Unit 12A – Arizona
Deer, Elk and Bison
Update: In 2008, the Arizona Game and Fish Department discontinued aerial flights on the Kaibab National Forest to locate bison prior to hunts because so few bison were observed in previous years. However, for the past few years, bison have been seen near Wall Lake, as well as along Forest Service Roads 219B, 223, 270, and 610.
*There are currently no Population Management Seasons for elk tags available for successfully drawn deer hunters in Units 12A East and/or West.
The Department reminds hunters that bison within these hunt areas are at low densities or may not be present during the hunt. Therefore, chances for success are very low. The Grand Canyon National Park is not open to hunting.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission authorized over-the-counter (OTC) elk tags that include units 12A and 12B and others (see regulations). Please contact any department office for additional information or to purchase an elk OTC tag. Hunters should note, the OTC elk tag is not a companion or corresponding tag and has its own hunting season dates, areas and other restrictions.
Over-the-counter elk seasons are described in the 2014 pronghorn antelope and elk regulations.
Hunters interested in purchasing an elk tag should be aware that this unit has few elk and is considered a limited opportunity hunt. During the cooler months, elk will occasionally move south to the Kaibab from southern Utah. In the last couple of years, only a few elk have been spotted along the 12A/12B/12BW boundary on the west side of the Kaibab Plateau. The Grand Canyon National Park is not open to hunting. Learn more
2018 Bison Hunter Packet
2017 Spring/Summer bison clinic video
2017 Fall bison clinic video
Overview: The Unit 12A Mountain Lion population, based on harvest information and observed lion sign, appears to be healthy and robust. Yearly reported harvest figures fluctuate around 1 dozen lions with most of these animals taken by houndsmen during the winter months. The lion population in 12A is a migratory population of roughly 60-80 animals with the lions essentially following the deer herd as it migrates from summer to winter ranges. During the winter months access to areas within 12A can be extremely limited, even nonexistent. Many hunters utilize horses and mules, snowmobiles, and other recreational vehicles to overcome these access limitations. Be prepared for extreme weather. The most common technique for lion hunting in 12A is similar to that used throughout the “Rim” country in Arizona. After a snow storm a hunter will drive the roads found within the 12A winter deer range early in the morning looking for tracks. Once a track is located the hounds are released and the lion is pursued until “treed”. Also, several lions are sighted each year by hunters glassing canyons and watching waters. Some lions have been harvested incidental to these other activities. If you are fortunate enough to receive a coveted 12A deer tag you might consider purchasing a mountain lion tag before heading to the Kaibab.
Areas: Any areas with concentrations of deer often have lions associated with them. Concentrate your efforts in areas with rim-rock and significant changes in elevation. The large canyons and rocky areas that form the edges of the Kaibab plateau, both on the east and west side of the plateau, are likely areas to locate “lion sign”. The Warm Springs and Nail Canyon areas in 12AW and the Cocks Combs area in 12AE are good starting points. If you are considering hunting mountain lions on the Kaibab for the first time consider hiring a good houndsman/guide to increase your likelihood of success.
Overview: The world famous, or infamous, Kaibab Mule Deer herd. Books and countless articles have been written on the subject. Dreams have been realized, or shattered, on every hunt in this Unit since its inception. Huge bucks, forkhorns, and even does have been the objects of desire for hunters in this unit. Many come with visions of 32″ wide racks with multiple points per side, still others are happy with a tender yearling forkhorn. The Kaibab has supplied many happy hunting experiences in the past and will hopefully continue to do so for generations to come. Some say the great days of the Kaibab are past, others maintain things are as good or better than ever, and still others claim things will be great in the future.
Data currently indicates that buck: doe ratios, a very important management statistic, have rebounded as of late and are significantly higher than the statewide average. Under alternative management these favorable ratios should be maintained or even improved. With continued and persistent drought the woody winter browse in 12AW has been less than productive for the past several years and as result concerns over the carrying capacity of this vital range are warranted. The health and longevity of this winter range is critical to the long term sustainability of the 12A deer herd. The effects of the 58,000 acre Warm Fire during the summer of 2006 appear to be largely positive for the foreseeable future with an incredible aspen, forb, and grass response being noted. This area will provide an excellent opportunity for archery and early season general deer hunters for the foreseeable future. Proactive management steps in the form of an Alternative Management Plan and a large scale habitat improvement project in cooperation with the USFS have been taken by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in order to maintain a favorable buck:doe ratio, increase the representation of older age bucks in the population, ensure long term high quality habitat, and provide for greater hunt success. Current data indicates that buck:doe ratios are excellent. The average age of a buck harvested on the late hunts has climbed from just over two years of age to over 4 years of age in the past several years, yearling buck weights have stabilized at an acceptable level in recent years and as a result antler development has been excellent.
In the recent past several bucks taken on the Kaibab have been entered into the record books. A relatively constant output of “trophy” quality deer has been evident, throughout the history of the plateau, as demonstrated by a recent analysis of the Arizona Record book. Hunt success figures have fluctuated around the 40-50% range for the last decade, some of the highest hunt success for mule deer in the state. With conditions slowly improving in the burned area of 12AW, and with the initiation of a landscape scale habitat restoration effort, the outlook for the Kaibab deer herd is indeed very optimistic.
Articles often lead to false expectations; huge bucks do not exist behind every tree anywhere in the world. As indicated by checkstation records, the “average” mature buck produced by the Kaibab is a 3-5 year old 23-25″ four point. Remember, 30″ bucks are special because they are extremely, extremely rare. If you are fortunate enough to draw one of the most sought after deer tags in the United States come to the Kaibab with realistic expectations and remember, we hunt for the experience. Enjoy the natural splendor of the Kaibab Plateau, revel in your good fortune at having a tag, relish the fact that a huge deer is a possibility, but most of all be a responsible sportsman and represent our sport in the best manner possible.
Antlerless Hunting: After several years of antlerless hunting, many of the does on the plateau have become as hunter-wise as most bucks. Antlerless hunters continue to enjoy high hunt success. However, locating and harvesting an antlerless deer is likely to become more challenging as these animals become more educated about two-legged visitors to the plateau.
Areas: It may be hard to believe but the likelihood of running into an older age class buck, as near as the author can tell, is just about equal almost anywhere on the plateau. Follow a few simple rules and your chance of success will increase exponentially.
First, on an archery hunt don’t bother with pinyon/juniper areas unless it has snowed (not likely). Concentrate your efforts in areas with waterholes (not necessarily on the water), as the plateau is often dry at this time of the year. Getting off the road and into the canyons will improve your observations of mule deer bucks, especially mature ones. Tree stands up or down canyon from waters can be excellent and reduce the inevitable territorial dispute with other hunters over the waterhole. Walking and stalking in areas determined by scouting to hold bachelor herds of bucks can be exciting and productive. Salt licks are a great attractant for deer and provide the same opportunity as waterholes. Finally, mule deer throughout their range are altering their behavior as hunting pressure increases. As the season progresses mule deer bucks on the plateau become more and more secretive. This behavior includes becoming more and more nocturnal, spending more time in thick aspen and mixed conifer stands, and remaining in unroaded canyon habitats. Adjust your hunting strategies accordingly and have fun.
On a 12A early hunt, once again, don’t bother with pinyon/juniper habitat types unless it has snowed. Remember this deer herd is extremely migratory and will remain at higher elevations until significant snowfall pushes them off. As the fall progresses the deer become more and more secretive. Being in position at first shooting light can be critical as the big boys are often bedded down for the day within minutes of the sun breaking the horizon. Waterhole hunting becomes less productive as frost begins to supply the need for water. By this time of year the deer are visiting water in the dark. Hunt the travel corridors up or down from water and you will improve your odds. Bachelor herds are typically broken up by this hunt and bucks can be relatively evenly distributed throughout the plateau. Concentrate on areas that are more inaccessible. These early hunts can be difficult because the deer are typically located in areas of formidable cover and are not easily located or glassed. Come prepared for all types of weather. Conditions can vary from 80 degrees to below freezing, from sunny to snow, and from pleasant to down right ugly. The prepared hunter is often the successful hunter.
On the ever in demand 12A late hunt, pray (if religious) for snow. Forage quality and snowfall will push the deer to the lower winter range. If old man winter has not yet shown his face follow the suggestions given for the early hunt and good luck. If frost has cured out the summer range forage and some cold weather has struck, concentrate your efforts in the pinyon/juniper areas and even farther out in the sage and open canyon country. This is the classic western mule deer hunt. Practice with a flat shooting rifle at longer distances before the hunt begins. Also, before the hunt begins, study topo maps and enlist the aid of others who have hunted the area before. Bring binoculars and spotting scopes. Find areas overlooking large open expanses and plan on sitting still for hours on end and glassing until you feel like your eyes are going to fall out. After an opening day of this activity plan on spending the next nine days in the same manner. If the deer are low and you glass enough it will pay off.
Being prepared on this hunt is even more crucial than on the early hunt. Good boots, parkas, and camping gear can make or break your hunt. Four-wheel drive, chains, shovels, and winches can keep you hunting instead of being stuck for a day. Use common sense; don’t take shortcuts as they often take a lot longer than the more sensible route.
Finally, remember that you could be sitting in the office and enjoy the opportunity to get away and take part in the oldest most admirable sport there is.
Overview: Unit 12A, world famous for the Kaibab Deer Herd, is also home to one of the premier turkey populations in the state of Arizona. Excellent recruitment and low winter mortality for the past two years has lead to population levels similar to the early 90’s. Unit 12A continues to provide the turkey hunter and/or wildlife enthusiast a unique opportunity to observe Merriam’s Turkeys. During the spring hunt be prepared for cold temperatures and even snow. The fall hunt is often characterized by warm to hot daytime temperatures and afternoon rains. Be prepared for remote camping as the only amenities during the spring hunt are at Jacob Lake and in Fredonia. During the fall hunt gas, food, and lodging can be found in Fredonia, Jacob Lake, and near DeMotte Park.
Areas: During the spring turkey hunt significant winter snowfall can affect access and often dictates hunting locations. As a result of continued drought those areas of higher elevation, specifically those areas with spruce/fir/aspen forests have been the most productive areas for the past several years. Concentrate in areas dominated by this type of vegetation and look for turkey tracks in the snow, mud, dust, or around water sources. Also look for turkey “scratch”, those locations where flocks of turkeys have been feeding and have disturbed the litter layer of the forest floor. Finally, during the night, prior to a morning hunt drive the roads getting out occasionally and turkey calling. Often roosting turkeys will respond to these calls giving a hunter a location to begin the morning’s hunt. Once the location of turkeys has been determined getting up early, hours before first light, is critical. As turkeys fly off the roost in the early pre-dawn, often the most active period of the day, they may provide a hunter the best opportunity to call in a wary old longbeard.
During the fall hunt, turkey hunting is a totally different game. While calling can sometimes be productive, the most successful technique is more similar to archery hunting mule deer. Watching waterholes that have turkey sign around them provide the turkey hunter with the best opportunity to bag a “bearded turkey” during this often dry time of the year. Keep movements to a minimum, scan the surrounding area constantly, and listen for turkey vocalizations.
During both the spring and fall hunts be safe and acquire positive target identification. Finally, enjoy the finest terrain, climate, and surroundings that nature has to offer, the Kaibab Plateau.
Overview: According to David Brown in Arizona Game Birds the Blue grouse is a native of the Kaibab Plateau and restricted locals in the White Mountains. It has also been introduced in the San Francisco Peaks area near Flagstaff. On the Kaibab Plateau the bird has a very restricted range occupying mixed conifer habitat types near the south end of the Kaibab National Forest and is also found in the Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim. Identification seems to be a prevalent problem for first time grouse hunters as poult turkeys, Band-tailed Pigeons, and even Northern Goshawks are often mistaken for grouse. Take care in species identification before dropping the hammer. Mature grouse average between 2 and 4 pounds of succulent white meat and provide delicious table fare. Grouse often flush at close range in thick cover so be prepared for quick shooting. A good bird dog can be of great assistance in retrieving downed birds. The grouse season in the fall provides a beautiful time to camp on the Kaibab and an inability to locate grouse is a great excuse for enjoying some of the finest scenery and weather Arizona has to offer.
Areas: Concentrate your efforts on the southeast side of the Plateau in sub-unit 12AE. Areas around Crystal Springs, Sourdough Well, and along the 610 rd near the National Park Boundary provide the best opportunity for finding the often secretive Blue Grouse. Look for areas with mixed conifer, aspens, and berry bushes in close proximity. Grouse, like squirrels, appear to be most active early in the morning but walking throughout the day can result in flushed birds. Be patient, many long time grouse hunters often return to camp, after a long day of walking, with an empty vest. Grouse hunting is a great excuse to come to the Kaibab to enjoy a cooler climate. Harvesting birds should be viewed as a bonus.
Overview: Unit 12A is home to one of the most unique game animals in Arizona and perhaps the nation. The Kaibab Squirrel is a subspecies of the Abert’s Squirrel which is found only on the Kaibab Plateau, Mount Logan, and Mount Trumbull. This squirrel is most active early in the morning and just prior to dark and is always associated with Ponderosa Pines. The squirrel is dark in color, has tufted ears, and has a large white bushy tail. The best hunting techniques include walking, and watching and listening while sitting with your back to a tree. Since 2007 an increase in the number of squirrels observed has taken place, with the advent of more favorable environmental variables we are seeing a corresponding increase in the squirrel population.
Areas: As stated earlier, concentrate your efforts in areas with large Ponderosa Pine trees and focus your observation skills on the forest floor.