Creating my own Novice Guide To Hunting The NM Gila Wilderness

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Intro:
Thanks to all the folks who have posted the stories and photos of their hunting experiences, I've learned a great deal from you. I have a rifle tag for Units 16B/22 in the Gila Wilderness this fall and have been studying maps, stories, and all the history I can find. Some of what I've found would make for a good introductory guide to the area but a lot of it is less obvious... the later is what I'm trying to get a grasp on.

------
Reported Common Knowledge:
There are a few common elements I've picked up:
- It's a huge area - Google maps and onXmaps can make it seem smaller than it really is
- Parking gets crowded around the Willow Creek campground during any hunt
- It's remote and a bit rugged - not heavily forested and lots of burn scars
- It can be hot, even in the fall time
- It can be cold and the roads in/out can turn impassable at times
- You need to be in top physical shape (like most elk hunts)
- Elk and water are plentiful except when they are not
- Road access is very limited
- You gotta scout it out and do your homework to hunt it effectively
- Etc

Evidence of some subtle trends and potentially useful hints:
- There are more elk in the northern half, but plenty of elk everywhere
- Elk are often located in the burn scars
- The big bulls and outfitters prefer the interior part of the unit
- The further you get from the road the better the hunting tends to be
- A "pack it out" plan is critical before you have an elk down
- Don't expect to find a water hole and have to yourself for an entire hunt
- Listen for bugles then run and gun in the morning
- Sit the water holes and sweet spots in the evening
- Be aware and prepared for rattlesnakes, bears, and wolves to be in the area
- Don't believe everything you read on the internet
- Etc

--------
A few questions that might help hunters prepare for this area:

What is the nearest town(s) to get supplies:
- Gas station(s)
- Any nearby Restaurants or Hotels
- Food, drinks, ice, ammo
- Medical services
- Cell phone service
- Meat processing options in the area.
- I'm putting together a list of guides and packers but feel free to mention them and provide contact info for them all again

What to pack in:
- Typical elk hunting stuff... plus anything specific to hunting the Gila?
- Communications equipment - 2 way radios - do cell phones work there?

Thanks to anyone who can make a contribution.

Jeronimo
 

hank4elk

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 8, 2015
Messages
4,686
Location
SW NM
Best close your mouth on the drive in. You'll get a mouthfull of dust,bite your tongue or lose your teeth on the drive alone....best to use a mouthpiece.

Cells phones work,except when they don't.
 

cedahm

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 22, 2015
Messages
963
Location
Colorado
16B is classified as ‘not heavily forested’?

guidebook needs editing...
 

TXLonghorn

Active member
Joined
Nov 29, 2020
Messages
131
Been in there 6 times on horseback. There are some good elk in there.
cell phones sometimes work on high peaks.
I left an iPhone up there in 2017. Its in a Lifeproof case. If you see it, would you mind bringing it out?
I really liked that phone.
Good Luck
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Thanks for all those responses. There are no doubt better qualified folks than myself to put together a novice guide for this area... either they haven't done it yet or I haven't found it.

I made mention of the Wilderness in the post title but that prompt would lead me to say/explore more about what the "Wilderness" designation means.

I'd like to hear more of the comments on how dense the forest is there. The unit is about 47 miles across and 27 miles deep so it seems like it really has some of everything. I'm scheduling a scouting trip within the next 30 days so I'll see as much of it as I can in a 4 or 5 day window. Looks like lots of Pinion/Juniper that qualifies as forest but is not typically dense. I do see some pockets of heavy forest although it looks like a lot of that has burned. When I say not heavily forested I mean that it won't immediately remind you of northern Washington or a rain forest somewhere.

I'll keep my eyes open for a cell phone... if you took it in on horseback I may not go in that deep. I was planning on hunting on foot and arranging to have the meat carried out.

I've setup meetings with a few hunters who have frequented the area to gather a bit more info. Feel free to PM me if you have some wisdom to add. Anything that folks want to keep discreet I'll honor that. Anything generic that I discover on my own I'll share. Locations and GPS coordinates will likely be transformed into general terms like the northwest quadrant, southwest quadrant, northeast quadrant, and northwest quadrant...
 

hank4elk

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 8, 2015
Messages
4,686
Location
SW NM
Most of the thick old growth burned in the big fire several years back. The firs,spruce,ponderosa & such. Never was like WA or CA,timber wise. It's sad.
But there is lots of PJ forest untouched & tons of young aspens. So thick it makes glassing hard in spots.
Have not been more than a few miles in in years now,personally.
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
I've hit the Google Earth and onXmaps pretty hard looking for the water sources in 16B. It looks like there are a lot of water sources... well over a hundred that I found plus several streams, creeks, and even a couple rivers. IIRC my hunt allowed 160 permits so it's possible that everyone can have some area with a water source without sharing their hunting spot. I recognize that some spots are better than others so it's still likely to have multiple people wanting the same spot. I know some of the water holes can be dry and it's always an unknown what the late summer rain story is going to be.

We are planning to do a DIY pack-in hunt and I'm looking to find some help packing out anything we knock down. I've gotten mixed reports back on arranging someone to pack it out for us. There are a lot of reports indicating start early lining up a packer and others that indicated they were not able to get a guarantee of availability because the outfitters have obligations to the various clients they are supporting. I've also read and talked to a few folks that said you'll generally find willing help packing one out from the outfitters that are based at the trailheads. Has anyone had good or bad experiences with either of these options?
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
I've done a lot of reading on the Gila and unit 16B and keep finding good resources for learning the area. There are a ton of videos not only for actual elk hunts in the area but also backpacking documentation of some of those hard to get to inner areas. I even found a few videos of drone footage.

My buddy and I are preparing to meet out at his place at Lake Roberts in June and I've been trying to narrow down the options of where to scout at that time. I was studying the trails and trailheads using onXmaps when I discovered another resource that is quite good - https://naturalatlas.com/trailheads/purgatory-2082594


I also found Randy Newberg's series on E-Scouting and it seems he has already put together a lot of good info on how to scout a new area:

Thanks to Randy for publishing this and to all of you for the PM's I've received.
 

Gila

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 8, 2019
Messages
448
Location
New Mexico
I've hit the Google Earth and onXmaps pretty hard looking for the water sources in 16B. It looks like there are a lot of water sources... well over a hundred that I found plus several streams, creeks, and even a couple rivers. IIRC my hunt allowed 160 permits so it's possible that everyone can have some area with a water source without sharing their hunting spot. I recognize that some spots are better than others so it's still likely to have multiple people wanting the same spot. I know some of the water holes can be dry and it's always an unknown what the late summer rain story is going to be.

We are planning to do a DIY pack-in hunt and I'm looking to find some help packing out anything we knock down. I've gotten mixed reports back on arranging someone to pack it out for us. There are a lot of reports indicating start early lining up a packer and others that indicated they were not able to get a guarantee of availability because the outfitters have obligations to the various clients they are supporting. I've also read and talked to a few folks that said you'll generally find willing help packing one out from the outfitters that are based at the trailheads. Has anyone had good or bad experiences with either of these options?
There are reasons why non-residents hire outfitters to hunt the wilderness. In Wyoming I think they still require guide service. In the Gila water is where you find it. It varies season to season. Last year I wasn’t hunting the wilderness but another 16 unit. Maybe 1 in 5 tanks were wet at all. Elk herds don’t hang around every water source. Of all of the water sources that are wet, maybe 1 in 4 are visited by elk on a regular basis. In the Wilderness, that number is way lower. So out of 160 water sources maybe 20 have elk around them, and that number is optimistic. And who would know where they are. You have about 1000 sq miles to cover to find them.

The only reliable way to get an elk out is by yourself. How long do you think it will be before anyone would show up. Either they are on foot or they are on horseback. If it is early archery season, your meat is going to spoil before they can get it out. I don’t see how that is doable without 3 or 4 people in your party. Outfitters don’t hang around trail heads. They are at camp and good luck finding the camps. People don’t give up their fishing, hunting or camping spots around here. Outfitters certainly won’t give up any info either. I don’t know where you are from, but New Mexico isn’t anything like a city park with swing sets.
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
I'm a NM resident and have hunted the rugged mountains in the north part of the state for 40+ years... have packed out my share of elk in both good and bad spots but getting a little old for that. I've got some friends and family that have offered to help out, but I'm leaning toward using some local resources. I've already picked up a couple responses from a couple of folks down in that area that say they will be available... still have fees to negotiate but I was really delighted to hear back from them. We'll see how it all pans out...

Meanwhile, I called the Forest Service Ranger station down in the Gila to do a little more remote scouting and the lady there told me they have a growing fire right now in unit 16B.

The Johnson Fire is approximately 18,184 acres and is burning on National Forest System lands on the Wilderness Ranger District, Gila National Forest. A lightning caused fire that is located 11 miles west of Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Hopefully they get this put out long before the hunting seasons arrive. It will ultimately make for some good hunting area at some point in the future.

It's not really in an area I was looking at to hunt but let's hope they get some moisture in there before it gets too big.
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Getting closer to my scouting trip scheduled for late June. Hoping to narrow down to a short list of trailheads and specific areas we are going to look at. We've kinda sorted it out to a few main categories in unit 16B plus some areas of interest in unit 22. We'll keep studying these and then parse it down to some prime areas that we can look over in the 4 or 5 days we have set aside to scout. Below is a list of the trailheads that provide a bit of an example of how huge this area is... now we just have to trim things down a bit to 2 or 3 spots to focus on.


1) The northwest corner using the trailheads at one of the following:
A - West Fork Trailhead #151
B - Middle Fork Trail #157
C - Snow Lake Trailhead #142

2) The North Central Area
A - Loco Mountain Trailhead #143
B - Aeroplane Mesa Trailhead #705
C - Flying V Trailhead #706
D - Meadow Trailhead #53
E - East Fork Trailhead #804

3) The Gap Between the Wilderness Areas
A - Diamond Creek Trailhead #40
B - South Diamond Creek #68
C - Me own #707
D - Tom Moore #708
E - Middle Mesa #716
F - Lower Black Canyon #72
G - Rocky Point
H - Rocky Canyon #700
I - Mimbres
J - Etc...

4) The Central area of Road 15
A - Military Point #709
B - Alum Camp #708
C - Gilas River East #724
D - Middle Fork #157
E - Woody's Corral #160
F - TJ Corral (Little Bear) #729

4) Unit 22 - Numerous tanks and trailheads

There are additionally a couple more general areas that we have decided not to study for a couple reasons. We just don't have enough time and the access is very limited. These might be spectacular hunting areas... just don't enough time to look into them.

5) The south Side of unit 16B
6) The east side of unit 16B

As a next step we'll look into the places where elk are more likely to gravitate toward in the post rut of late October.
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Looks like things are still in Limbo down in unit 16B over the Johnson fire. Here is the latest report indicating ~88K acres burned and only 11% contained:

Structure assessment continues in the Willow Creek subdivision. A contingency line is being constructed around the Willow Creek subdivision should the fire progress that direction. The northern side of the fire continues to hold on the west fork of the Gila river and is being patrolled by horseback. The northeast side of the fire has been secured and crews will begin removing equipment. On the southeast flank, backing fire was observed in Water Canyon as the fire continued down toward the Gila river drainage. The southern side of the fire is backing into Hidden Pasture Meadow through timber and is exhibiting moderate fire behavior into Turkey Creek towards its confluence with the Gila River. As the southwest side continued to back down Mogollon creek it has reached Seventy-Four Mountain. An additional helicopter arrived on the fire today with an external bucket.

We are going down this weekend to look things over at my buddies place at Lake Roberts. Not sure how much access we'll have to the wilderness until this fire has run it's course. Praying for rain with everybody else in the neighboring states... this drought is taking a toll on our forests.
 

Gila

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 8, 2019
Messages
448
Location
New Mexico
There are always summer fires in the Gila wilderness....wilderness areas in general. There is no logging to take out fuel. Also they will do prescribed burns to help the natural burn along. Natural burns are the way it should be in the forest.
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
I went down to the Gila Wilderness this past week and stayed through the weekend. It was extremely hot and dry when we got there but was raining when I left... so I saw a little bit of everything. With a few exceptions I did not see any green grass except at the sides of the streams or next to a pond. Lots of old dead grass from last year but no new growth anywhere... looked more like a winter range. I talked with locals, a Game Warden, US Forest service workers, and several fire fighters. I learned plenty about the area and improved my insight toward a better hunting strategy.

The Johnson fire was still burning and there was a "no access" order throughout the entire northwest corner of the unit. I talked with numerous members of the fire crews and before the rain started they were starting to get the upper hand on it. After the rain they were just focusing on a few hot spots and were pretty optimistic the worst was over. One of the guys there told me that he worked one large area that was burning for the 3rd time over the old burn scars. He said he expected it to be excellent elk territory at some point in the future.

I drove up into the Gila Cliffs on highway 15, then through the middle of it on Forest Road 150, and also along various roads around the outer perimeter to the greatest extent I could where the roads were open. That much driving helps a person to get the perspective of how big and diverse the area is. Lots of Pinion/Juniper forest, some heavily wooded areas, lots of burn scars of various ages, and managed to see see a few: elk, deer, javelina, and turkey.

Before the rain I hiked in to some of the tanks and it was a mixed bag. Some were holding water and others that looked good on Google and onX Maps were bone dry. While I was there it rained hard on the south side of the unit and scarcely rained at all on the north side. I suspect that has all changed over the last couple days since the entire state seems to be getting rain right now. I took a couple hikes during and after the rain and it was not enough water to start filling the tanks yet. That should change if the rain continues.

The current rain system is predicted to continue over the next 8 or 10 days. That is unusual for us in that it's a steady flow of moisture and raining at all times of the day, not a monsoon type of rain behavior that is expected later in the summer. So it's a real bonus after the really dry winter.

I saw lots of very young calves in the elk herds and some young bulls with early antler growth. Overall everything looked healthy, I was encouraged that maybe this season will be good for us.
 
Leupold Banner

Latest posts

Forum statistics

Threads
96,146
Messages
1,452,419
Members
30,217
Latest member
rockpuck51
Top