Elk Hunting Tactics for Winter in Arizona

by Zach Lazzari

Arizona offers unique opportunities for winter elk hunting. While the Rocky Mountains are buried in deep snow, Arizona hunters are bugling for trophy bulls on late-season hunts. The varied landscape and limited elk herds in Arizona require a well-planned approach for winter elk hunting success. The tags are difficult to draw, and you must take advantage of the opportunity through preparation during the summer and fall.


Scouting is an important aspect of elk hunting in Arizona. You might not locate and track a single animal, but advanced scouting locates the best hunting elevation and regions within the hunt unit. Mature bulls in Arizona gather into herds during the winter, while immature bulls and cows gather in separate herds. Scanning the landscape with binoculars until you locate several mature bulls will lead into an elk rich region. Begin scouting at least five days before the hunt begins to select an area of focus.


Base your approach on the conditions. The Arizona winter is unpredictable and you might be hunting in shorts or be hiking through deep snow. Travel higher into the mountains during periods of hot weather and lower when the snow falls. The elk will remain at high elevations as long as possible and will not begin traveling to winter territories until the cold remains constant. This means elk might be high when the first snow arrives and will not travel to winter grounds until it is obvious that the snow will remain.


Arizona is a desert environment, and the elk respond by focusing on water sources. Elk wallow in water holes throughout the summer and only travel as far as the nearest food source. Look for spring-fed lakes and streams that are close to high mountain meadows during a warm winter. Follow the streams from a low elevation during a cold winter and try to intercept the elk as they follow the water source to lower elevations. Elevations between 5,000 and 6,000 feet are common during cold periods, and elevations higher than 7,000 feet are common during warm periods.

Locating Elk

The landscape in Arizona requires a good set of binoculars for locating elk. You may also use bugles and cow calls, but the winter elk are past the rut and calling is not effective as it is during the fall mating season. You must find a vantage point and glass the area until the elk is visible. Once located, you must stalk your way within range before making a shot. This approach requires hiking to a high elevation and glassing the land below. You must then stalk downhill and return uphill if unsuccessful. Purchase a quality pair of hiking boots and train your body for the hours of high elevation exercise that are often necessary on a winter elk hunt in Arizona.

Elk Regions

Arizona is known as a desert state, but the elk populations exist in mountainous regions with pine, fir and juniper forests. The White Mountains in the southern region is a remote and elk-rich region. The mountains and Tonto National Forests around Flagstaff and Prescott also contain healthy elk populations with trophy potential. The Kaibab National Forest is located in northern Arizona and provides numerous public access points and an expansive backcountry. The Apache National Forest in the eastern region connects with the large Gila National Forest in New Mexico, and elk populations are established on both sides of the border.

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