Elk hunting on an Indian reservation in the Southwest is one of the great adventures of North America and an opportunity to take the trophy of a lifetime, perhaps a bull approaching 400 Boone and Crockett points. Personally, I’m a huge fan of hunting Native American lands and filled deer tags on three such hunts during 2016. Each reservation is like a mini-country with its own rules, sometimes flexible, that often differ from cut-in-stone state regulations.

While cruising the 2017 Safari Club International (SCI) Convention in Las Vegas, I came across the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico and was astounded at the trophy heads they displayed from the previous year’s hunters. I thought I knew about the major elk producing reservations, and was intrigued about this new patch of a half-million acres that teamed with elk.

 

The Pueblo of Acoma

Headquarters of the Acoma tribe is known as Sky City, and it’s the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the United States. The area’s trophy elk program began in 1995, and since then it has sustained outstanding hunting through sound game management. Hunting takes place at about 8,000 feet from tent camps deep in the Acoma backcountry. If you’re looking for a true wall-hanger, this is the place; Acoma has accounted for numerous bulls in the 400-inch class, with the largest scoring 462 SCI.

“Water sets us apart from other reservations, and Acoma has lots of it,” said Hunt Manager Richard Chamberlain.  “Ancient man settled in areas of clay so that they could make pots from the non-porous material, and Acoma has numerous ponds called ‘pans’ in the area. If you fly over Acoma, it looks like pivots in the Midwest, only not as large.”

Bulls taken by 2016 clients.

Great Hunt Variety

The first elk hunt of the year begins August 28th and is usually an archery hunt. Clients can book hunts throughout September into early October, with several winter hunts available toward the end of the year. Unlike most hunting operations, the price of an adventure depends upon the hunting tool of choice. Archery hunts begin at $11,500, followed by crossbow at $12,500, muzzleloader at $13,500, rifle at $17,000; late-season hunts are priced at $9,000. I mention prices because the archery hunt is about half the going rate of most reservation hunts and comparable to high-quality private land elk hunts in the Southwest.

“Our minimum bull is 350 inches,” Chamberlain said as he showed me video action of one afternoon hunt. “The tribe doesn’t like for hunts to be videotaped, perhaps one of the reasons that the word hasn’t spread about this opportunity.”

 

Hunting Strategies

The elk of Acoma are totally free roaming, and Chamberlain guides many clients personally.  “Many of my younger bowhunters want to cow call, bugle, and actively pursue elk, yet they quickly learn that patience is a better strategy,” he said. “My archery clients have the best luck if they will follow the elk in the morning, allow them to bed down, and then pick an ambush spot by water in the afternoon.” Muzzleloader and rifle hunters have more options and can be more mobile.

Finally, most of the bulls taken on Acoma are between 8 and 12 years of age, with about 50 percent of clients returning for another bull. Interestingly, Chamberlain doesn’t book “group camps.”

“I often get requests from a hunter to book a full camp for himself and his friends the following year, but I like to have hunters in ones and twos,” he said.

Joe Chaif and one of his 10 bulls taken through the years on Acoma.

Booking an Acoma Elk Hunt

Janet Estevan is the tribal contact for Acoma, and she can be reached by e-mail at jestevan@skycity.com or through the website www.acomabiggamehunts.com.

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