Copyright: DJ Craig - All Rights Reserved
Copyright: Gila County - All Rights Reserved
Copyright: Kathy Hunt - All Rights Reserved
Copyright: DJ Craig - All Rights Reserved
GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA HUNTING 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.
For up-to-date information visit the Arizona Game and Fish Website.
Information Credited To The Arizona Game & Fish Department
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 translocated 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. In 1986, the first bighorn sheep permit was authorized for this unit’s (refer to regulations for current tag allocations). The population peaked in 1994 and has had a couple declines over the years. As with most sheep populations, they are cyclic but GMU 22 always offers the opportunity of a quality hunt.
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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.
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Elk numbers in Unit 22 are stable, 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 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.
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.
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.
Unit 22 from Four Peaks along the Mazatzal Wilderness to the Mogollon Rim is considered excellent mountain lion habitat. The rough canyons and ridges within the chaparral vegetation zone and upper Sonoran desert provide mountain lions all they need.
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. Refer to regulations on current season structures and requirements.
Mule deer numbers in Unit 22 have declined since the peak in the late 1980’s 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. Unit 22 offers extensive opportunities for archery hunters and Junior hunters (refer to regulations for current season structures and requirements). The mule deer general hunt season opens approximately the first week of November. Hunters during the general season should glass hillsides early in the morning and just before dusk to locate mule deer before they bed. Mule deer tend not to move much after the early morning. Scouting is very important to locate deer and deer sign before the season starts.
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 general Whitetail hunt in unit 22 is broken into three seasons, The first two early hunts occurring in October/November and the late hunt in December. 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.
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.
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.
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