Q&A: What if I was not successful in the 2020-2021 big-game draw?

For a desert state known for limited water, hot temperatures and lots of spiky bushes, New Mexico is also known worldwide as one of the best big-game hunting destinations in the United States. The 2020-2021 draw shattered applications records, but the opportunities are limited.

Above: Two hunters stalk an animal on a 2019 fall hunt. Department photo by Cody Johnston.

In this Q&A with New Mexico Wildlife, Licensing Operations Assistant Chief Chad Nelson highlights opportunities for anyone who still wants to hunt big game in New Mexico.

Below, left: A hunter successfully tags an animal she harvested. Department photo by Carlos Purcella. Below, right: Chad Nelson. Department photo.


?The 2020-2021 Big Game Draw was just completed. How many applicants applied this year and is it an increase over last year? The last five years?
Normally, when the Department talks about “applicants” we’re talking about species applicants, so one person can be more than one applicant if they apply for multiple species. This year, 102,532 people applied for 220,513 hunts. This means that there were 220,513 applicants for the 60,727 draw licenses issued.

Numbers are up from last year in both categories. For the 2019-2020 big-game draw, 98,509 people applied; there was a total of 209,559 total applicants.

The number of applicants has actually been on an upward trajectory for many years, but it’s definitely encouraging to see increases in the number of people applying this year, especially in the middle of everything else that’s going on. For the past several years:
– The 2018-2019 draw had 203,673 total applicants
– The 2017-2018 draw had 189,164 total applicants
– The 2016-2017 draw had 174,786 total applicants

New Mexico’s big-game draw licenses are highly coveted, but more applicants mean more competition for a limited number of opportunities. Doing your homework before you apply becomes more important as the competition increases.

?Are there a lot of left-over licenses for the 2020-2021 big game hunting season? When is the deadline to apply?
There are a total of 767 licenses in 27 hunt codes that were not distributed through the draw this year, due to these hunt codes not having enough applicants. The Department is planning to begin the online-only leftover sale starting at 10 a.m. on June 24. Only New Mexico residents are eligible to apply in the first 24 hours.

The sale is first come first served, and some hunt codes will sell out very quickly because they only have a few or even one license available.

When the sale begins, a list of available hunt codes with the number of licenses available displays with a “Purchase” link, on the right if there are still licenses available (nonresidents will see the “Purchase” link starting at 10 a.m. on June 25).

Customers should also understand that buying a leftover deer or antelope license in this sale counts as a successful draw application and renders the buyer ineligible for the encouragement elk sale two weeks later.

?The opportunity for elk encouragement hunts is also coming up, who can get an encouragement hunt and when will they go on sale? If my child drew for deer, can they also get an encouragement hunt?
The encouragement elk sale will begin at 10 a.m. on July 8. These are not leftover licenses, they are set aside specifically for this secondary sale. For the first 14 days of the sale, only youth who applied for draw hunts (except javelina) and DID NOT DRAW any hunt are eligible. Youth who didn’t apply for draw hunts or successfully drew another species (except javelina) are not eligible. If draw applications were rejected for any reason, the purchaser is not eligible because they did not successfully apply. After the first 14 days (10 a.m. on July 22), the sale opens to eligible seniors (65 and older) who meet the same criteria of having successfully applied, but were not successful for any species (except javelina). 

?What information is online and how can I use it to increase my odds for next year’s draw?
There is a lot of useful information regarding the draw under the Hunting tab on the website. The Big Game and Draw Hunts page includes information about application requirements, how to apply, etc., and the Draw Info, Odds and Success Tips page includes the drawing odds report and tips for how to use it, information about how the draw works as well as tips for how to increase your odds to the extent possible.

The complete drawing odds report shows the number of applicants who applied in each pool for each hunt code for each choice. However, the only choice anyone can fairly accurately determine their odds for is the first choice. This is because the first choice is always the first evaluated, so the number of first choice applicants in each pool can be compared with the number successful for first choice in that pool and provide a pretty good idea of the odds of drawing that hunt as a first choice. The odds for second and third choice are almost always understated, because some number of second choice applicants will have drawn a different hunt as a first choice, and are therefore no longer in that pool. For third choice applicants, an even higher number of applicants (first and second choice “luckies”) are no longer in the pool. The Department usually recommends that folks compare first choice applicants with first choice “luckies” in their pool, which provides a general idea of the odds, but is obviously not exact.

Generally, the best application strategy is to stagger your choices by drawing difficulty. Your first choice should be the most difficult to draw, your second choice should be easier to draw than your first choice, and your third choice should be the easiest. The Department generate the annual drawing odds report in June.

?How does the New Mexico big game draw work?
Each application–whether it is an individual application or a party application–is assigned a random sequence number. The draw then fulfills the licenses for each hunt code by evaluating each application in order (sequence number 1 to about 175,000). The system looks at the first choice and if there are licenses available for all applicants on the application it will distribute them. If a resident applies with a nonresident, there must be at least one license remaining in both pools for the system to award them. If there are not available licenses for all applicants, the system will move to the next (second) choice and then the third choice to attempt to distribute the licenses. Because New Mexico’s draw evaluates all three choices before moving to the next application, it is possible for an application to be successful for a hunt code as a second or third choice, even if a different application has the same hunt code as the first choice.

There are also multiple rounds in the draw: Round one uses the quota distribution determined by the application of state law (84% to residents, 6 % to non-residents and 10% for individuals applying with a signed guides’ contract), round 2 is New Mexico resident only, round 3 is next in sequence regardless of drawing pool. After the first three rounds of the draw are completed, all unsuccessful deer and elk applications that have selected a 4th choice quadrant are evaluated in round 4. The system goes through the hunt codes in each quadrant to see if any hunts have not been filled. If any hunts are available, they will be distributed to applicants who A) chose the applicable quadrant as a 4th choice and B) selected a hunt with the same weapon type as their first choice.

?Are there other opportunities for hunting in New Mexico?
Unsuccessful big-game draw applicants already have a game hunting license, which is valid for hunting small game (which includes upland game and migratory game birds). Seasons for upland game (grouse, pheasants, quail, game squirrels and Eurasian collared doves) and migratory birds (all other doves, band tail pigeon, Sandhill crane, ducks, geese, etc) will be available in the Small Game Hunting Rules and Information booklet, available later this summer.

Over-the-counter licenses are available for some species online and at license vendors, but OTC big-game licenses are primarily private-land hunts. OTC public-land hunts are available for Barbary sheep, bear and cougar, as well as ibex outside the Florida Mountain hunt area. Fall turkey and javelina public-land licenses will be available July 1. Private-land only licenses are currently available for oryx, and will be available July 1 for deer, pronghorn and Barbary sheep. Private-land licenses for elk require an authorization from a landowner, and can also be purchased OTC.

Draw hunts for pheasant and Sandhill crane are available. The application usually opens for these in mid to late July.

Migratory bird hunters must have a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number, and waterfowl hunters (ducks and geese) must purchase a Federal Duck Stamp, which will also be available July 1.

The Department will conduct the special oryx draw for injured service members (50% disability rating from VA required) after the application deadline in late July. Successful applicants must purchase the appropriate license(s), and are normally escorted by WSMR or Department staff.



It is the mission of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to conserve, regulate, propagate and protect the wildlife and fish within the State of New Mexico, using a flexible management system that ensures sustainable use for public food supply, recreation and safety—and to provide for off-highway motor vehicle recreation that recognizes cultural, historic and resource values while ensuring public safety.