Game Management Unit 21
Species within this unit:
Antelope, Black Bear, Elk, Javelina, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Quail
Beginning on I-17 at the Verde River; southerly on the southbound lane of I-17 to the New River Road (Exit 232); east on New River Road to Fig Springs Road; northeasterly on Fig Springs Road to the Tonto National Forest boundary; southeasterly along this boundary to the Verde River; north along the Verde River to I-17.
Overview: The pronghorn antelope in Unit 21 inhabit the Agua Fria grasslands, which is high, semi-desert grassland with native grasses and forbs dominating the flats, swales, and mesas. A juniper/grassland mosaic is found at the upper end of the watershed. Juniper and catclaw grow on hillsides at higher elevations while catclaw and mesquite are found at the lower elevations. The main factor affecting the pronghorn population is drought, followed by habitat loss due to invasive plant species.
Areas: Pronghorn can be found in 3 main areas in unit 21. The southern population is found on Perry Mesa. Black Mesa no longer holds pronghorn due to a severe infestation of invasive grasses and mustard grass, along with frequent fires that start along I-17. Perry Mesa is accessed by the Bloody Basin road east of I-17. Take the Bloody Basin road approximately 9 miles to Forest Road 14 (this road is marked BLM 9014 for the first 100 yards) and head south. There are several roads off of FR-14 that access Perry Mesa. Perry Mesa normally holds the largest pronghorn numbers in the unit, but a fire in 2017 followed by a severe drought has reduced the numbers there.
The northern, and largest pronghorn population is found on Marlowe and Yellow Jacket Mesas north of the town of Dugas. Although access through the Horner Mountain Ranch is no longer available, there are two OHV-only trails that access the mesas. One trail is located by Cottonwood Tank which is accessed of off Forest Road 68D. The other trail accesses Marlowe Mesa off of Forest Road 9601M, which is near Willow Spring off of forest road 68G east of Dugas.
Reimer Draw holds the third main population of pronghorn. This area is between I-17 and Forest Road 68D and between the Dugas road and Forest Road 732. There are many side roads that access all of this country. This area holds a fair number of pronghorn, but they are normally in smaller groups and harder to spot in this area due to the rugged terrain.
There are a few pronghorn on Sycamore Mesa, but road access to this area has been lost, making it very difficult to access. The high temperatures during pronghorn hunts would make it very hard to harvest an antelope and pack it out without it spoiling.
Overview: Elk sightings in Unit 21 began in the early 80’s. A small number of elk reside in Unit 21. It is believed that elk move back and forth to and from Units 6A, and 19A.
The elk habitat in this unit is extremely rugged. The roads that access most of the elk country are terrible and motorized big game retrieval is not an option. Successful elk hunters should be prepared to pack the animal using friends with backpacks or pack animals. Temperatures during the early season hunts can be in the mid 90’s during the day, so hunters should plan on having help to pack out meat before it spoils, and hunters need to have lots of ice on-hand. It is unlawful to allow any edible portion of a game animal to go to waste.
Quality optics are a must for Unit 21 elk hunters, and the use of a tripod is highly recommended. The elk normally hang out in the large, steep canyons that run off the Verde Rim, but can sometimes be found on the ridge tops. Elk are dispersing more and more as time goes by and can occasionally be found south of the Bloody Basin road.
Areas: Elk are primarily found along the Black Hills that make up the Verde Rim from I-17 to the Bloody Basin road. Forest road 732 accesses the area around Squaw Peak. Forest road 68G accesses Tule Mesa, and forest road 68 access the Pine Mountain Wilderness area. This wilderness area has a number of hiking trails that access the heart of the elk country, but are extremely remote. Elk are occasionally found off of forest road 44, which is accessed by the Bloody Basin road.
Overview: Javelina can be found in a variety of different habitat types in Unit 21 from the Sonoran desert up to the pinyon juniper woodland. Scout areas prior to your hunt to locate fresh sign where javelina travel, bed, and feed. Look for scat, tracks, and rooting. Once you have located an area likely to contain javelina, find a good vantage point nearby to glass from.
Areas: The areas below are meant to provide you with good places to start scouting or hunting javelina in Unit 21. The areas are broken up into the three main land management offices.
Prescott National Forest: Javelina can be found in the Reimer Draw area using the small canyons and drainages cut into the edges of the small mesas in the area. Reimer Draw can be accessed by traveling north on the Reimer Road (Forest Road 68D) from the Dugas Road (Forest Road 68) or from Forest Rd 732 which starts at the intersection of I-17 and highway 169.
Javelina can also be found on the Prescott National Forest near Dugas in the Dry Creek, Ash Creek, Little Ash Creek, and Sycamore Creek drainages. Travel east from I-17 on the Dugas Road (FR 68) at exit 268 to access the Dugas area.
Tonto National Forest: The North Red Creek, Red Creek, and Tangle Creek drainages in Bloody Basin hold good numbers of javelina. To access Bloody Basin, travel east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269) until you travel down the edge of the Verde Rim. This area can also be accessed by traveling north from Cave Creek on the Seven Springs Road (FR 24) to the Bloody Basin Road intersection.
Javelina can be found in the Silver Creek, and Bishop Creek drainages southwest of Pine Mountain. Access these areas by traveling east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269) and travel north on the Silver Creek Road (FR 677) or the 44 Loop Road (FR 44).
Javelina can be found in much of the country around Seven Springs north of the town of Cave Creek. The Cave Creek Complex Fire burned much of this area in 2005, but wildlife has started to use habitat that has recovered from the fire. To access this country, travel north from Cave Creek on the Seven Springs Road (FR 24) and use a variety of short spur roads that go both east and west from the Seven Springs Road. Hiking a ways from the roads will decrease the probability of running into other hunters.
Javelina can be found in the New River Drainage, New River Mountains, and New River Mesa areas. Access to these areas can be found by traveling east of I-17 on Forest Road 41 from exit 236 (Table Mesa exit) or west on FR 41 from the Seven Springs Road.Bureau of Land Management: Northeast of Black Canyon City, javelina can be found in most of the Agua Fria River drainage. There are several access points to this area. Travel east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269) for several miles. You will cross the Agua Fria River near the Horseshoe Ranch. From here you can continue to travel east on the Bloody Basin Road and then travel south on the 14 Road across Perry Mesa to the Agua Fria Drainage on the west side of the mesa. The Agua Fria Drainage can also be accessed from the Badger Springs exit off of I-17 at exit 256 and Sunset Point at exit 253.
Tips: Using the very best optics in your price range will help you become a more successful javelina hunter. Quality binoculars mounted on a tripod used systematically to glass javelina habitat is the most effective method used to locate them. Glass the sunny south-facing slopes in cold weather to locate javelina as they warm up and begin to feed in the morning. Plan your stalk to stay downwind and move slow. Javelina have poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and sense of smell.
Overview: The Mule Deer population in Unit 21 has declined dramatically over the past several decades. While the population has declined, buck to doe ratios have remained fairly constant. Hunters will need to scout ahead of time to locate areas deer are currently using.
While hunting Mule Deer in Unit 21, it is not uncommon to see Whitetail deer in the same area. Be sure you are able to properly identify which species of deer you are looking at. Each season, officers seize a number of deer from hunters who harvest the wrong species.
While there are surely exceptions, mule deer can primarily be found in the more open, and gentle country in unit 21 when compared to whitetail. Mule deer generally like the open grasslands and gentle slopes and the more traditional Sonoran desert habitat.
Areas: The areas below are meant to provide you with good places to start scouting or hunting mule deer in Unit 21. The areas are broken up into the three main land management offices.
Prescott National Forest: Mule Deer can be found in the Reimer Draw area using drainages, basins, and mesas in the area. Reimer Draw can be accessed by traveling north on the Reimer Road (Forest Road 68D) from the Dugas Road (Forest Road 68) and from Forest Road 732 which begins at the intersection of I-17 and highway 169.
Mule Deer can also be found in the Dry Creek, Ash Creek, Little Ash Creek, and Sycamore Creek drainages. Travel east from I-17 on the Dugas Road (FR 68) at exit 268 to access the Dugas area.
Continuing east from Dugas, Mule Deer can be found in the Pinyon-Juniper and Chaparral transition zones on ridges and in drainages all the way up to the Verde Rim.
When hunting on BLM Land, glass and hunt all drainages that lead into the Agua Fria River system. White-tailed deer utilize these drainages along with mule deer, so species identification is very important. Look for mule deer at the head of drainage cuts early in the morning as they return to bed sites on the thick brushy slopes. Further south near Black Canyon City try hunting the desert canyons. This is rough county and not for the weak of heart. Access is limited, so be prepared to do lots of up and down hiking. Locate and hunt around springs and try to glass hillsides in these areas. Be careful not to trespass on the private ranches in the area.
The Tonto National Forest encompasses the majority of Unit 21. Access points along Interstate 17 include the Bloody Basin and the Table Mesa roads. Both roads will lead hunters into good mule deer country. From the Bloody Basin Road, try hunting north on the 677 Road. Hunt and glass the both sides of the road. It is thick chaparral interspersed with open slopes. There are also a lot of whitetail in this area so be careful. The Bloody Basin Road will take you to the Verde Rim where there are some mule deer but this is mainly white-tailed deer habitat. Continue to drive down the Rim since both sides of the road are good areas to glass for mule deer on the flats down below. Forest Road 16, which is off the Bloody Basin Road, will take you north into several good mule deer hunting locations. Try hunting the canyons that drain off of the Verde Rim.
From the Table Mesa Road glass and hunt the lower slopes of the New River Mountains. Concentrate on the south facing slopes, but don’t overlook the cuts coming off New River Mesa, which is to the south.
Additional access to the unit is the Seven Springs Road (FS Road 24), which is north of the town of Carefree. Locate perennial springs on your Forest Service map, as these are great places to look for mule deer. Good luck on your hunt!
Overview: Whitetail deer can be found in Unit 21 in a variety of different habitat types, from semi-desert grassland up to ponderosa pine. Unlike mule deer, the population of whitetail has been slowly increasing in unit 21 over time. The majority of whitetail deer seem to use the typical whitetail habitat from about 3500 to 6000 feet in elevation. Whitetail can also be located in some areas that are not considered traditional whitetail habitat at elevations as low as 2500 feet.
There is a stratified hunt structure in Unit 21 that allows hunters the options of hunting in the early or late seasons. The late season hunters will generally find whitetail bucks starting to rut. During this time, bucks can be found on the move almost any time of day. There are very low numbers of hunters in the field during the late season compared to the early seasons, which can be crowded in popular areas. The drawing odds for the late hunt, however, are much lower than the earlier seasons. The early seasons can have other advantages along with better draw rates. Bucks can be much more predictable during the early seasons, as they are not on the move to seek out does.
Whitetail hunting in Unit 21 occurs primarily on public lands, free of access issues that affect some of the southern Arizona units. Tonto and Prescott National Forest maps can be used to identify roads that can be used to access good whitetail country.
While hunting whitetail deer in Unit 21, it is not uncommon to see mule deer using the same areas. Be certain which species you are looking at. Each season, officers seize a number of deer from hunters who harvest the wrong species.
Areas: The areas below are meant to provide you with good places to start scouting or hunting whitetail in Unit 21. The areas are broken up into the three main land management offices.
Prescott National Forest: South of Camp Verde, whitetail can be found in the Black Hills. This complex includes Squaw Peak, the Verde Rim, and Pine Mountain. The Verde Rim is a large escarpment overlooking the Verde River drainage. Squaw Peak and Pine Mountain are both high points along the Verde Rim with elevations around 6000 feet. Drainages coming off of these areas to the east hold good numbers of whitetail. To access Squaw Peak, travel east from I-17 at exit 278 on the Squaw Peak Road (Forest Road 732). To access the Verde Rim and Pine Mountain, travel east from I-17 at exit 268 on the Dugas Road (FR 68). There are two wilderness areas on the Prescott National Forest in Unit 21. Cedar Bench and Pine Mountain Wilderness areas offer great places to pack in if a whitetail hunter wants to get away from most other hunters.
Tonto National Forest: Southwest of Pine Mountain, whitetail can be found in most of the country along the southern portion of the Verde Rim. Rugged Mesa is a good place to start. To access Rugged Mesa, travel east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269) and travel north on the most easterly portion of the 44 Loop Road (FR 44). Hutch Mesa is also a good place to locate whitetail. To access Hutch Mesa, travel south on FR 58 from the Bloody Basin Road.
Southeast of Pine Mountain, whitetail can be found in most of the canyons that drain into the Verde River. The Red Creek area holds good numbers of whitetail. To access Red Creek, travel east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road and travel north on FR 16. This area can also be accessed by traveling north from Cave Creek on the Seven Springs Road (FR 24) to the Bloody Basin Road intersection, then going east towards FR 16.
Near the intersection of the Bloody Basin and Seven Springs Roads (FR 269 and 24) whitetail can be found in the East and West Cedar Mountain areas as well as the drainages between them and Tangle Creek. North of Cave Creek, whitetail can be found in much of the country north of Seven Springs. The Cave Creek Fire burned much of this area in 2005, but deer have started to use habitat that has recovered from the fire. To access this country, travel north from Cave Creek on the Seven Springs Road (FR 24) and use a variety of short spur roads that go both east and west from the Seven Springs Road. Hiking a ways from the roads will decrease the probability of running into other hunters.
Bureau of Land Management: Northeast of Black Canyon City, whitetail can be found in some portions of the Agua Fria River drainage, such as Larry and Lousy Canyons. To access these canyons, travel east from I-17 at exit 259 on the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269) to the 14 Road (FR 14). Travel south on the 14 Road to FR 610 (the second large steel gate south of the Bloody Basin Road). Travel west on FR 610 to Larry and Lousy Canyons.
Tips: Using the very best optics in your price range will help you become a more successful whitetail hunter. Quality binoculars mounted on a tripod used systematically to glass whitetail habitat is the most effective method used to locate the elusive Coues deer. Spend most of the day out in the field behind your binoculars, not just the morning and evening. Deer are often located during midday hours, and are easier to stalk while they are not moving.
Pre-season scouting is not only a great way to spend time outdoors with friends and family, but can pay off when the hunt rolls around. Hunters who scout are not only more familiar with where the deer and deer sign are located, but are also more familiar with roads used to access areas and the lay of the land.
Overview: Quail numbers have declined dramatically over the last 10 years. There are very few quail left north of the Dugas road, with only small numbers located around remote springs. Although quail numbers are low, the area north of the Dugas road is better for quail hunters who wish to hunt with dogs because there are very few cactus.
Areas: While quail numbers have rebounded slightly after the wet winter of 2018-19, numbers are still extremely low. The better places to hunt quail are along the 7 Springs road (FR 24), the Table Mesa Road (FR 41) and the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269). In the southern half of the unit try hunting both sides of FS Road 205 all the way to Horseshoe Lake.
Overview: Bear season opens in October and Unit 21 does not have an early season due to the fact that it is a release site for nuisance bears, which primarily occur during the summer months. The Department tries to minimize the risk of a hunter harvesting a bear that has been recently drugged.
Black bears are primarily associated with the chaparral and pine-oak woodlands habitat types. Gambel oak thickets (in years with good acorn production) are good places to check. Glassing oak thickets is difficult and the use of predator calls can enhance your probability of success. During some years, black bears can be located in the desert scrub habitat where thick stands of prickly pear cactus are found and when the pear ripen later in the year. Prickly pear flats can often provide excellent glassing and stalking opportunities for bear hunters. Look for prickly pear flats that extend up brushy slopes. This situation provides bears with good feeding sites adjacent to cover to bed down in. Later in the fall, Try hunting both high and low elevation types of habitat if you are having trouble-locating bears in one or the other. Be sure and call the Bear line (1-800-970-BEAR) to make sure the season has not closed due to the female harvest objective being reached before you go.
Areas: Areas to focus bear hunting efforts are in the Black Hills along the Verde Rim. Most high elevation drainages off of the Verde Rim are good bear habitat. Travel east off of I-17 on the Squaw Peak Road (FR 732 at exit 278), Dugas Road (FR 68 at exit 268), or the Bloody Basin Road (FR 269 at exit 259) to access the Verde Rim. Some of the slopes coming off of the Verde Rim can also be accessed west of the Seven Springs Road (FR 24).
Tips: Black bears, more than any other big game species in Arizona must be hunted early in the morning or late afternoon during the early fall hunts, if the hunter is to have an opportunity to locate the animals. Scouting prospective areas helps greatly and the use of binoculars and/or a spotting scope is almost mandatory. To judge a bear, look at body bulk and relative size of legs to the body and the ear size relative to the head. A bear with long -lanky looking legs is probably a young smaller bear. A bear with small appearing ears probably means a larger bear since bears’ ears (young and old) are generally about 5 inches long. Hence the smaller the ears appear in relation to the head, the bigger the bear’s head, which probably means a bigger bear.
|Primary Game Species/ Hunting Month(s)|
|White-tailed Deer||October, November, December|
|Secondary Game Species/ Hunting Month(s)|
|Average # permits in past 5 years|
|Month||Avg. Temp||Avg. Rainfall||Avg. Snowfall|
|January||Max 57°/Min 32°||1.55″||0.5″|
|February||Max 61°/Min 34°||1.47″||0.4″|
|March||Max 65°/Min 37°||1.45″||0.3″|
|April||Max 73°/Min 42°||0.61″||0.2″|
|May||Max 82°/Min 49°||0.38″||0.0″|
|June||Max 92°/Min 57°||0.29″||0.0″|
|July||Max 96°/Min 66°||1.78″||0.0″|
|August||Max 93°/Min 65°||2.43″||0.0″|
|September||Max 88°/Min 59°||1.63″||0.0″|
|October||Max 78°/Min 49°||1.10″||0.0″|
|November||Max 66°/Min 39°||1.08″||0.3″|
|December||Max 58°/Min 33°||1.40″||0.5″|
Other Pertinent Climate Information
Climate data from Cordes (elev. 3,790′). Conditions vary widely depending on elevation. Mountain roads are muddy after prolonged rain and some are closed during wet conditions. Some roads require a high-clearance vehicle. Check with managing agency.
Cities, Roads & Campgrounds
Major Cities and Towns in or Near Game Management Unit and Nearest Gas, Food, and Lodging
Cave Creek, New River, Black Canyon City, Cordes Jct., Camp Verde
Major Highways and Roads Leading To
From the East: Forest Service Rd 24 (dirt)
From the West: State Hwy 69
From the North: I-17
From the South: I-17
Tonto National Forest manages Bartlett Lake Recreation Area and Seven Springs, and Prescott National Forest manages Salt Flat (Pine Mountain). Camping is allowed on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land without a permit.
Brief Description of Terrain, Elevation, and Vegetation
Bounded on the north and east by the Verde River and on the west by I-17. Varied terrain ranging from desert plains and low rocky mountains in the south, to extensive mesas in the west, the steep mountains of the Black Hills in the northeast, and the Verde River valley in the east. Elevations range from about 1,200′ in the southern river valley to 6,814′ on Pine Mountain in the northeast. Vegetation is Sonoran Desertscrub in the south, semidesert grasslands on the mesas, riparian woodlands/marshlands along creek sides and riverbanks, and pinyon-juniper, gambel oak, and ponderosa pine on the mountains.
Government Agencies and Phone Numbers
Arizona Game and Fish Department, Region VI – 480-981-9400
Tonto National Forest, Cave Creek Ranger District – 480-595-3300
Prescott National Forest, Verde Ranger District – 928-567-4121
Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix Field Office – 623-580-5500