Many elk hunters need to enter their vacation time at work 6 months in advance, which means it’s time to figure out which week (or weeks) are going to be the most productive for elk hunting this fall.
To determine the best week to hunt elk each fall, there are two primary indicators I always look at before I start making a plan for which week – or weeks – I want to hunt. And those factors are the Fall Equinox and the 2022 Moon Phase Calendar.
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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 several other uncontrollable 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 naturally 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 2022, the Fall Equinox occurs on Thursday, September 22nd. So, if you’re looking for the peak rutting “action”, the 17th-27th of September should get you pretty close.
Personally, I prefer to hunt just 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 away from their cows 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 2022, there will be full moons on August 12, September 10, October 9, and November 8.
Looking at September, you’ll find that the moon will be mostly bright during the first two-and-a-half weeks of the month, then getting darker until it reaches New Moon (no moon) on the 25th.
The moon phase in 2021 was pretty rough, and a full moon coincided with the Fall Equinox. For 2022, however, it should be REALLY good!
September 2021 was pretty sporadic from a rut/calling standpoint. I spent the first portion of the month in Alaska, and since we wouldn’t have seen the moon if it had been full (due to excessive cloud cover), my experiences there aren’t worth correlating to the moon’s effect on elk hunting.
However, upon returning home to Idaho, I was able to spend a few days hunting with my children before heading to another part of the state to hunt with Donnie and John later on in the month.
I hunted with my son Sam on September 10th and 11th, and the bugling action was OK on the 10th. The weather was a bit crazy though and a big storm blew in that afternoon, which could have been why the elk were acting a little strange.
The next morning though, the elk action was really, really good! Sam ended up shooting a really big 6×6 bull – his first elk with a bow – on the afternoon of the 11th. His bull was already herded up with several cows, but the cows weren’t ready to breed and the bull was more than willing to come in to fight. He came screaming in to our setup, and Sam made a 30 yard shot.
The next week, Donnie, John and I left for our hunt here in Idaho. In my breakdown of the elk hunting weeks for 2021, I mentioned this timeframe would likely produce some tough hunting, and it turned out to be pretty accurate.
The full moon hit right in the middle of our hunt, and the moon was really bright the entire time. We did call in a small bull on our first day of hunting (the 17th), and Donnie was able to fill his tag that afternoon, but things were pretty slow after that. We did have a good afternoon of action on the 19th, just as a big snowstorm was coming in, and there was decent calling the next morning, but the herd bulls were glued on their cows and not interested in coming in to calls.
We changed tactics and followed a herd bull to his bedding area, where he spent the entire day harassing a cow. We actually saw the bull mount the cow a couple of times – indicating the cows were coming into estrous – and he was going hoarse from his non-stop bugling before John was able to slip in and shoot the giant 6×6 bull.
The next 2 days (21st and 22nd) were really slow, but we found a big herd on the 23rd and had good calling action, but no actual call-ins. It seemed the bulls were definitely more interested in their cows and not as interested in checking out our calling – both bugles and cow calls. The 24th died off and our hunt was over.
I did make it back for the last day and a half of the season (29th – 30th), but I only heard a couple bugles. I did manage to catch a glimpse of a big herd bull following his cows to water on the evening of the 29th, and after not hearing a single bugle all day on the 30th, I decided to go and set up along the path where I had seen the bull the night before.
Luck was on my side, as 20 minutes before the end of legal shooting light on the last day of the season, that same bull ended up 12 yards away from my ambush location and I was able to shoot my biggest Idaho bull to date – but the calling was non-existent and this herd bull was silently locked in on his 3 cows.
So, 2021 wasn’t too far off from what I predicted it would be….a rough September from an overall calling standpoint. But, 2022 should be much better!
Here is how I would break down the moon’s effect on elk hunting for 2022:
I’ll lump the first 10 days of September into the same group, as those dates are going to be early, pre-rut dates coupled with a lot of moon light. On most years, I would say that those dates could be OK, especially for targeting larger bulls before they get with the herds. But in 2022, it’s going to be tough hunting, and calling is likely to be pretty limited outside first thing in the mornings and at last light in the evenings. Midday hunting during this early part of the season could be decent, but it will likely be hit and miss as well.
From the 11th – 17th, the moon will be waning and hit Last Moon on the 17th, which is the halfway point between the full moon and the new moon. For the most part, this week will still have quite a bit of moon light and should coincide with bulls wandering to find cows and fighting to establish dominance.
Again, this is usually a great time to hunt, but with all the moonlight this week, a lot of that activity is going to happen at night, especially during the first part of the week. Action will be picking up each day, and while this week could end up being pretty decent, it wouldn’t be my first choice for a week to hunt.
However, the week that includes the 18th – 24th should be just about perfect! The Fall Equinox hits right in the middle of this week, and the moon is pretty much dark all week. The only issue we may run into this week will be cows coming into estrous and bulls being locked into their harems and not responding aggressively (i.e., coming in to) to calling. But, this would probably be the week I would choose if I had to choose just one week.
By the last week of September, we will still be enjoying a dark moon phase, but most of the cows should be coming into estrous by this time, and the herd bulls will be hyper-focused on their harems and even less likely to come in to calls. This will still be a really good week to hunt, and you should hear a lot of great calling, but if you are wanting to set up and call bulls in to your calls, this probably won’t be the best week.
For desert states (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah) that have seasons that coincide with the 2nd half of September, this would probably be a great year to draw! For mountain states (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, etc.), the 18th – 24th would be a good bet. I wouldn’t completely overlook the 11th – 17th, but there will be a lot of moon that week, and if could affect the hunting a bit.
Rifle seasons in many states open during mid-October, so it’s important to recognize what effect the moon might have on elk behavior during this time as well, especially once the rut is over. For 2022, October looks very similar to September from a moon phase perspective. The moon will be hitting full brilliance on the 9th, and then waning through the end of the month.
There could be some good bugling action – again, mostly at first and last light – during the first 10 days of October, but the elk activity is likely to occur mainly at night. The week of October 16th -22nd should be better as the moon will be going mostly dark, forcing the elk to spend a little more time feeding during daylight hours.
The same will hold true for the following week as well, but most states will have had rifle seasons open for a week or more by that time, so the increased hunting pressure will likely push the elk to harder to hunt sanctuaries or more nocturnal activity.
Keep in mind that October 15th lands on a Saturday this year, so for the states that have an October 15th opening, opening weekend will likely be very crowded. I wouldn’t necessarily skip out on opening day this year, but realize it will likely take a couple days into the next week before the elk recover from the barrage of pressure that is sure to hit over the weekend.
By the time the elk start transitioning from post-rut to late-season behavior in November, the moon will be getting bright again, which will allow the elk to feed more at night and escape some of the hunting pressure during the day, making it tough to find elk during those first 2 weeks of November. If you’re lucky enough to hunt after the 12th or so, however, you should see elk out feeding more during daylight hours, and you should be seeing bulls coming out from their post-rut sanctuaries and starting to get back together with other bulls and spend a lot more time out in the open looking for food.
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, elk are elk, and they are going to rut regardless of the moon phase. However, on really good year where the new moon and the Fall Equinox align – like 2022 – it’s OK to get a little more excited, and expect to have some really good elk rutting action during the month of September.
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.