Planning Your 2017 Elk Hunt


The month of January marks a new year, and with it, resolutions, goals, and elk hunting applications! The deadlines to apply in a few of the western elk hunting states is just around the corner, and there is no better time than right now to plan where and when you will be elk hunting this fall. Here are three excellent resources to help you plan your 2017 elk seasons:

  1. Moon Phases 2017 – Selecting the Right Week
  2. Which state(s) to apply in for elk
  3. A membership to


1. What Moon Phase is Best for Elk Hunting?

UEH Logo Final_JPG_smallThis article can be found in the recently updated University of Elk Hunting Online Course – Module 11: Common Challenges – Chapter 1: Frustrations. To sign up for the UEH Online Course and access over 40 Chapters of elk hunting content to help you plan and succeed on your next elk hunt, CLICK HERE.

As elk hunters, we don’t always have the luxury of hunting during the “prime” week. We are often forced to adapt to whatever moon phase happens to exist on the days we are able to hunt. However, if you are able to pick the “best” week to hunt elk, it’s important to understand how the moon might play a part.

Full Moon_800x400Backing up just slightly, I want to mention one other factor to consider. The amount of light entering a cow elk’s pupil is what triggers the estrus cycle, or the “rut”. Of course, not all cows come into heat at the same time. The older cows usually start first, with the younger cows coming into estrus later. However, cows are generally triggered to come into estrus (and cause the peak rut period) within 5-10 days of the Fall Equinox. The Fall Equinox is when the day and night are of equal duration, and for 2017, the Fall Equinox occurs on September 22nd. So, if you’re looking for the peak rutting “action”, the 17th-27th of September should get you close.

Again, I prefer to hunt before the peak of the rut, but to find the perfect dates, I also need to consider what the moon is going to be doing during this time as well.

In 2017, there will be full moons on August 7, September 6, and October 5. For September, this means that the moon will be fairly bright from September 1st through about the 12th.


Based upon the moon phase calendar for 2017, there are three parts of September to look at. For early season hunting tactics, including finding mature bulls away from the herds, I would target the dates between the 1st and the 10th. There will be a lot of moonlight, which coupled with the hotter weather and limited rutting action that is common during early September, can make for tough hunting conditions. However, early season hunting can still be productive, it’s just going to be a little tougher than usual in 2017.

Jumping ahead to the next two weeks, there are going to be some prime time dates that fall between September 10th and the 24th. The week of the 10th – 17th is going to provide a great opportunity to get into bulls just as they are starting to establish harems, which can mean some really aggressive bugling and call-ins. As we transition into the next week, many of the herds will be established and the rutting/bugling action should be incredible. Calling will be a little tougher as the herd bulls will be focused on maintaining and breeding their cows, but both weeks will provide limited moonlight, and either week should produce great elk hunting action. During the last week of September (24th – 30th), the rut will still be going strong, but it will be getting increasingly more difficult to pull herd bulls away from their cows. The moon is still not going to cause much for problems, and overall, this would also be a great week to be hunting. September 2017, from a moon phase/estrous cycle perspective, is about as good as we are ever going to see. Enjoy September of 2017!

calendar_2017_10_octoberAs we transition to October, most rifle seasons (OTC) in the western states open during mid-October. It’s important to recognize that in 2017, the moon will be waning and fairly limited as many elk seasons open. A full moon in early-October shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle, as if you are lucky enough to hold an early October elk tag, the rut should be in full swing and still going strong. Midday hunting during the first week of October should be great, and you should still be hearing plenty of bugling action. Dates from the 10th through the 30th should be great for rifle hunters this year as well, as the moonlight will be limited and force the elk to feed more during daylight hours, especially during the traditional opening week of October 15th – 22nd. Elk will be starting to transition into the post-rut and become less active during this time, but the moon – or lack thereof – will be our friend and help hold the elk in feeding areas a little longer in the mornings and a little earlier in the evenings. As with any post-rut elk season, it is important to target primary feed sources that the elk will be concentrating on, especially towards the latter part of the month.

From my experience, hunting the days after the full moon leading up to a new moon has consistently held the best huntable bugling action. If that phase also happens to land during the days leading up to the peak rut, even better (think 15th – 24th of September). Don’t sell yourself short though, midday hunting during a brighter moon (early September and late September) can be pretty insane. Understanding the effects of the moon phase on the elk rut can help you plan when to hunt, but also help you understand how to hunt as well.

2. What State Should I Apply In For Elk?

colorado-app-videoAgain, the University of Elk Hunting Online Course is a GREAT resource for planning your elk hunt. A breakdown of the application process – including how-to-apply videos – is available for all 10 of the Western Elk Hunting States. The application period for the state of Wyoming is currently open (deadline on 1/31), and deadlines in Arizona and Utah will be following closely behind. Having a solid plan for applying for out of state hunts can be a great way to increase your opportunities and elk hunting experience.

Personally, I build points in 3-4 states and hope to draw a quality elk tag every 3-4 years (expecting that 10 points will get me a quality elk tag in states like Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, etc.). The number of points needed to draw a quality tag in these states continues to creep upward, but with some research and thinking outside the box, it is definitely possible. If drawing a quality tag isn’t in the plans for a particular year, I look at states and units I might be able to draw with few or no points (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, etc.). Fortunately, the draw results from many states are available soon enough that it still leaves time to apply in others if I’m not successful. Ultimately, if I don’t draw any controlled hunt tags, I have a couple states that offer Over-the-Counter elk tags available, and will fill in with those tags as needed.

hunt2_new-mexico1_corey2_randy2My schedule for September usually includes a draw hunt (easy to draw most of the time, with a quality draw every 3-4 years), and an OTC/general tag, giving me two opportunities to chase elk. This schedule takes planning, and multiple scenarios of back-up plans as the draws are usually far from guaranteed. I know that applying for out of state hunts isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. In fact, there are states where you can buy points each year for a minimal cost, and build those points until you are ready to apply and draw. I break down the costs, processes, and potential for applying in each of the 10 Western Elk Hunting states in great detail in the UEH Online Course, but if cost is your hurdle in applying out of state, you might be surprised at the opportunities that are out there. However, 75% of my hunts are on OTC/general tags which can usually be purchased with minimal planning and no points.

If you are interested in accruing points and applying for out of state hunts (based on cost versus potential), here are the top 4 states I recommend looking at:

  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • Wyoming
  • Montana

And that brings me to the last resource for planning your 2017 elk hunt…

3. A membership to

I know…one more thing to pay for. I signed up for a membership to GoHunt INSIDER last spring, and I will honestly say that if you are looking at applying for out of state hunts, it is worth every penny. In fact, both hunts that I went on in 2016 (one OTC and one draw) were a direct result of research I did on You can enter multiple factors that you want in an elk hunt, and their system will filter the options and provide you with recommended units in each state (9 of the 10 western elk states are available). For instance, if I want to see which units in Arizona will allow me to hunt the early archery season and have a chance at 330″ bull, and I want to know which of those units I have a 25% chance of drawing with 6 points, it will show me.

Here is a quick video overview of how it works (and a special offer if you sign up):

If you decide that a membership to GoHunt INSIDER is for you, I have teamed up with to offer you a special deal. Simply CLICK HERE (or click the banner below) and sign up for a membership to INSIDER using the code ‘ELK101’, and we’ll send you a free $50 gift card to use in the Elk101 Store on your next purchase of Elk Hunting Gear!

1b. GoHunt INSIDER banner2

With resources like, the University of Elk Hunting Online Course, and the articles and information found here on, you have everything you need to plan your next successful elk hunt. Elk season will be here before we know it….now’s the time to get started! Good luck in 2017!