In the northwest corner of New Mexico, is the area known as the “Four Corners” where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado all come together in a common point. These are legendary mule deer states and this corner of New Mexico plays a big part in that legend. Wherever trophy mule deer hunters gather, talk eventually turns to the storied canyons of Rio Arriba and San Juan Counties. You will find the record books well represented, if not dominated, by bucks taken there over the years.

This is New Mexico Game Management Unit 2.

Unit 2 is a uniquely placed environ with several factors which contribute to it's excellence as mule deer habitat. Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, which soar to 14,000 feet to the north, this area is defined by three large river systems which flow from the snow capped peaks of the Rockies and eventually drain into the Colorado River and on through the Grand Canyon to the sea. The terrain was created by these rivers and their associated drainages as eons of erosion cut through the soft sandstone and left deep, multi- stepped canyons with broad sage flats in the bottoms and on the benches. Vegetation is predominately pinon / juniper ("PJ") treed areas interspersed with open brushy flats of sage, grasses and varied browse. The elevation is considerably lower than the mountains to the north. Average elevations in the unit are 5000-6000 ft. Snowfall is minimal compared to habitat even a few miles north. Mule deer love it. The rugged PJ bench country provides the cover they need with an abundant, nutritious food source at their feet. The main river systems flow year round and add great bottomland habitat and water sources to the mix. Winters are relatively mild and deer are not subjected to deep snows and winter kill. This is, and has been, their home for centuries.

Mule deer in Unit 2 have a semi-nomadic lifestyle as many of them will drift north into Colorado in late spring. As snow melts off the high peaks deer will seek out the cooler alpine areas on the mountain even as high as the crags above timberline. Many stay in the area and browse the thick, rich river bottoms and tuck away into the shady high cliffs of the canyon country. As soon as snows fly in the high country the deer come home. They come home to Unit 2 to rut, to feed, and to grow another little muley.

Mature mule deer bucks are a very reclusive nocturnal creature. For most of the year they are lounging away in the thickest darkest cover available and come out only after dark to feed and water. You'll not likely see them. Hunting success on a big muley in Unit 2 is deeply tied to the rut and and the return of the migratory deer. Normally early snows in Colorado occur around the end of October and trigger southward deer movement to their wintering areas in the sage country. The rut begins in early / mid November. As deer populations rise with the returning herds, the rut starts to engage as well. Then is when the bucks start to venture out a little and you start to see these phantoms. Large herds of does meander the flats and soon there is a war on for their affections. Smaller bucks will optimistically squire the does around as their estrus approaches and then are promptly booted off the prize as she comes into heat. There is no shortage of bigger badder bucks to spoil the dance.

The various hunt dates in Unit 2 start in late October and extend past mid November. The hunts which are deeper into November are the most prized, and the most successful because it’s deeper into the rut and the migration.

Every year, New Mexico Game & Fish receives complaints from hunters who have gone another year without drawing a permit or license for their species of choice. The competition is fierce for a limited number of licenses/permits, especially in prime areas. Luck plays a big part in the drawing. Always remember that there are no guarantees in the draw. Likewise, there are no guarantees in hunting. Success in the draw doesn’t mean you’ll harvest a trophy or even see an animal—even if you draw a prime unit.

New Mexico’s big game drawing is subject to a quota system. In accordance with state law, the draw attempts to distribute 84 percent of the licenses for each hunt to New Mexico residents, 10 percent to residents or nonresidents who have contracted with an outfitter and 6 percent to nonresidents who have not contracted with an outfitter (THIS IS ME!) (this does not prohibit nonresidents in the 6 percent pool from contracting with an outfitter if they are lucky in the draw). New Mexico does NOT grant preference to applicants who were unsuccessful in previous drawings. All drawing applications are shuffled like a deck of cards and randomly assigned a sequence number. A computer program then examines applications in order according to the sequence number assigned. When an application is examined, the computer attempts to fulfill the first hunt choice, subject to the quotas described above. If the first hunt choice is already filled, the computer will try to assign the second choice to that application and then the third choice.

If you want to hunt New Mexico, remember, we can’t all be lucky enough to draw a bull elk license in the Valle Vidal or unit 16A or 16D, or a deer permit in unit 2B. Most of the units that contain prime habitat for any species are very difficult to draw because numerous hunters apply for those areas. There is no harm in submitting a highly desirable unit as your first choice, but if all three of your choices are in prime units, your chances won’t be very good. Consider entering a less competitive unit for your second, or at least your third choice. It doesn’t hurt to be willing to travel for your hunt either. The words “too far away” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary if you really want to hunt big game in New Mexico.

Since 2006 I have been putting in for a New Mexico tag in Unit 2, next to the famed Jicarilla Apache Reservation. Finally, this year I drew a tag for the third rifle season, November 2 to November 6 in Unit 2B. I was really lucky. The odds were so small, somewhere between 3.39% and 7.41% using last years draw odds. To be certain, I am lucky and blessed. I never gave up the dream of having the opportunity. Like any hunter, I hope I have a shot opportunity on a great buck. May God keep my health intact until I get there! It's simply a great opportunity and privilege in a great unit to go as hard as I can and try to turn up a great muley. Turning 60 a month after this hunt I'll be hitting a milestone. I still believe the best is yet to come!

Dean T. Parisian
National Rifle Association, Life Member
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Life Member
Mule Deer Foundation, Life Member
National Trappers Association, Life Member
Minnesota Trappers Association, Life Member
Georgia Trappers Association, Life Member
Tennessee Fur Harvesters Association, Life Member
Fairfield Glade Sportsmans Club, Member

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