Game Management Unit 22
Species within this unit:
Bighorn Sheep, Black Bear, Elk, Javelina, Merriam's Turkey, Mountain Lion, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Tree Squirrel , Quail
22 boundary – Beginning at the junction of the Salt and Verde Rivers; north along the Verde River to Childs; easterly on the Childs-Strawberry Rd. to Fossil Creek; north on Fossil Creek to Fossil Springs; southeasterly on FS trail 18 (Fossil Spring Trail) to the top of the rim; northeasterly along the Rim to Nash Point along the Tonto-Coconino National Forest boundary along the Mogollon Rim; easterly along this boundary to Tonto Creek; southerly along the east fork of Tonto Creek to the spring box, north of the Tonto Creek Hatchery, and continuing southerly along Tonto Creek to the Salt River; westerly along the Salt River to the Verde River; except those portions that are sovereign tribal lands of the Tonto Apache Tribe and the Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Community.
Overview: Historically desert bighorn sheep occupied many of the mountain ranges around the greater Phoenix area. Most of the sheep disappeared at the turn of the century with the arrival of settlers and livestock. In 1980/81, The Arizona Game and Fish Department successfully transplanted approximately 30 desert bighorn sheep into Unit 22 in the Goat Mountain area north of Apache Lake. Today, the bighorn sheep range in a relatively narrow strip of habitat from roughly Goat Mountain at Apache Lake, westerly to Stewart Mountain just west of Saguaro Lake. There are also a few remaining desert bighorn sheep scattered east of Bartlett Lake from a transplant that did not fare well near Lion Mountain. In 1986, the first bighorn sheep permit was authorized for this newly transported heard. 1993 authorized three permits, plus the auction tag for a total of 4 permits. The population peaked in 1994 and appears to be in a decline possibly due to disease. The current season has one permit authorized plus the unit is open to the auction permit holder to hunt in.
Unit 22 bighorn sheep offers a unique, close to the Phoenix metropolitan area, wildlife viewing opportunity. The best time to see these magnificent animals is in early July from a boat off of Canyon Lake. You may even see large rams butting heads and it is the best time for wildlife photography and pre-season scouting if you are lucky enough to draw a permit.
Areas: Take Power Road north out of Mesa to Bush Highway. Take Bush Highway east to Stewart Mountain and to Saguaro Lake. Bighorn sheep can be observed by hiking Stewart Mountain and glassing them with binoculars or spotting scopes. To see sheep from Saguaro Lake, you can rent a boat or bring your own boat. Go to the east end of Saguaro Lake and look for them on the north shore from the no wake zone to Mormon Flat Dam. To observe sheep from Canyon Lake and Apache Lake, Take US 60 Freeway east to Apache Junction. Turn north on Idaho Road, then east on State Route Highway 88 to Canyon Lake and Apache Lake. You can rent boats at both lakes or bring your own boat. You can observe sheep all along the north shore of Canyon Lake from Mormon Flat Dam to Horse Mesa Dam. You may also see bighorn sheep on the south side of Canyon Lake in Unit 24B that were also transplanted. Access for the most part is via boat only. From Apache Lake, most of the bighorn sheep are on the north shore and stay around the Goat Mountain Area west to Horse Mesa Dam.
You can obtain a map of the area by purchasing a Tonto National Forest Map at local map and hiking stores or by contacting the Tonto National Forest Office in Phoenix at (602) 225-5200 or The Mesa Ranger District at (480) 610-3300. If you go to any of the three lakes, you must pay the USFS four dollars per day for a vehicle and an extra two dollars per day per boat to use the launching and parking facilities. If you go hiking or hunting you should purchase topographical maps of the area at local map stores. For hunting and wildlife watching, good quality binoculars and spotting scopes are essential.
Hunt Structure: The hunt structure for bear seasons are instituted to minimize female harvest from the population. In an effort to keep the Unit 22 season open for a longer period of time, increase hunter opportunity while minimizing female harvest, unit 22 has been split into North and South units with a variety of seasons (Refer to regulations for season dates). The Arizona Game and Fish Department relies on accurate reporting by responsible dedicated hunters to ensure the best wildlife management possible and that hunting opportunities for bear remain in Arizona. Hunters are responsible for checking to see if the hunt is still open by calling 1-800-970-BEAR(2327). Hunters are also required to contact the Arizona Game & Fish Department in person or by phone at the same number within 48 hours after taking a bear. In addition, the hunter shall present the bears skull, hide, and attached proof of sex for inspection within 10 days of taking a bear. If a hunter freezes the skull or hide before presenting it for inspection, the hunter shall prop the jaw open to allow access to the teeth and ensure that the attached proof of sex is identifiable and accessible.
Conformation differences between sexes are rather slight, but nonetheless discernable. Care should be taken to watch for cubs near a potential game bear. Small bruins are not always readily visible in dense cover. They do not always stay close to their mother. Older boars generally have greater skull mass than do sows and have a wider eye set. Male bear muzzles tend to be wider, giving the animal a "short snout" appearance. The female conversely seems longer and pointy. Chest depth of course is better for males displaying a wide view from the front and a more cylindrical body side profile. When seen from the side, sows appear funnel -shaped, with the small end of the triangle toward the head. These characteristics vary considerably in young bears, but hold fairly well for mature animals. These characteristics are general and should not be used to exclude sows with cubs.
Overview: Bear activity during the spring is not related to food supplies as much as the fall. Early spring food sources such as grasses and manzanita fruit occur from about the 4,500-7,000 foot elevations throughout the unit. During the fall hunts, bears range widely in search of acorns, juniper berries, mushrooms, and of course prickly pear cactus fruit in order to prepare their bodies for winter. In poor precipitation years, acorn and juniper berry crops tend to be low and bears must travel a great deal for feed, making them more visible to hunters especially in the lower elevations when bears seek out cactus fruit. Conversely, good precipitation years, especially after drought years tend to produce high yields of acorns and berries and provide the bears with an ample food supply. Bear hunting during these periods can prove to be difficult because the bears do not move much in the heavy dense scrub oak. Bears will still descend to lower elevations to feed on cactus fruit, but for not as long a period as they do in dry years. Concentrate hunting in moist canyons and northern slopes or where you find good acorn yields.
Find the food and you should find some bears. A good pair of binoculars with tripod is a must and a spotting scope can come in handy. When hunting in dense habitats with bear sign, try a predator call, this can be very productive.
Areas: Access to bear areas in the unit may be reached from the Phoenix metro area from Highway 87 north towards Strawberry, and along Highway 188 towards Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake. A USFS Tonto National Forest Service map can be purchased at local map or hiking stores or by contacting the Tonto National Forest Phoenix Office at (602) 225-5200 or any of the Tonto National Forest Ranger Districts located in: Mesa (480) 610-3300, Cave Creek (480) 595-3300, Payson (928) 474-7900, Globe (928) 402-6200, Tonto Basin (928) 467-3200, and Pleasant Valley (928) 462-3311. It is also highly recommended that you purchase several topographical maps of the areas you intend to hunt at local map and hiking stores to get more detailed information on canyons, peaks, and springs to aid you in your hunting.
Major canyons along the Mazatzal Mountain Range of the unit generally have good bear populations. When scouting, consider food items available and watch for sign especially near springs. Bear sign such as bear scat, hair on fences and trees, turned over rocks, and torn up rotten logs are easily recognized sign. Tracks in rough rocky terrain are sometimes hard to find unless you find them in canyon bottoms with soft dirt or around water sources. They can also be found on mountain saddles that may act as travel corridors. Tracks in pine needles or dense leaves can sometimes be recognized and may appear as if someone were dragging their feet. Concentrate on hunting for bear in Unit 22 from the 3,500-foot elevation on up. An essential tool for bear hunting is a good pair of high quality 10X power binoculars at a minimum. A tripod for your binoculars and using a good spotting scope will also greatly aid you.
Try both the western and eastern slopes of the Four Peaks Wilderness Area along the edges of the "Lone Fire". The Four Peaks can be accessed from both Highway 87 and Highway 188. Also hunt to the north of Four Peaks along FS Road 422 towards Edwards Peak concentrating on moist canyons and spring areas and where food sources are most abundant on both sides of the ridge line. The Mount Ord area is mostly accessed from Highway 87, but the eastern foothills can be accessed from various forest service roads west of Highway 188. To the west of Highway 87, you can continue hunting the Mazatzal Mountain Range from the Mormon Grove Area, Cane Springs, Barnhardt Trail, and into the Mazatzal Wilderness Area. These areas tend to have less hunter densities, but still offer good bear populations. Once you get to the northern end of Unit 22, hunt under the face of the rim from Strawberry to the Tonto Fish Hatchery. This area is particularly good on good acorn years and offers good hound dog hunting.
In response to past fires and fire dangers, some portions of unit 22 may be closed down or have access restrictions. Call the appropriate Tonto National Forest Ranger District for up to date information prior to going a field.
If you use an off-highway vehicle (OHV) to drive on some of these Forest Service roads, you must stay on the existing roads and cannot drive cross-country. The wilderness areas are particularly strict on motor vehicle use. If you have further questions about OHV use, contact the Tonto National Forest Service Phoenix Office at (602) 225-5200. If you see wildlife violations, please report them by calling the Operation Game Thief Hot Line at 1-800-352-0700.
Overview:Elk numbers in Unit 22 are stable around the 1700 level, with a bull/cow ratio hovering around 35 bulls: 100 cows. Generally, good populations of elk exist throughout the northern portions of Unit 22. Unit 22 has been split into two subunits to better direct elk hunting pressure to areas where elk need to be harvested (see hunting regulations for a full description of subunit boundaries). Unit 22 north is basically the area north and west of Payson, and it holds the majority of the elk in the Unit. Unit 22 south includes the entire area of Unit 22 south of the Unit 22 North subunit. Elk in 22 south generally occur in lower densities compared to 22 North, but nevertheless, elk numbers were expanding in 22 south and few hunters were taking advantage of these elk, so the 22 South hunt Unit was created for force hunters to harvest some of these elk.
The early 22 north and 22 south hunts will have the usual warm to hot daytime temperatures, so be prepared to transport the meat to a walk-in freezer location as soon as possible. Several walk-ins or butcher shops are located in the Payson area.
For all the hunts (firearms and archery), hunter success will increase with time spent glassing. A good pair of binoculars and spotting scope will improve the chance of taking a trophy bull.
Unit 22 exists entirely below the Mogollon Rim. Annually, elk from Units 5A, 6A, and 4A migrate into northern Unit 22 when feed in the other Units dries out, or when the snow gets deep enough to make them want to move. The peak of the winter movement depends on weather to a large degree, but generally occurs by late November of each year. With the increase of elk in the winter months, hunters will also face the inclement weather that pushes the elk off the rim. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle will be required if the weather turns to rain or snow. Temperature will average a daily high in the 40s to a low in the 20s.
Archery hunt success is closely related to the late October and early November temperatures. If rainfall patterns are normal, hunting around tanks from a tree stand will produce good success. It's still warm enough each day that elk will water in morning or evening. The September archery hunt success will be higher.
Areas: The area around and in the Dude Burn (northeast corner of Unit 22) is an excellent place to hunt for all the hunts. Areas inside the burn with standing sections of live trees will hold elk in larger numbers. The burn area is now over a decade old so the regenerated forage is not as choice as it was in the mid 1990s. However, good numbers of elk can be found within the dude burn area, especially during the later hunts. The Mogollon Rim is a magnet to elk during the late hunts because of the extensive browse that is found along its expanse. There are numerous roads that will take you under the Rim off the Control Road. Take any of these roads during the late hunt and pick a good spot to glass. More than likely you can find elk feeding one or just below the Rim itself. Take a pack frame with you if you hunt in this area because there are a lot of logs that have blown down since the fire and dragging a downed elk or driving to a downed elk in the Dude Burn is nearly impossible.
Hardscrabble Mesa (northwest corner of Unit 22) and the northern end of the Mazatzal Wilderness can be good depending on the current year livestock use.
The brush thicket below the Little Diamond Rim east to Diamond Point Area has produce some nice bulls in the past, but is limited to vehicle use. Recovery of downed elk can be difficult and pack animals are recommended.
The early hunt in Unit 22 South has several good places to check out including Round Valley northeast to the Lion Springs area, and the area around Little Green Valley.
For cow elk hunting in Unit 22 south, the two best places are National Forest land south of the Rim Golf Club and the Payson Municipal Golf Club. Elk feed on these golf courses at night and then move onto national forest land in the mornings to bed. They can frequently be intercepted in the mornings if you do your homework. To get to the Rim club elk, take Granite Dells Road off of Hwy 260 in Payson (next to Safeway). Granite Dells Road will take you onto National Forest Land south of the Rim Club. Get there early and glass and look for sign where the elk are traveling in the area. Just be aware that it is illegal to fire a gun while taking wildlife within a quarter mile of any occupied building. That means both you and your target must be more than ¼ mile from any homes in the area. So do a thorough job of scouting the area prior to the hunt to be sure you are familiar with private and public land boundaries as well as the locations of all the homes. If you are cited for shooting within a ¼ mile of an occupied residence you can also louse your elk!
The Payson Municipal Golf Course can be found by going east on Main Street in Payson off the Beeline Hwy. There is access to the National Forest directly south of the golf clubhouse. The city limits actually extend about ¼ mile south of the swinging metal gate in that area, so again, do your scouting early and be sure of your property boundaries and house locations. National Forest land adjacent to both these golf courses can be great places to harvest elk if you do your homework ahead of time.
Javelina are distributed throughout Unit 22 ranging from the southern end of the unit, (lower Sonoran desert scrub habitat), to the northern end of the unit, (ponderosa pine forest), just below the Mogollon Rim. However, the elevations with the most concentrations of Javelina are in the lower to mid elevations ranging from 1,500-5,000 feet. Lower Sonoran desert habitat to juniper grassland habitat types hold the most Javelina. When weather patterns are cold, Javelina move relatively late in the day when the weather warms up. They have very little body fat and their pelage does not adequately keep them warm, you may therefore find them bunched up and laying on each other during very cold mornings or not moving around to feed until the sun warms the hillside into late morning. During cold temperatures Javelina may feed throughout the day. During hot weather, Javelina will move early and late in the evening to feed, and may continue moving in the coolness of dark.
A good pair of binoculars with a steady rest or tripod will greatly enhance your chances of a successful Javelina hunt. Scouting for Javelina and locating several different herds will also increase your chances of a successful hunt. Locate springs and water holes and scout a 360-degree circle around that water source of approximately 1.5 - 2 miles from the source. Because Javelina are very territorial, it is a good practice not to hunt the same herd year after year, but to hunt several different herds. This will allow the herds a chance to recuperate especially if several hunters harvested Javelina from the same herd. Special care should be taken to observe the Javelina herds and avoid if possible harvesting sows with young piglets or "Reds". Most piglets will stay close to their mother's heels, but can be as far as 20 yards away.
Some Javelina sign is relatively easy to locate. When scouting look for signs of Javelina rooting around various plants, grasses, bushes, and cactus. Javelina will eat prickly pair cactus more during the fall winter months and it will appear very shredded at the bite location. Cattle and rabbits leave more of a clean bite mark on cactus. Javelina will also eat hedgehog cactus and it will appear as if the cactus was laid open and the inside of the cactus was scooped out with a spoon. Also look for Javelina scat, it looks similar to dog scat but dries up quickly, turns white and falls apart. Javelina scat generally brakes up very quickly in the environment and does not last long unlike deer pellets. If it is green, you are right on top of them and the Javelina are using the area. Also check rocky overhangs, caves and under trees where Javelina might bed. During spring and early summer, Javelina will graze on green grasses and new forbs and their sign of rooting or cactus chewing will not be as evident.
Areas: Access to the unit is best obtained by purchasing a USFS Tonto National Forest Map at local map and hiking stores or by contacting the Tonto National Forest Service Office in Phoenix at (602) 225-5200 or at any of the local Ranger Districts located in: Mesa (480) 610-3300, Cave Creek (480) 488-3441, Payson (520) 474-7900, Globe (520) 402-6200, Tonto Basin (520) 467-3200, and Pleasant Valley (520) 462-3311. Not all roads are listed on the Tonto map, so it's highly recommended that you purchase several topographical maps of the area you intend to hunt. These maps will give you more detailed information on canyons, peaks, springs and roads to aid you on your hunt.
The unit can be accessed by taking Highway 87 north from the Phoenix area towards Payson. To access most of the unit, it is best to have four-wheel-drive or an off-highway vehicle (OHV). If you use an OHV or four-wheel-drive please stay on existing roads. Cross-country driving is prohibited. Report OHV violations, vandalism, and litter at 1-800-VANDALS and game violations at 1-800-352-0700. Remember to leave the area cleaner than what you found it to protect your privilege to hunt there in the future.
Starting on the west side of Highway 87, you can hunt just north of the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation in the Lower Sycamore Creek area and Sugar Loaf Mountain area to the unit boundary (Verde River). At the beginning of these two areas, they tend to get a lot of OHV recreation use, but if you continue past those areas, you can get into to some good quality Javelina hunting areas that receive very little hunting pressure. You can also try the "Rolls Area" north of Saguaro Lake. Take Forest Service (FS) Road 143 and hunt the lower elevations towards Saguaro Lake and the Cane Springs area. Several large fires have run through this area. Concentrate on hunting the edges of the unburned vegetation. Javelina may utilize the edges of the burned area for new green growth. Continuing north up Highway 87, you can hunt off the Four Peaks Road, Ballentine Trail Area, and just off Highway 87 on both sides. All these areas offer good lower Sonoran desert Javelina hunting.
As you continue north up Highway 87 the habitat turns into juniper prickly pear grasslands at about the 3,200-4,500 foot elevation. Try scouting the Diamond Mountnain Area on the west side of the highway or in the Bushnell Tanks Area on the east side of the highway.
The Slate Creek area up to the Junction of Highways 87 and 188 offer some very good Javelina hunting. There are only a few roads to the east and west of the highway, but you can access some good areas by hiking east of Highway 87. By taking Highway 188, you can hunt the Jakes Corner, and Tonto Basin areas. Remember to hunt west of Tonto Creek and Roosevelt Lake to stay in Unit 22. Concentrate on hunting Reed Springs, Cottonwood Creek, Slate Creek, Buena Vista Springs and The Three Bar Wildlife Area.
To the north of the junction of Highways 87 and 188, try Brady Canyon, FS Road 184 along Rye Creek, and off of FS Roads 417 & 417A west of the town of Gisela. Also try scouting the Barnhardt Trail area, Half Moon Springs and the 414 road west of Rye. You can also try scouting west of Payson on the Doll Baby Ranch Road FS 406.
In response to past fires and present fire dangers, contact the appropriate Tonto National Forest Ranger District to inquire on any access restrictions. Good luck and have fun.
Notice: The fall hunting season is now a limited weapon-shotgun shooting shot season only. There is still a fall archery-only over-the-counter permit hunt available in fall.
Overview: Turkey numbers in Unit 22 are small compared with other turkey units in the state. The turkey population in Unit 22 is really driven by poult production because the population is so small relatively speaking. Poor poult production can really limit the number of birds available to hunt for the fall hunts. As a result, turkey tag numbers have gone up and down throughout the last decade in response to good and bad years of poult production.
When hunting in the fall, time spent scouting near stock tanks and creeks to locate flocks will produce the best results. Turkey will develop a daily pattern of feeding and watering. If you can locate a flock around water at a certain time one day, it's a good bet the flock will be there in later days.
Areas: The majority of the turkeys in Unit 22 will be found around the edge of the Dude Burn, especially the area north of Tonto Village (Turkey Ridge). Other areas near the burn include Big Canyon and Ellison Creek. One area south of the burn is Piuate Draw (USFS 198 Road) where you can work the area north into the burn.
A limited number of birds can be found in the Chase Creek, Bray Creek, and Weber Creek drainage as well as Hardscrabble Mesa south of Strawberry.
Overview: Unit 22 boosts one of the higher mountain lion densities in the state. Much of the unit from Four Peaks along the Mazatzal Wilderness to the Mogollon Rim is considered excellent mountain lion habitat (excluding the Lone Fire burn area). The rough canyons and ridges within the chaparral vegetation zone and upper Sonoran desert provide mountain lions all they need.
Over the last 10 years, an average harvest of 11 mountain lions a year have been reported. The ruggedness and lack of snow cover over most of the unit throughout most of the year makes it difficult for most hound hunting, but some with good dogs can do quite well. Approximately, 60 percent of the total yearly harvest comes from hunters using hounds. Therefore, a good percentage (40 percent) of the harvest comes from elk, deer and bear hunters or people specifically predator calling mountain lions. If you do draw an elk or deer tag or go bear hunting in Unit 22, you would be wise to get a mountain lion tag before you head out into the field. Additionally, if you decide to hire a guide be sure to get references and talk to them about their hunting experiences with a particular guide before hiring anyone. Some guides are definitely better than others at helping you fill your lion tag in an area like Unit 22.
Areas: As stated earlier, much of the unit is considered excellent mountain lion habitat from Four Peaks along the Mazatzal Wilderness to the Mogollon Rim (excluding the Lone Fire burn area). Most rugged areas with good deer, elk or javelina populations will also support mountain lions.
North of Payson: Look for sign in areas like the Diamond and Little Diamond rims, Crackerjack Road area north to Fossil Creek and along the Mogollon Rim.
South of Payson: From the Doll Baby Ranch (along the East Verde River, west of Payson) south along the foothills of the Mazatzal Wilderness to Sunflower. Also, the canyons off Mt. Ord to the edge of the Lone Fire (Four Peaks) are good places for a mountain lion to be found. Predator callers might try some of the larger canyon areas extending north of Canyon and Apache Lakes. These canyons are major travel routes for lions and their prey.
Overview: Mule deer numbers in Unit 22 continue to decline over the last ten years just like most of the state during this time of very little precipitation. Mule deer can be found from the southern portion of the unit in the Sonoran Desert north to Mogollon Rim into the Ponderosa Pine forests on the Mogollon Rim. The mule deer archery hunt in Unit 22 begins in late August for the archery hunters and closes in mid September and reopens in December and stays open until the end of January. Unit 22 provides many opportunities for the archery hunter to harvest a good buck during the rut in January. The mule deer rifle season opens in Unit 22 in the end of October and stays open until the first week of November. Hunters during the rifle season should glass hillsides early in the morning and just before dusk to locate mule deer before they bed. During the October mule deer hunt the deer tend not to move much after the early morning. Scouting is very important for the October mule deer hunt to locate deer and deer sign before the season starts.
Areas: The Mazatzal Wilderness area holds pockets of mule deer where water is found year round and this area can be accessed by the Sheep’s Bridge Crossing road along the east side of the Verde River. There are several good trailheads along this road to get you into the wilderness area, but access is limited to foot or horseback travel only.
The Edwards Park area just south of Mt. Ord holds a fair number of mule deer and receives little pressure because of the ruggedness of the road. Access off of Highway 87 to the Four Peaks Rd., (FS 143) east to FS 422, go north to Edwards Park, which is at the end of the road.
Mt. Ord: Access off Highway 87 and FS 626 to the east, the lower basins like Cottonwood Basin hold mule deer on the western facing slopes below the thick chaparral vegetation on the hillsides.
Bushnell Tanks: Access off of Highway 87 to FS Road 22, mule deer can be found on most of the hillsides in this area. Glass the long ridges and canyon areas on both sides of the FS Road 22.
Four Peaks: Access off of Highway 87 or State Route 188 to FS Road 143 and go to the large mountaintops and ridges and glass the southern most sides to the north and south of FS Road 143. There is lots of country in this area to look at for mule deer so scouting is recommended for this area.
Three Bar Wildlife area: Access is off Highway 188 from the Jake’s Corner area to the Roosevelt Dam. The areas behind Tonto Basin have recently been burned but should provide good visibility for locating moving deer along and in the canyons. Whitetail deer also inhabit these areas so be sure of your identification before shooting.
Payson: Mule deer can be found all through the Tonto National Forest area around Payson. The main road into this area is the Control Road, FS Road 64, which crosses below the Rim from Pine to Indian Gardens. Mule deer can be found in all of the forested areas and pre-scouting is advised because of high activity in these areas. Locate waterholes in the area and look for sign of recent activity.
Overview: Whitetail deer can be found in all habitat types occurring in Unit 22, from the semi-desert grassland areas through the ponderosa pine forests under the Mogollon Rim. However, most of the whitetail population occurs in the chaparral vegetation zones extending from the Four Peaks area northward to the Mogollon Rim. Generally, this zone is above 4,000 feet in elevation.
The Whitetail hunt in unit 22 is broken into two seasons, the first occurring in October and the second in December (Refer to regulations for exact season dates). Approximately 90% of the permits are offered in the early season giving better drawing odds when compared to the December hunt. For those who are lucky to draw the December hunt, this means a high quality hunt in the rut. The rut will occur from mid-December to mid-February and peak the first part of January. Don’t discard the early hunt. Although the Whitetail are not in the rut, this can prove to be a very productive hunt. Archery hunters enjoy generous seasons in August/September and December/January. Additionally, only antlered deer are legal to harvest in Unit 22.
Unit 22 is free of access problems occurring from private property issues like occur in many of the southern Arizona whitetail units. The only access problems occur from the ruggedness and remoteness in some parts of the unit, like the Mazatzal Wilderness Area. In response to past fires and fire dangers, there may be access restrictions at certain times of the year. Prior to going a field, you should contact the appropriate Tonto National Forest Ranger District to inquire on present restrictions. As with any hunt, a scouting trip or two before your planned hunt will greatly increase your chances of filling that tag.
Areas: Starting at the northern part of the unit and going south. Fossil Creek Canyon and Hardscrabble Canyon: Both areas are located west of Strawberry and can be accessed off FS Roads 708, 591, or the 194. Both canyons are deep and steep, but good bucks can be found here.
Polles Mesa: This area is for those wishing a pack trip. The south and east side of Polles Mesa are good whitetail country. Polles Mesa is located in the Mazatzal Wilderness area north of the LF Ranch, which is roughly four miles west of the Doll Baby Ranch where the trailhead starts. Doll Baby Ranch is west of Payson and can be found on FS Road 406.
Eastern foothills of the Mazatzal Wilderness: Good whitetail country can be found from Doll Baby Ranch to Slate Creek. Specific areas include City Creek, Boyd Mountain, Deer Creek, Gold Creek and Slate Creek. Access to these areas is off of Highway 87 and on FS Roads 406, 414, 442, 419, 415 and the 201.
Mt. Ord: Access off Highway 87 and FS Road 626. Whitetail can be found right off Highway 87, but most range from half way up to the top. Also, the south side of Mt. Ord is gook whitetail country and can be accessed off FS Road 22 (Bushnell Tanks Road).
Slopes off Edwards Park: Nice whitetail country, with many burns on it over the past 10-15 years. Access off Highway 87 and FS Road 22 (Bushnell Tanks Road) or off Highway 188 and FS Roads 524, 409, or 421. FS Road 143 to FS Road 422 takes you out on Edward’s Park itself.
Lone Fire Burn area: Four Peaks is located in the middle of this burn and can be accessed off FS Road 143 off highways 87 or 188 or off the Three Bar Wildlife Area.
Foothills around Ballantine Trailhead (south of Sunflower on Highway 87): Surprisingly, a decent whitetail population occurs down in the upper Sonoran desert of this area.
Tips: Pre-season scouting is very important. Purchase a Tonto National Forest map at a minimum and topo maps for a more detailed look at the areas. Locate an area that gives you a good vantage point to glass. The December whitetail hunt is a rut hunt and the bucks are actively seeking does. The early hunt is out of the rut, but bucks can be patterned much more easily. Mornings and evenings are great times to glass but don’t exclude midday. Bucks are seen all day and if you’re not in the field looking you’re not going to see them. Good luck, be safe, and have fun.
With the warmer than average temperatures for the past several winter's squirrel numbers are good. Both Abert and gray squirrel can be found in northern Unit 22. Gray squirrel are limited to drainage with pines and mix hardwoods while Abert can be found throughout the pine-covered portions of Unit 22.
Areas: The northern corner of Unit 22, particular the areas near the Control Road (USFS 64) and the Piuate Draw Road (USFS 198) will provide good starting points to hunt Abert's. The drainage off the Mogollon Rim, Weber Creek, Bray Creek, Dude Creek, and Ellison Creek will be good spots for Abert and gray squirrels.
Special points of concern with hunting in the area are the large numbers of summer homes found scattered through the area. Remember, no hunting with a firearm within a quarter of a mile of a home without permission.
Overview:Unit 22 has one species of quail, the Gambel's quail. Gambel's quail is widely distributed over the unit ranging from lower Sonoran desert to juniper scrub oak grasslands.
If you use an off-highway vehicle (OHV), obey all laws and stay on existing roads. It is illegal to drive cross-country or hunt from a motor vehicle. Most of the unit is public land intermixed with small holdings of private land. Obey and respect all trespassing signs and laws, and remember to leave the hunting area cleaner then how you found it. One further note, shotgun shells are considered litter so please protect your privilege to hunt and pick them up.
Access to the unit is best obtained by purchasing a USFS Tonto National Forest map at local map and hiking stores, or by contacting the Tonto National Forest office in Phoenix at (602) 225-5200 or any of the Tonto National Forest Ranger Districts located in: Mesa (480) 610-3300, Cave Creek (480) 488-3441, Globe (520) 402-6200, Tonto Basin (520) 467-2236, or Payson (520) 474-7900.
Areas: From the Phoenix metro area, the unit can be easily accessed from Highway 87 north to Payson and south on Highway 188 towards Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake. Good quail numbers can usually be found starting at the southern end of the unit west of Highway 87 along Sycamore Creek, up to the Diamond Mountain area, Barnhardt Trail, and west of Payson. To the east of Highway 87, try "The Rolls" area and the foothills along the west side of the Mazatzal Mountains up through Sunflower, and just south of Payson. The east side of the Mazatzal Mountains can be accessed via Highway 188. Hunt along the foothills from Tonto Basin to the Three Bar Wildlife Area. The Three Bar Wildlife Area is open to quail hunting and has many water catchments designed for specifically for quail use.
|Primary Game Species/ Hunting Month(s)|
|Secondary Game Species/ Hunting Month(s)|
|Average # permits in past 5 years|
|Mule Deer||900 (Including 3-Bar Wildlife Area)|
|Month||Avg. Temp||Avg. Rainfall||Avg. Snowfall|
|January||Max 65°/Min 36°||0.84"|
|February||Max 69°/Min 37°||0.60"|
|March||Max 74°/Min 43°||0.77"|
|August||Max 102°/Min 73°||1.20"|
|September||Max 99°/Min 66°||0.76"|
|October||Max 88°/Min 54°||0.53"|
|November||Max 75°/Min 43°||0.50"|
|December||Max 67°/Min 37°||0.90"|
Other Pertinent Climate Information
Lower elevations receive little or no snow; higher elevations receive occasional light snowfalls with little accumulation. Winter rains (November-March) produce 65%-70% of annual precipitation. Tonto Creek is uncrossable at A-Cross Rd. during winter rains.
Cities, Roads & Campgrounds
Major Cities and Towns in or Near Game Management Unit and Nearest Gas, Food, and Lodging
Payson, Fountain Hills, Punkin Center
Major Highways and Roads Leading To
From the East: State Hwy 260
From the West: None
From the North: State Hwy 87
From the South: State Hwy 87, 188 Developed Campgrounds
Canyon Lake: The Point (Boat Access Only), Laguna Beach; Apache Lake: Burnt Corral; Roosevelt Lake: Cholla, Bachelor Cove; Upper Tonto Creek: Ponderosa.
Saguaro Group Site - Bush Hwy about 1/2 mile north of Butcher Jones; Roosevelt Lake: Horse Pasture, Cholla Bay; Verde River: 2nd and 3rd Crossing.
Brief Description of Terrain, Elevation, and Vegetation
Terrain varies from relatively flat desert grasslands to high, forested mountains. Elevations range from 1,500' at Saguaro Lake to 7,894' at Mazatzal Peak. Sonoran desert vegetation at lower elevations to mixed conifer, spruce/fir/ponderosa pine on Mazatzal Peak at 7,894'. pinyon/juniper and extensive chaparral in the Mazatzal Mountains and along the base of the Mogollon Rim.
Government Agencies and Phone Numbers
Arizona Game and Fish Department, Region VI - (480) 981-9400
Tonto National Forest - (602) 379-6446
Gila County Sheriff, Payson - (520) 474-2208