New Mexico unit 51 setting my goal too high?

Montan'n

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Jul 19, 2023
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Hey everyone, I have a New Mexico unit 51 rifle elk tag for the third rifle season (Oct. 21-25). I'm hoping to get a little more information about this unit. I have never done an out of state hunt, only hunted locally in southwest Montana. I am able to fill my elk tag every year so I have a decent understanding of what it takes to kill an elk in general units here in Montana. I won't be able to drive down to do any scouting or looking around before my season dates. I do plan to arrive 3-4 days before the season to do some scouting. From what I understand its a big unit and there are lots of roads. When hunting in my home state I prefer to hunt as far from roads as possible but it looks like in a lot of unit 51 the furthest you can get from a motorized road is about 2 miles. I've also heard that many locals take trucks and atv's down non-motorized roads. One of my concerns is the motorized traffic and how it will affect the elk behavior? Another is, with it being the 3rd rifle season, what affect the first two rifle seasons will have on elk behavior? My goal for this hunt is to harvest a mature bull, ideally a 6 point bull. I will be hunting with my brother so it won't be a solo hunt. We are willing to pack a bull out of any canyon or hole in the unit. We're going into this hunt with the mindset of no bull too far, too deep, too steep etc. What can I expect for mature bull behavior during the time of my hunt? Do they all go to private? Do they go nocturnal? I would imagine there are only small windows of time in the AM and PM to catch them on there feet. I would also guess by that time of year the mature bulls are off by themselves recovering from the rut. Are there certain areas or terrain features I should focus on to find an older bull? I'm not looking for waypoints, just basically wondering if we hunt very hard the whole time we're down there, will turning up a mature bull be more a matter of luck than hunting skill or effort?
 
Hey everyone, I have a New Mexico unit 51 rifle elk tag for the third rifle season (Oct. 21-25). I'm hoping to get a little more information about this unit. I have never done an out of state hunt, only hunted locally in southwest Montana. I am able to fill my elk tag every year so I have a decent understanding of what it takes to kill an elk in general units here in Montana. I won't be able to drive down to do any scouting or looking around before my season dates. I do plan to arrive 3-4 days before the season to do some scouting. From what I understand its a big unit and there are lots of roads. When hunting in my home state I prefer to hunt as far from roads as possible but it looks like in a lot of unit 51 the furthest you can get from a motorized road is about 2 miles. I've also heard that many locals take trucks and atv's down non-motorized roads. One of my concerns is the motorized traffic and how it will affect the elk behavior? Another is, with it being the 3rd rifle season, what affect the first two rifle seasons will have on elk behavior? My goal for this hunt is to harvest a mature bull, ideally a 6 point bull. I will be hunting with my brother so it won't be a solo hunt. We are willing to pack a bull out of any canyon or hole in the unit. We're going into this hunt with the mindset of no bull too far, too deep, too steep etc. What can I expect for mature bull behavior during the time of my hunt? Do they all go to private? Do they go nocturnal? I would imagine there are only small windows of time in the AM and PM to catch them on there feet. I would also guess by that time of year the mature bulls are off by themselves recovering from the rut. Are there certain areas or terrain features I should focus on to find an older bull? I'm not looking for waypoints, just basically wondering if we hunt very hard the whole time we're down there, will turning up a mature bull be more a matter of luck than hunting skill or effort?
I’ve deer hunted 51 . It’s big, lots of roads in places,and steep as fu,at least where I’ve been.and yeah a lot of road traffic.
welcome to HT.
 
Hunted that unit in 2021. Pre scouted and killed a 5x5 herd bull with a group of cows. 1st rifle.

The one piece of advice I can give is regarding roads. It doesn’t matter if they’re open or closed for motorized access. If they can get a vehicle on it the locals will be driving it. Plan on any road in the unit having residents driving it. Was very frustrating watching residents pull multiple rvs down closed roads to camp in areas that they weren’t legally allow to.

Lots of elk. Not a lot of big bulls, but like everywhere there some trophies in the unit. If you hunt hard, smart, and get into places only your boots can get people into you should have a fun hunt.
 
Hunted that unit in 2021. Pre scouted and killed a 5x5 herd bull with a group of cows. 1st rifle.

The one piece of advice I can give is regarding roads. It doesn’t matter if they’re open or closed for motorized access. If they can get a vehicle on it the locals will be driving it. Plan on any road in the unit having residents driving it. Was very frustrating watching residents pull multiple rvs down closed roads to camp in areas that they weren’t legally allow to.

Lots of elk. Not a lot of big bulls, but like everywhere there some trophies in the unit. If you hunt hard, smart, and get into places only your boots can get people into you should have a fun hunt.
 
Welcome to ht. I've bear hunted in 51a. Elk absolutely everywhere. And my buddy that has a cabin up there says the same thing during elk season pple go nuts and lil two track roads turn into beat out roads by the end if the elk hunt.
 
I’d highly recommend a quick flight down and a rental truck to just drive around for a day and look at it will make online scouting much better to have a actual understanding of what you are looking at
 
I’d highly recommend a quick flight down and a rental truck to just drive around for a day and look at it will make online scouting much better to have a actual understanding of what you are looking at
A rental truck will be a liability on the roads down there. They are very rocky! I wouldn't trust the tires on any rental vehicle on the dirt roads in that unit.

I can agree with the locals driving any road at all. And they are often doing it with bald and/or street tires. Saw several of them changing tires when they got flats too. We had a SxS and quad to get around with and it was nice to have them on the rough roads. Not necessary, but quicker to get around than bouncing down the roads in a pickup for sure.

There are a lot of elk, but we never set eyes on a 6-point bull. A couple of good 5-points, but not any large bulls. Was a fun hunt for my dad and brother. Bulls were still bugling in the 3rd rifle at the end of Oct.
 
In units with lots of elk, folks driving roads, or walking easy ridges will keep them moving. Sometimes that can work to your advantage. Plan your midday where you have a commanding view, and often you will see elk get busted out of their beds and head for their next "security spot". Then it is a matter of bedding them in the timber and getting the wind right for an evening sit.

I remember a herd of Elk in Central Oregon we watched circle around the bedding place they got spooked out of. We could track them by their dust in the evening light. We could see they wanted to come into the Juniper filled draw below us even though they were 2 miles away. The pressure kept them moving until dark. We found them kegged up in the Junipers the next morning.

The same thing happened in Wyoming in a roadless area with a lot of Horse and Backpack traffic. I could sit on a Ridge and watch midday hunters busting elk out of the dark timber. Find the saddles between draws to catch the elk in their escape route.
 
Mature 6 point is a stretch but not impossible. Find the little areas that are just far enough from the roads to maybe get overlooked, and if you don’t see fresh sign move on ASAP.

Shoot the first mature bull you see even if it isn’t a 6 point. You might get away with passing a few rag horns or you might get unlucky and that’s all you see. Very thick timber in much of the unit
 
Mature 6 point is a stretch but not impossible. Find the little areas that are just far enough from the roads to maybe get overlooked, and if you don’t see fresh sign move on ASAP.

Shoot the first mature bull you see even if it isn’t a 6 point. You might get away with passing a few rag horns or you might get unlucky and that’s all you see. Very thick timber in much of the unit
Thank you for the info. very useful in helping me set realistic goals.
 
In units with lots of elk, folks driving roads, or walking easy ridges will keep them moving. Sometimes that can work to your advantage. Plan your midday where you have a commanding view, and often you will see elk get busted out of their beds and head for their next "security spot". Then it is a matter of bedding them in the timber and getting the wind right for an evening sit.
I've never actually drawn a tag there but have been in the unit and apply for it regularly. If I had your tag I would do exactly what he said. Glass as much country as you can especially thickets, bowls, anything that looks like it would be a hell hole to get a elk out of and you'll find some. Getting there a few days early is a good idea and bring two spare tires if possible. Goodluck.
 
I've never actually drawn a tag there but have been in the unit and apply for it regularly. If I had your tag I would do exactly what he said. Glass as much country as you can especially thickets, bowls, anything that looks like it would be a hell hole to get a elk out of and you'll find some. Getting there a few days early is a good idea and bring two spare tires if possible. Goodluck.
I like your pointers and appreciate the input. Thank you.
 
Good luck to you! I am going to the same unit for second archery season. I will hopefully have some info to share on this forum from my experience there.
 
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