and physical conditioning in large measure affect your chances of a kill. We do our homework, scout our areas and place our camps in prime locations. We have a great string of backcountry horses and mules and can always put a camp in a promising location , regardless of how remote. Our guides are top notch and can be invaluable in putting you on an elk.
Below we discuss these two questions a little further. It’s easy to get completely mired down in statistics, but I’ll try to give you a general feel for your chances for that New Mexico dream hunt.

Good Luck 
Good Hunting

…………of drawing a tag?

bull elk For purposes of this discussion, we’ll talk mainly about non-resident applicants applying through San Juan River Outfitters.
Available tags are split between three pools. 6% of all tags are set aside for non-residents applying directly (no outfitter), 10% for non-residents applying through an outfitter, and 84% for residents. These allocations may look a little bleak for the non-resident at first glance, but don’t be misled. Your odds, even in comparison to a New Mexico resident , are actually very good of being drawn. This is due to the relative numbers of applicants in each pool. While residents are allocated the largest portion of tags, there are also huge numbers of resident applicants for those tags. Non-residents applying direct are the next highest number of applicants. Non-residents applying through an outfitter make up the smallest proportion of applicants. By way of illustration let me share the numbers for one our favorite and most popular hunt units in New Mexico, Unit 34. These statistics are for the the archery season in 2005.
There were 891 resident applications for 234 available tags resulting in a 26% chance of a resident drawing. There were 201 non-resident / non-outfitted applicants for 30 available tags resulting in a 15% chance of drawing. There were 107 non-resident applicants in the outfitter pool for 36 available tags resulting in a 34% overall chance of drawing. (Our own applicants beat the odds that year and we drew 65% of our applicants for this hunt, but that’s just luck) You can see from the above illustration that even in a very popular unit the most likely person to draw a tag is often the non-resident outfitted applicant. Your odds only improve in the outfitter pool as you move into less popular and lower demand units. In some units we experience nearly 100% percent drawing success in the outfitter pool, simply because there are fewer applicants than the available tags.
Bottom line, across the board, in the units we hunt , your odds of drawing a tag are usually not less than about 30%, and often much better. I have many hunters who apply with me every year. They find that they will usually hunt once or twice out of every three years.
Visit our "Booking a Hunt" page for a detailed instruction on applying for your hunt. We have a direct link into the Game Department's online application process. Application only requires a $6 fee. Drawing a New Mexico hunt tag would make this possibly this the best best gamble you've ever taken..

………………………..of Killing an Elk?

We do our very best to scout our units heavily and our goal is to place your camp where the elk are and where hunting pressure is lightest. Our livestock and backcountry capabilities help a lot. This is half the battle. Many of our hunters are drop camp hunters, self guided, who need only to be directed to a productive area. We support you with scouting reports, topo maps, tips from our guide staff and we’ll get you started. From there, much of your success depends on your preparation for your hunt. Study all you can find on technique, practice diligently with your calls, and prepare yourself physically. Elk hunting is strenuous and demanding and your success will usually be in direct proportion to your ability to move aggressively and position yourself on the herd. There are many videos out there that make a kill look easy, but you must realize many of these are filmed on private lands on lightly hunted herds. Public lands elk are wary and “educated” to conventional calling technique. You must be mobile and skilled in stalking to make an effective approach to a herd bull.
There are rut crazed bulls out there that will make a mad dash for you and your calls, but these are rare and are usually not the big boys you are here to harvest. Take into account you will probably be at an altitude higher than your home, and your wind will be effected. You’ll be carrying additional weight in gear and your legs must be conditioned to the task. There is simply no substitute for good physical preparation.
Our hunters are usually well impressed with the quantities and quality of bulls in our areas. We are used to seeing 300”+ class bulls every day. Across the spectrum, we enjoy 200-300% shot opportunity. This means a bull in range, either shot, missed, passed on, or blown in the stalk. We are proud of the action our hunters enjoy, and will do our best to bring this quality of hunt to the field this year. Actual kills are of course a much harder task.
Our elk hunters as a whole usually harvest at a percentage of 30 – 50%. Muzzleloader hunts usually present the highest odds of a kill because of the ongoing rut activity and the excellent performance of modern muzzle loading rifles. Our archers in 2004, however , topped the charts with an 80% success rate in our premium units. These were all mature bulls, with the the largest grossing 382

It is important to recognize that there is a trade-off between trophy opportunity and license availability. Lower demand units of course present a better chance of drawing a tag, but also will have lower elk densities and fewer shot opportunities.

Our typical strategy is to direct you to our premium units as first and second choices on your application with of the lower demand units as a third choice or “backup plan” These are still good hunts, but perhaps not the phenomenal action we get in our first choices.

Feel free to call me at either of the numbers below to further discuss a hunt strategy for you.


  For more information select Choosing a Hunt

 John Jaquez
San Juan River Outfitters and Livery Co.
#200 Rd. 4599
Blanco,NM 87412
575-621-6158 (mobile)