Red’s 41E Desert Bighorn Ram

It is extremely hard to draw a bighorn sheep tag as the demand vs supply isn’t even close to being in balance.  This typically leads to many hunters drawing sheep tags when they are indeed past their prime.  There isn’t a cure for this dilemma, it’s simply the math.

Red H. called us in the summer of 2023 after he found out he had drawn a 41 east desert bighorn sheep tag.  Red’s good friend Larry hunted with us in 2020, so he knew he was getting a great sheep hunting crew but his main concern were the mountains themselves.  Red like many others was past his peak mountain climbing days.  Red was open about his concerns of being able to get to a ram, which was indeed the biggest obstacle.  We assured him we would find a solid ram where he could accomplish his goal of harvesting an old desert ram.

Red's 41E Desert Bighorn
Red smiling while holding his old desert ram!

After several days scouting, EPO Guide Jon Green turned a solid ram in a good spot.  Jon sat on the ram for days but on the opening morning of the hunt the ram disappeared into the large mountain range.   Later that same day the team turned an even older desert ram & after a quick discussion the decision was made to pursue.

41E Sheep Hunting Crew
Red & the EPO team led by Jon Green

Arizona desert bighorn sheep hunts are once-in-a-lifetime hunts which really make them unique compared to any other species.  We were honored to assist Red in accomplishing his goal of harvesting a trophy old desert ram!

2023 Arizona’s Best Mule Deer Hunts

Arizona’s Best Late Season Mule Deer Units-Hunts

Arizona has some great top tier mule deer units & here are the best Arizona Rifle Mule Deer Rut Hunts for the 2023 season:

Unit 13B (Arizona Strip) Dates: 11/10-19  *Best mule deer genetics in the state of Arizona. Most serious hunters will hunt for 190+ bucks with a handful of bucks being taken over 210″.  Moisture for the winter & spring has been above average, so scores could really jump up this year. There are 65 tags being given (-15 from 2021 & -5 from 2022) & the dates will allow for the pre-rut but the rut could be on during a wet year like 2023.

Unit 13A (Arizona Strip) Dates: 11/17-11/26  *Great genetics but not as much deer habitat as you would think for a unit of it’s size. Most serious hunters will hunt for 190+ bucks with a few bucks being taken over 200″. Moisture for the winter & spring has been above average, so scores could really jump up this year. The dates are in a great spot to hit the rut in full swing & there are only 35 tags this season (-15 from 2021 & -5 from 2022).

Unit 12AW (Kaibab) Dates: 11/24-12/4  *Great genetics & age has bumped up just a touch when compared to last season. You will see a lot of deer on this hunt & it’s a full blown rut mule deer hunt. Very fun hunt with 50 tags (+10 from 2022) that can yield bucks well over 200″ but most serious hunters will be foolish to not shoot a buck in the 190’s. Moisture for the winter & spring has been above average, so scores could really jump up this year.

200+ Mule Deer
Arizona Strip Mule Deer Hunt guided by Lee Murphy.

Unit 12BW Dates: 11/24-12/4  *Good genetics in this area which is less popular when compared to the above units. 180+ mule deer is a solid expectation for the more serious hunters but 190+ may be possible. Moisture for the winter & spring has been above average, so scores could really jump up this year. Last season a major storm pushed deer out of Utah into 12BW & some big bucks hit the dirt.  There are 55 tags this season & the hunt dates put this hunt in the middle of the rut, so older bucks will be more vulnerable.

Unit 10 Dates: 12/15-12/31 *Solid genetics & age class can make this hunt good with only 15 tags. Mule Deer SOUTH of the Grand Canyon rut later than the deer North of it, so the December dates are right during the middle of the rut! 180″ bucks will be great for this hunt with the possiblity of a few 190+ bucks.  The biggest issue with this hunt is the OTC archery deer hunt can add pressure if it is still open.  Also, don’t expect to see a lot of deer as the numbers are extremely low.

Unit 3A & 3C Dates: 12/15-12/31 *Solid genetics in this unit & some good bucks have been taken in the past. Mule Deer SOUTH of the Grand Canyon rut later than the deer North of it, so the December dates are right during the middle of the rut! HEAVY snow can be an issue with these dates & unit. 180+ is a solid buck on this hunt with only 10 tags being offered.  Also, don’t expect to see a lot of deer as the numbers are low.

Honorable Mention:

Unit 12AE Dates: 11/24-12/3
Unit 12B Dates: 11/24-12/3
Unit 27 Dates: 12/15-12/31

Antler Growth in the Desert

Arizona has received better than average precipitation from December ’22 thru April in 2023.  Currently (May), we are experience a low pressure system which is producing isolated showers across much of that state which is EXTREMELY rare for Arizona.  The desert in years like this can really produce some big mule deer because they simply get vegetation/nutrition they don’t often get to consume.  We have seen bucks put on 40 inches or more during years like this!

Things to consider if you have under 10 bonus points & you will be satisfied with a chance to hunt bucks in the 160-180″ range.

  • Are you ever going to catch MAX points to get one of the best tags?
  • Would you rather hunt the desert multiple times or wait for that one special tag?
  • Are you familiar with units south of the Grand Canyon?
  • Do you have a quality Muzzleloader?

A couple SLEEPER hunts south of the Grand Canyon in Arizona for desert mule deer:

Units 35A & 35B Muzzleloader Hunt Dates:  12/15-12/31

Units 39, 40A, 40B, 41 & 42 Muzzleloader Hunt Dates: 12/15-12/31



Private Land Archery Mule Deer Hunts

Hunt Private Land for Mule Deer
Private Land Archery Mule Deer

If you don’t draw a tag or if you are a bowhunter looking to hunt archery mule deer you need to contact us about our Private Land Archery Mule Deer Hunts.  These hunts are managed for quality, thus we have very limited spots each year.

Arizona Desert Bighorn Rams

2023 Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Top Units

Analyzing Arizona’s Desert Bighorn Sheep Units is not an exact science, with that stated we use our history & knowledge of hunting bighorn sheep in Arizona, along with survey, harvest data & local intel to give our opinions on this subject.  Keep in mind, even though a unit may not be in our top choices it doesn’t mean a unit isn’t worth applying for, it simply means you need to do some more homework to verify it is worth it for you.

Team EPO AZ Desert Sheep
Reggie Reed with his 2022 Book Ram taken in 16AN w/ EPO

Arizona Nelsoni Desert Sheep Units:

For the 2023 desert bighorn sheep season these are our top Nelsoni units:

Unit 12BE has quickly become the capital of the Nelsoni desert bighorn sheep units.  2022 hunter data slipped from the 164″ mean score in 2021, to 158″ but the number of sheep combined with the Arizona Game & Fish Survey data still show this unit yielding quality rams in 2023.  Unit 12BE has 6 tags split between a first & second season in 2023.

Unit 13BN has been added to our top choice list for Nelsoni desert bighorn rams.  Last season the raffle hunter took a solid ram out of this unit & the draw hunter numbers were 157″ mean score at 6.7 years old.  Survey data from the 2021 reported 9 Class 3 rams & 5 Class 4 rams.  There are 3 tags available for the 2023 season.

Unit 15D has dropped off dramatically from the glory years, but just like any champion it’s still producing good rams. Last season the mean score of harvested rams was 163″ & age was an amazing 9.5 years old.  This unit is PRIME desert bighorn sheep habitat & although it’s had challenges with diseases recently, it’s a pretty epic hunt in 2023.  Unit 15D has 4 available tags for the 2023 season.

Unit 16AS/18B sheep numbers have fallen recently due to Mountain Lion Predation.  The unit has a great mix of genetics from the Navajo Nation & Unit 15D as well as the occasional Mexicana.   Last season Unit 16AS/18B had an average mean score of 169 at 9.5 years old.  This unit has 2 tags for the 2023 season.

Honorable Mention: Unit 15CS 

2022 Book Ram!
Steve & the EPO crew w/ his 2022 16S/18B book nelsoni ram.


Arizona Mexicana Desert Sheep Units:

Our top choices for Mexicana is a much deeper list which is simply because there are more units to choose from:

Unit 24BN has great genetics but seems to have slipped from it’s prime.  It’s still a TOP tier unit with huge potential & a great hunt.  Last season the average mean score was 172″ with only 6.5 years old as the mean age.  There are 2 tags available but this is typically one of those units that gets MAX point holders to chase.

Unit 24BS also has great genetics & again seems to have slipped a bit.  Last season the average age was 7 years old & mean score was 167″.   Whenever you see ages below 7 & average scores near or above 168 you know the unit has great genetics.  The 2023 season yields 2 tags for Unit 24BS & typically they draw MAX point holders but it will be interesting to see if that happens this season.

Unit 22 (desert hunt) is probably the most well known for producing giant desert rams but it’s a very popular choice for all the right reasons. Reports are that the age class was down last season (average mean score was 168″ in 2022) but the genetics are unreal in this unit.  Typically, it is saturated with MAX bonus point applicants so it will be interesting to see where the 2 tags available for the 2023 season go in the draw.

Units 31/32 produced 3 rams last season with a whopping mean score of 175″ at 8.7 years old.   The survey from the 2021 season reported 26 total rams with 12 of these being in the Class 3-Class 4 range.  With the precipitation received this winter & spring the 7-8 year old rams should put on good growth & this could be a great hunt.

Unit 40B Gila Mountains is one our favorite hunts with lots of sheep.  Last season the mean score for all was just 154 but the prior 3 years the means were 164, 165 & 160.3.  It has the potential to produce book+ rams & you will see a number of rams in this unit.  There 6 tags split across 2 seasons for the 2023 Arizona Desert Bighorn Season.

Unit 41E has 3 tags available for the 2023 season.  Last year the AZGFD survey numbers were good for the unit & the average hunter mean score was 168 at 9 years.

Unit 41W has 6 tags available split across 2 seasons for 2023.  The mean age for rams taken last season was 8 years old & the mean score was 166″.  The 2022 AZGFD survey showed a surplus of Class 3 rams but fewer Class 4 rams than 41E.  With the moisture Arizona has received this year the Class 3 rams can really blossom, if they are around 7 years old.

Unit 45A had two hunts in 2022.  The first hunt produce a mean score on rams of 166″ at 8 years old, while the second hunt produce a mean score of 158″ at 7.5 years old.  45A has 8 tags split across two hunts for the 2023 season.

Unit 45C has a whopping 9 total tags for the 2023 season, spread across 2 hunts.   In 2022, the first hunt produced a mean score of 166″ at 7.8 years old while the second produced a mean score of 162″ at 7.7 years old.

Honorable Mentions: 24B Wilderness, Unit 28, Unit 37A, Unit 40B TA, Unit 42/44A, Unit 43B

9.5 Year Old Book Ram
Jim & team EPO w/ his 2022 Unit 43B book ram!
Old Pretty Boy Ram!
Dave w/ his 9+ year old Mexicana Desert Bighorn Ram taken w/ team EPO in a unit not in our top list.