Did you know that Elk season officially starts in January? Well, at least one of the most important aspects of Elk season starts in January! And that is the planning process for this year’s elk hunts. It is application season and time to start looking at when, where, and how we are going elk hunting this fall!
To help you determine the best week to hunt elk this fall, there are two primary things I suggest looking at: the Fall Equinox and the 2019 Moon Phase Calendar.
The full article referenced here can be found in the recently updated University of Elk Hunting Online Course. To sign up for the UEH Online Course and access over 40 Chapters of elk hunting content to help you plan for – and succeed on – your next elk hunt, CLICK HERE. And feel free to use the discount code ‘LOYALTY10’ to save $10 when you sign up!
As elk hunters, we don’t always have the luxury of hunting during the “prime” week each fall. We are often forced to adapt to whatever moon phase – and conditions – happen 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 in your success.
Backing up just slightly, I want to mention one important factor to consider, especially if you are trying to plan around the timing of the rut. The amount of light entering a cow elk’s pupil is what actually 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 the day when the daylight hours and the hours of darkness are of equal duration. For 2019, the Fall Equinox occurs on September 23rd. So, if you’re looking for the peak rutting “action”, the 18th-28th of September should get you pretty close.
Personally, I prefer to hunt slightly before the peak of the rut. The days leading up to the “peak rut” typically find the bulls establishing harems, and more aggressively fighting to establish their dominance. Once the peak rut kicks in and the bulls begin focusing more on breeding, calling herd bulls can become a little more difficult. To find the perfect dates to hunt though, I also need to consider what the moon is going to be doing during this timeframe as well.
In 2019, there will be full moons on August 15, September 14, and October 13. Looking at September, you’ll find that the moon will be mostly dark during the first week of the month, then gaining brightness and eventually hitting Full Moon at the end of the 2nd week. Here is how I would break down the moon’s effect on elk hunting for 2019:
For early season hunting tactics, including finding mature bulls still hanging out away from the herds, I would target the dates between the 1st and the 8th. There won’t be very much moonlight, which will be a good thing, especially if it is coupled with warmer weather and limited rutting action that is common during early September. Early season elk hunting can be productive – especially for spot and stalk, sitting water, and yes, even for calling – and 2019 should be a great year for hunting the first week of September from a moon-phase standpoint.
Jumping ahead to the 2nd week of September (9th – 15th), the moon is rapidly gaining brightness as it reaches Full Moon at the end of the week. This week is often my favorite time to hunt bigger bulls, as they are starting to establish harems and often provide some really aggressive bugling and call-ins before too much public land hunting pressure really kicks in. This week, coupled with a great moon phase, can provide an incredible week of elk hunting action. However, in 2019, this week will be the worst week from a moon-phase standpoint.
As we transition into the 3rd week of September (16th – 22nd), the elk hunting action should really be picking up. The Full Moon is now behind us, and the transition from Full Moon to New Moon can often provide great elk hunting opportunities. If the 2nd week ends up being hot and dry, many of the bigger bulls may also wait until the 3rd week to really start roaming and rounding up cows, so there may still be some opportunities for hunting the really aggressive, responsive bulls during the 3rd week. Additionally, the moon phase coincides perfectly with the Fall Equinox this year, and the timing of the rut should not be affected by extra moonlight as it has been in past years. If I had to pick a “Monday thru Sunday” week to hunt elk in 2019, this would be it, and you should expect some incredible calling action during this week.
However, if I was able to take off a Friday – Sunday week for my week of vacation, I would probably opt for the 4th week of September (23rd – 29th) for the most bugling action in 2019. Many of the herds will be established and the rutting/bugling action should be incredible as we embrace the Fall Equinox (September 23rd). The moon will be going to complete darkness (New Moon on the 29th), so from a moon phase standpoint, this week should be absolutely prime! Keep in mind that the herd bulls will be heavily focused on breeding cows during this week, and it may be harder to call them away from their harems. However, there are several elk hunting and calling tactics that can be very effective during the peak rut, and overall, this should be a fantastic week to hunt elk if you are choosing a week to hunt in September!
Just as a note, 2019 will provide one of the best moon-phase/Fall Equinox combinations that we’ve seen in several years, and the second half of September should be really, really good! If we get some cooler weather during this time, elk hunting should be incredible!
Rifle seasons in many states open during mid-October, so it’s important to recognize what effect the moon might have on elk behavior. For 2019, the moon will be hitting full brilliance right in the middle of the month. With the full moon hitting on October 13th, the elk might opt to hit their feed sources more in the cover of darkness around the middle of the month, especially if there is mild weather and even more likely as hunting pressure increases. With the full moon landing right around opening day for rifle elk hunting in many states, the elk are going to likely be less visible during daylight hours, which can make for slower rifle hunting. However, depending on the timing of the peak rut in the state you plan to hunt, you might find some decent calling still going on through mid-October, so don’t completely overlook the middle part of the month.
The week of October 20th-26th should bring a great opportunity for rifle hunting, especially if we are lucky enough to get some cooler weather. The moon will be waning and going completely dark (New Moon) on the 28th, so this week will provide mostly dark nighttime skies from the moon-phase standpoint.
As we transition into November, we will be gaining moonlight during the first half of the month, so early November might still be a good time to catch elk feeding for longer periods of time during daylight hours. However, if there is some unseasonably warmer weather, elk visibility might decrease a bit from the 9th – 16th.
During November, you can often count on relatively cooler weather at some point, and the Elk will also be transitioning from the post-rut to late-season behaviors. A lack of moonlight could help hold the elk in feeding areas a little longer in the mornings and bring them out a little earlier in the evenings. As with any post-rut and late-season elk hunting, targeting primary feed sources that the elk will be concentrating on will be the key. And for more info on hunting elk during the Post-Rut and Late-Season, be sure to check out the University of Elk Hunting Online Course. There is an entire Module devoted to Hunting Elk during the Post-Rut and Late-Season, with detailed tactics and strategies for increasing your success.
From my experience, hunting the days after a Full Moon as it leads into 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 (pre-Fall Equinox) as it does this year, even better (think 18th – 25th of September this year).
Don’t completely overlook opportunities to chase elk during a brighter moon though. If you are forced to hunt during the 2nd week or the first part of the 3rd week in September, midday hunting could be pretty insane.
Understanding the effects of the moon phase on the elk rut is important, and can help you plan not only when to hunt elk, but also help you understand how to hunt them as well.
Again, if you’re looking for more detailed tactics, strategies, and information related to consistently filling your elk tag, be sure to check out the University of Elk Hunting Online Course. CLICK HERE to get signed up, and use the discount code ‘LOYALTY10’ to save $10!