Game Management Unit 28
Species within this unit:
Bighorn Sheep, Black Bear, Javelina, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Elk, Sandhill Crane, Cottontail Rabbit, Dove, Quail
Beginning at I-10 and the New Mexico state line; north along the state line to AZ Hwy 78; southwest on AZ Hwy 78 to U.S. Hwy 191; northwest on U.S. Hwy 191 to Clifton; westerly on the Clifton-Morenci-San Carlos road to Eagle Creek; northerly along Eagle Creek to the San Carlos Indian Reservation boundary; southerly and west along the reservation boundary to U.S. Hwy 70; southeast on U.S. Hwy 70 to U.S. Hwy 191; south on U.S. Hwy 191 to I-10 Exit 352; easterly on I-10 to the New Mexico state line.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
Overview: Desert Bighorn Sheep populations fluctuate from year to year. Desert Bighorn Sheep were last surveyed in 2019 and the population remains healthy.
Area: The Desert Bighorn Sheep in unit 28 are located in the Peloncillo Mountains South of Hwy 70. These mountains can be accessed from San Simon, Bowie, or the New Mexico side near Stein’s pass or 12 miles across the state line south and West of Duncan.
Some key areas to look are Orange Butte, Midway Canyon, Tule Well, McKenzie Peak, and Engine Mountain. It is highly recommended that time be spent scouting in order to locate the best ram available. For additional information on this area, contact the BLM (Safford Field Office) or the local Wildlife Manager.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Overview: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are located north of U.S. Highway 70. Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were last surveyed in 2019 and the population remains healthy. The total population of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep is great than the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the unit.
Area: Most of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are located between Bonita Creek, Eagle Creek, Gila Mountains and the Gila River. As is the case with most sheep country the terrain is very rough, rugged, and steep. Access is limited to only a few roads.
The majority of the sheep are in the Eagle Creek drainage. Eagle Creek is best accessed by the Lower Eagle Creek Pump Station Road. The Freeport McMoran copper mine in Morenci has a large area of private holdings in this area which includes Eagle Creek. Eagle Creek is open to the public but for other Freeport private holdings it is highly recommended that you contact someone in security at the Morenci office to discuss access into the areas. Freeport will not allow access into active mining sites.
The country around Bonita Creek can be accessed from the Safford area by using the Solomon pass road or by using the Bonita Creek/Sanchez Road. The Gila Box has very limited access and will require some hiking from either of the other two areas listed earlier. It is also possible to access the Gila Box by floating the Gila River depending on water levels.
It is recommended that a good deal of time be spent in the preseason scouting the area to find the best sheep available. Some of the canyons or spots on the maps to scout are Gold Gulch, Bat Canyon, Turtle Mountain, Midnight Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon, Copperplate Canyon, and Hot Springs Canyon.
For those lucky enough to draw a tag and willing to do some preseason preparation this has been a very successful hunt. Weather at this time of year can be very unpredictable so you need to be ready for almost anything.
Overview: Black Bear numbers in unit 28 are relatively low, however, the bears that do inhabit the unit can be found in two general areas. One area is the northeastern part of the unit, south of Hwy 78. The other area stretches along the San Carlos Indian Reservation in the Gila Mountains.
Areas: The area in the northeastern portion of the unit is contiguous with the bear habitat in Unit 27. The habitat is thick, brushy, rough and is not easy to hunt. If this is the area you choose to hunt it is highly recommended that time be spent scouting prior to the hunt in order to find where the bears are located.
The habitat in the Gila Mountains tends to be more open than the northeastern corner of 28 and is also steep and rough. Spot and stalk techniques have been successful here in the past.
In September, bears can usually be found feeding on prickly pear fruit. Areas with large patches of prickly pear are good spots to start looking. These areas include Johnny Creek, Markham Creek, Brushy Canyon, Day Mine Canyon and the Fishhooks Wilderness Canyons. Pre-season scouting is highly recommended to locate the areas currently being utilized by bears.
Unit 28 has a one female bear quota; this means the hunt is closed the Wednesday following the first female harvest. It is the hunter’s responsibility to call the Department in order to determine which units are open to bear hunting (1-800-970-BEAR).
Overview: Javelina can be found throughout Unit 28.
Areas: Javelina are scattered throughout Unit 28. Most of the flatter country in Unit 28 can be very difficult to locate animals in. The foothills provide better glassing opportunities. It is best for a hunter to explore to find an area suitable for his or her hunting style.
One effective way to hunt Javelina is to spend time glassing to locate a herd. Once a herd is located you can plan how to get within a distance that you feel comfortable.
Some areas to explore are the Gila Mountains north and west of Safford, the Whitlock Mountains southeast of Safford, the Black Hills between Safford and Clifton, and the Peloncillo Mountains west and south of Duncan along the state line. A BLM map may be purchased from a local map shop and examined to better locate the areas mentioned above. At the present time, there are no major access problems in unit 28.
Overview: Unit 28 is quite large and covers approximately 2400 square miles. Because of the open terrain, unit 28 typically has a high hunter success.
Areas: The Gila Mountains north and west of Safford have relatively low numbers of mule deer with a few areas of higher concentrations of deer. Some good places to look in the Gila Mountains are Day Mine Canyon, Oliver Knoll, Solomon Pass, Bonita Creek, Turtle Mountain, the Fishooks Wilderness Area and the Diamond Bar Ranch.
The area around Guthrie Peak, between Hwy 191 and the Gila River offers many canyons to hunt mule deer. This area is east of Safford. The BLM has dedicated a road into this area called the Back Country By-way. It can be accessed from Hwy 191 and there are signs to indicate were to turn.
The Whitlock Mountains are another area commonly hunted for mule deer. The Whitlocks are east of Safford and to get there travel east out of Safford on Hwy 70. The mountains are accessible by turning south onto Haekel Road or Hackberry Ranch Road. Haekel Road provides access from the west side of the mountains and Hackberry Ranch Road from the east.
The Peloncillo Mountains run along the east edge of unit 28 from highway 70 south. Hunters should obtain a map and look for such names as Ash Peak, Woods Canyon, Poppy Canyon, Gillespie Canyon, Sands Draw, Tule Wells, Antelope Canyon and McKenzie Ranch. There are many good areas that a BLM map should be obtained and explored for specific access. At present time, most areas are open.
The outlook for the mule deer hunt in unit 28 is good. It is very important that the first time hunter in the unit spend some time scouting. The unit is quite large and some country is hard to hunt or may contain low deer numbers.
Overview: Unit 28 offers limited whitetail deer hunting. Approximately 10-12 whitetails are taken in Unit 28 each year.
Areas: The majority of whitetails are harvested in the northeastern part of Unit 28, south of Hwy 78. The habitat is very thick with brush and can be difficult to hunt. A few deer are also taken on Turtle Mountain. This area is northeast of Safford and lies between Bonita Creek and lower Eagle Creek north of the Gila River. Four-wheel drive is recommended for this area and depending on the conditions, can be a must. The Fishhook Wilderness Area in the northwest portion of Unit 28, along the San Carlos Reservation, can also hold pockets of whitetail. To be successful on a whitetail hunt it is highly recommended that detailed maps be obtained and that time is spent in the preseason scouting. This will help you become familiar with the area and possibly locate where the deer (bucks) are running.
Overview: Unit 28 offers limited elk hunting. All elk hunts in unit 28 are limited opportunity or over the counter, non-permit tag hunts. Unit 28 is not traditional elk country but there are a few areas where elk will move into the unit from the San Carlos Reservation, unit 27, or New Mexico.
Areas: Elk are not found throughout unit 28. They are found along the boundary with the San Carlos Reservation and in the northeast corner of the unit. Elk can be found anywhere along the San Carlos Boundary in the Gila Mountains but some areas to begin looking are Diamond Bar Ranch, the Fishhooks Wilderness, Day Mine Road, Markham Creek, Pima Gap, and Johnny Creek. All areas are rough to very rough with limited road access. The northeast corner of the unit has very thick vegetation and can be tough to move through. Elk will occasionally be found along the Gila River near Ft. Thomas. An important note is the Gila River Corridor is closed for the over the counter, non-permit hunt. As with any limited opportunity hunt these hunts can be very tough and there is a chance the hunter will not find any elk.
Overview: Sandhill Cranes are found mainly along the Gila River in agricultural areas in unit 28. With proper pre-season scouting hunters can be successful. Pre-season scouting is very important because Sandhill Crane numbers fluctuate and they will use different areas from year to year.
Areas: Due to the large number of farm fields it can be difficult to predict where the birds will go to feed. One way to locate areas is to follow birds as they leave the roost to fields where they are currently feeding. Once their feeding locations are determined, get permission from the landowner to hunt the field then set up in that field before dawn the following morning. A good landownership map can also be useful in locating state land or BLM land sections on the edges of farm fields. Local Wildlife Managers do not keep a list of the landowners that provide access as these can change from year to year and it is the hunter’s responsibility to obtain landowner permission prior to hunting on private property. Some Cranes will also roost on stock tanks after feeding and before returning to their night-roost sites so some hunters have found success in “puddle jumping” the tanks or setting on those tanks waiting for them to come in. This style may also provide hunters the opportunity to take other waterfowl.
Overview: Unit 28 is very large with approximately 2400 square miles of surface area and cottontails are found throughout the unit. The majority of the cottontails harvested in this unit are in conjunction with other hunting activities such as dove and quail hunting. With the dry conditions of recent years the most productive hunting areas will likely be located near water sources. The overall rabbit numbers in Unit 28 appear to be down slightly from past years due primarily to the current drought conditions that exist. The rabbit population can respond quickly to changes in weather conditions.
Area: The Gila River in Unit 28 runs from the New Mexico state line to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Much of the area along the river is privately owned; therefore it is a good idea to obtain permission before attempting to hunt an area.
The San Simon Valley has many dirt stock tanks which can offer good cottontail hunting and is located southeast of Safford. The San Simon Valley is best accessed by taking Tanque Road east from Hwy 191 south of Safford and by taking Haeckel Road south from Hwy 70 east of Safford. A map of the area will be very helpful when hunting.
Overview: Mourning Dove makes up the majority of the dove harvest in unit 28. Good hunting opportunities can be found near livestock water, harvested grain fields, and along the Gila River.
While pre-season scouting, one may find cut grain fields along the Gila River. These attract large numbers of dove and can provide fast and furious shooting. Scouting may also locate a “water hole” used by dove. Keep in mind that the birds may water after they feed and their trip to water may take place later in the morning.
With dry conditions the birds are usually found close to a water source. Although even in dry years there seems to be fair numbers of birds across the desert. One of the key factors with dove hunting success has to do with summer rains and how long the birds stay around before they start to migrate south. Some years their timing seems to coincide with the start of the early hunt. A little preseason scouting can payoff big on opening morning.
Areas: The Gila River runs from New Mexico to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Grain fields may be found around Duncan, Safford, and throughout the Gila Valley. Checking these fields just before the season will locate the fields currently being used by dove. Be sure to obtain permission from the landowner before shooting. The San Simon Valley has many dirt stock tanks and is southeast of Safford. The valley is best accessed by taking Tanque Road east from highway 191 of by taking Haekel Road south from highway 70.
Overview: The amount of winter moisture received each year has a direct correlation on the number of quail seen. Years of high winter rainfall produce large numbers of young birds where low winter rains produce few birds. Unit 28 has received below average winter rains for the past several winters. The birds seem to be frequently located near a water source.
Both Gambel’s and Scaled quail can be found in Unit 28. Gambel’s quail can be found anywhere in the unit, while Scaled Quail are only found in the foothills of the Peloncillo Mountains. The Scaled Quail in the unit seem to be able to utilize the summer rains and their numbers can be affected by the amount of summer precipitation received.
Areas: Gambel’s quail can be found along the Gila River. Some of the areas along the river are very thick with brush. Quail may be found coming and going to the river with roosting sites found in the mesquite thickets. Some patience is required to hunt quail in these areas, even though quail numbers are quite high along the river.
Gambel’s quail can also be found in the foothills of the Gila Mountains north and northwest of Safford, the Whitlock Mountains southeast of Safford, the Black Hills east of Safford and the Peloncillo Mountains south and west of Duncan.
The Gila Mountains can be accessed by crossing the Gila River in Solomon, Safford, Thatcher, Pima, Eden, or Fort Thomas. A road parallels the river on the north side and runs from the mouth of Bonita Creek to Geronimo. There are many side roads that will allow access to the Gila Mountains and quail can be located in most areas.
The Whitlock Mountains may be found by traveling east from Safford on Hwy 70. At milepost 362.1 on Hwy 70 between Safford and Duncan, you will find the Hackberry Ranch Road. This road travels south and allows access to the Whitlock Mountains.
The desert east of Hwy 191 offers good Gambel’s hunting. Tanque Road, south of Safford, offers access to the sloping hills which run into the San Simon Valley. Many other small roads can be found heading east off Hwy 191.
Scaled quail can be found in the foothills and on the grassy slopes surrounding the Peloncillo Mountains. These mountains are located west and south of Duncan. They can also be accessed from the Hackberry Ranch Road. The Lazy-B Ranch, south of Duncan, offers limited scaled quail hunting. Access to this ranch can be found off highway 70 between Duncan and Lordsburg, about 5 miles into New Mexico.
In general, quail can be found throughout unit 28. A scouting trip prior to your hunt can prove to be very beneficial.
|Primary Game Species/ Hunting Month(s)|
|Secondary Game Species/Hunting Month(s)|
|Month||Avg. Temp||Avg. Rainfall|
|January||Max 61°/Min 30°||0.69″|
|February||Max 66°/Min 33°||0.41″|
|September||Max 93°/Min 61°||1.12″|
|October||Max 83°/Min 49°||0.61″|
|November||Max 70°/Min 36°||0.35″|
|December||Max 61°/Min 48°||0.79″|
Other Pertinent Climate Information
Snow, sleet, and hail, 1.3″ per year based on a 30-year average.
Cities, Roads & Campgrounds
Major Cities and Towns in or Near Game Management Unit and Nearest Gas, Food, and Lodging
Safford-Thatcher, Clifton-Morenci, San Simon-Bowie, Duncan
Major Highways and Roads Leading To
From the East: I-10, U.S. 70
From the West: I-10, U.S. 70
From the North: State Hwy 191, U.S. 78
From the South: State Hwy 191
Roper Lake State Park on U.S. 191 south of Safford has water, flush toilets, a sewage disposal station, and 90 campsites; 32 of them have water and electrical hookups. Blackjack Campground (Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest) near the state line on U.S. 78 has picnic tables, barbecue pits, vault toilets, but no water.
Camping is allowed on BLM and Forest Service administered public lands.
Brief Description of Terrain, Elevation, and Vegetation
The unit’s terrain is very rocky with rugged mountains. Elevation ranges from 3,000′ to 7,000′; vegetation ranges from riparian cottonwood-willow and salt cedar along the Gila River, to Chihuahuan Desert in the lower elevations and oak woodland and/or pinyon-juniper at the higher elevations (Gila Mountains and Mule Creek Pass).
Government Agencies and Phone Numbers
Arizona Game and Fish Department, Region V – 520-628-5376
Bureau of Land Management, Safford District Office – 928-348-4400
Apache-Sitgreaves Natl Forest, Clifton District – 928-687-8600
Roper Lake/Dankworth Ponds State Park – 928-428-6760