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Arizona’s Best Over-the-Counter Archery Mule Deer Units

Arizona’s Best Over-the-Counter Archery Mule Deer Units

Arizona’s Archery-Only Nonpermit deer tags are available in many game management units, and picking the best can be an overwhelming process for a bowhunter intent on killing a mule deer in over-the-counter units. You have many choices: Early season or late season or both?... Rocky Mountain mule deer or desert mule deer?

Because persistence and luck is needed to successfully harvest an Arizona mule deer in OTC units, we recommend looking at areas that offer both early season and late season hunts. Or a late season hunt at the very least. This way you can put in the time and persistence, while the rut in December and January, will provide a little luck. You may also want to focus on OTC mule deer units in Southern Arizona. The challenge of hunting a mule deer with a bow in this terrain is a test of will, but this also keeps the hunting pressure down. Bowhunters foam at the mouth when the challenge of a true desert spot-and-stalk hunt presents itself. It’s the ultimate test, and if you are not successful, the essence of the hunt is still very rewarding.  

Below are the units we believe will offer a DIY hunter the best chance of tagging a mule deer buck in an Arizona OTC Deer unit.

Arizona Mule Deer Unit 41

Season Dates: Dec 13, 2013 - Jan 31, 2014

Public Land: Most of the land in Unit 41 is under the jurisdiction of the BLM.

Success rate of OTC archery deer hunters (Five year average):  4.4 percent

Terrain: Most of this area is extremely remote and waterless. You’ll find flat desert land cut by deep, lushly vegetated riparian drainage. The unit encompasses several very rough and barren mountain ranges, the Eagletail, Little Horn Tank, and Palomas mountains. Elevation ranges from just 400' on the desert plain to nearly 3,000' on some of the higher peaks. The flats are sparsely vegetated with creosote ironwood, paloverde and saguaro cactus; the mountains with creosote and paloverde.

Unit 41 Mule Deer Hunting Outlook, Tactics and Locations

Unit 41 Mule Deer Hunting is a tough hunt, but the reward can be great.  The deer density is low – about one deer per square mile – but some of the largest bucks in western Arizona call this unit home. 

The rut can provide many sightings of roaming mule deer bucks, but the challenge is intercepting them and getting close enough for a shot. Glass the desert floor from the highest point possible. Once you see a deer, start stalking with your Muley Doe decoy ready. If you are hunting with a partner, one person should remain on the glass and guide the shooter to the deer.

To narrow down your search, start scouting the Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area allowing for a hunt away from the majority of other hunters. This land is noted for its large mule deer bucks. Several Boone and Crockett class deer are harvested each season. The remoteness of unit 41 is an excellent opportunity for a pack in hunt via backpack and allows for a hunt away from the majority of other hunters.

Arizona Mule Deer Unit 27

Season Dates: Aug 23 - Sep 12, 2013 and Jan 1 - Jan 31, 2014

Public Land: Most of Unit 27 is comprised of public lands, with the largest landholder being the U.S. Forest Service.

Success rate of OTC archery deer hunters (Five year average):  8 percent

Terrain: The diverse landscape includes elevation ranges from 3,500 feet at Clifton to 9,300 feet at the Mogollon Rim. The area around Clifton is semi-desert, followed by chaparral, pinyon-juniper, ponderosa pine, and spruce-fir at the Rim.  Proceeding towards Alpine, you go through mixed conifers and ponderosa pine.  All the area north of the Rim is high pine country.

Unit 27 Mule Deer Hunting Outlook, Tactics and Locations

The best mule deer areas in unit 27 are steep and deep – the unit may be the roughest terrain in the whole state. You’ll definitely appreciate the packable features of a Muley Doe decoy in this unit. Unit 27 mule deer populations are rebounding from the 2011 wildfires in the northern zone of the unit, and thanks to new deer browse and habitat the unit offers decent numbers of mule deer with good trophy potential. Unit 27 is a consistent producer of big mule deer as well as Coues whitetail.  

Glass, glass and glass some more. Scout the area to the north that was affected by the wildfires but also focus on the Upper Blue River area. The Broken terrain in the pinyon-juniper type allows for good spot-and-stalk mule deer hunting, and the Blue River Wilderness area has been good to mule deer hunters willing to pack-in on foot or horse in the past. Any of the main drainages will hold some big bucks but the farther from the road, the better.

Arizona Mule Deer Unit 10

Season Dates: Aug 23 - Sep 12, 2013 and Dec 13, 2013 - Jan 31, 2014

Public Land: Unit 10 is approximately 51 percent private land, 30 percent state land and 8 percent National Forest Service, with the remainder being National Park and Indian reservation that is not open to hunting.

Success rate of OTC archery deer hunters (Five year average):  2  percent

Terrain: The unit is a mix of flat to rolling grassland prairie and rolling to mountainous pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine-Gambel oak habitat types. The Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon form the unit's truly spectacular northern and northeastern boundaries. Elevations range from less than 2,000' along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon National Park at the unit's north end to more than 7,600' on the Three Sisters just northwest of Williams in the southeastern part of the unit. Elevations run near 5,500' to 7,000' across most of the unit.

Unit 10 Mule Deer Hunting Outlook, Tactics and Locations

The two percent success rate of OTC archery hunters scares many mule deer hunters away from this unit, and rightly so. But, it’s not all doom and gloom in Unit 10. Many big bucks are harvested in Unit 10 each winter, and most of those bucks are taken in thick pinyon-juniper country.

The higher populations of mule deer in the Aubrey Cliffs area and Williams Corner attract plenty of hunters, but the mule deer population in Unit 10 is spread out, and hunting around Long Point or Cataract Canyon can be fruitful for hunters looking to get away from the crowd. Look for areas of thick cover, lots of deer sign and setup your decoy to still hunt. Or, glass from above and execute a spot-and-stalk hunt.

Hunters complain about the population of mule deer and hunting pressure, but there are big deer in Unit 10 and if you hunt hard, you can find them.

We hope this helps your search to find the best over-the-counter  mule deer hunting in Arizona. Be sure to research more on your own. Check the regulations, maps and game unit profiles of Arizona, as well as, Arizona mule deer statistics.  And don’t forget to pack you mule deer decoy for an exciting spot-and-stalk hunt!