Help, Where Can I Hunt?

So, you have been thinking about putting in for the upcoming big game draw. You have been perusing the new hunting Rules and Information Booklet, figuring out what species you want to hunt and checked the draw odds. You have crossed a few things off but still have some uncertainty.

There are definitely a few things to consider if you’re going to apply for the draw, and so far, these may have been some of the easier things you have looked into. However, one thought to consider, and one that can cause a bit of trepidation for some, may be that feeling of, “I’m new to hunting or want to try a new unit, but I don’t know where I can legally hunt.” For seasoned hunters, this may be less of a concern because they may apply for the same areas each year. They know the area well and have had success there, or if they do try for a new unit, they are comfortable because they have learned how to find out where they can hunt legally. When I started hunting on my own, this was one of the big questions that came to my mind. I didn’t want to go to an area and accidentally be hunting illegally because I had unknowingly crossed into private land or an area that had been closed to hunting.

Depending on the unit you choose, knowing that you are on public land may be easier than in other areas. If you are hunting large areas of U.S. Forest Land, say in the Gila National Forest, then it will be a little easier to know you are still located in the forest. Let’s say, though, that where you are hunting, the land status is really mixed with private land, State Trust land, Bureau of Land Management land and U.S. Fish and Wildlife land. It all of a sudden may have become a little more confusing. However, don’t get discouraged. I will provide you with some advice to help you navigate the land status concern and help you feel more comfortable knowing that you are hunting legally.

The first thing you will need to do is decide what unit you would like to hunt and any other units as backup choices when you apply. Once you have decided on the unit, you can dig a little deeper and explore the land status. As an example, let’s look at Unit 45.

Map of unit 45.
Unit 45 map legend.

This is the basic map of Unit 45. This map and other unit maps can be found on our website at:

This map is a great start to learning the overall land status of an area without all of the detail. From this map, you can see that the large green area is the Santa Fe National Forest. This is a pretty good size area to hunt in. You can also see some yellow/tan area that is Bureau of Land Management, which is open to hunting, and a few spots in blue that are State Trust land, which is also open to hunting. From this map, the only areas you need to be concerned with are the white, which is private land, and the orange, which is tribal land. Not too bad.

Map of unit 33.
Unit 33 map legend.

Now let’s look at another unit, Unit 33.

What we can see from this unit is that there is a lot more mixing of different lands. It, in fact, looks a little bit like a checkerboard in parts. Such as the large yellow/tan area that has quite a few boxes of white mixed in. Remember, those white areas are private land. There are also small blue boxes mixed in with the yellow/tan area, which is the State Trust land that can also be hunted. I know it’s getting more confusing but hang with me.

Now what you may be saying is that this general map is great to have an idea of what the land status is like in a particular area, but what do I do when I am on the ground and actually hunting. How do I know I won’t cross into one of those private boxes?

Well, there are a few things that can really help you. The first is obviously to obey all the signs in an area. If you come to a fence that says private property, or no trespassing, then you know it’s private, and you can’t hunt there. With the exception that you went and spoke with the landowner and they gave you written permission to hunt on the property. Remember though, it must be written, not just verbal permission. Other things to look for in an area are signs posted by the land management agency or the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish that says an area is closed to hunting.

Next, is that in our age of technology, there are some great options to help you know exactly where you are on the land with real-time GPS signals and the land status ownership. The best part is they are not too expensive, and one is even free!

CarryMap graphic.

The first option is the free app for your phone or tablet called CarryMap. There is no cost for this service; you just have to download the app and then the New Mexico map. Once you have it on your phone, it will show with a blue dot exactly where you are, even without a cell signal, and what the land status is where you are located. You can also zoom out and see other areas in the state, see roads, and even features like water tanks and fences. This app is a great option if you are not looking for detailed satellite images. I have personally used this one in those checkerboard units and have been able to stay legal because of it.

Another great option for real-time location and land status are apps such as onX maps. These apps do have a small annual charge, but you get some great features like satellite images that can help you scout and tools like downloading maps for offline use. It’s a good one to check out and see if it might be for you if you want the extra features.

You can also check on the land management agencies’ website. They sometimes have online maps that may assist you in figuring out your hunt.

For those of you who are not so technologically savvy or prefer the old tried and true paper map, then you can still get the same kind of land status info. Minus, of course, the moving blue dot showing your location. If you choose this option, you will need to learn how to correctly read a map and find locations. However, this is a useful skill to know in case your phone or GPS battery dies in the backcountry.

Paper maps can be ordered online and for the specific area you will be hunting in. If you are going to be hunting the National Forest, you can order the particular map you need from that agency. If you are hunting Bureau of Land Management land, you can get maps of the area from that agency. The BLM maps also show the State Trust lands.

Sometimes you can also get the maps directly from their offices for a small fee.

Lastly, if you are still unsure, reach out to other hunters to get advice on areas or contact the local conservation officer in the area you want to hunt. Officers can offer some great tips on locations to ensure you are scouting and hunting in legal areas.

Hopefully, with this information and a little research on your part, you will now feel a little less concerned about putting in your draw application for that first-time hunt or even trying that new unit you have been thinking about for years.

About Cody Johnston

Cody Johnston is the Shooting Program Coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.