The Best Week for Hunting Elk in 2024

Elk season is less than 6 months away, and it’s time to start strategizing on how we can capitalize on the limited time we have this fall to make 2024’s elk hunting seasons as successful as possible. Additionally, a lot of hunters need to schedule their time off from work and families far in advance, which means it’s time to figure out which week (or weeks) are going to be the most productive for hunting elk this fall.


To determine the best timeframes to hunt elk each fall, there are two primary factors that can be helpful in determining which dates to head into the field to hunt: the Fall Equinox and the 2024 Moon Phase Calendar.

As elk hunters, we don’t always have the luxury of hunting during the “prime” week each fall. Quite honestly, it can be difficult to nail down what exactly the “prime” days might be, as they can and do change from year to year. And we are often forced to adapt to whatever factors (moon phase and several other uncontrollable conditions) happen to exist on the days that we are able to hunt. However, if you are able to select the “best” timeframe to hunt elk, it’s important to understand how the moon and the timing of the rut might play a part in your success.

Backing up just slightly, there is one important factor that is worth mentioning, especially if you are trying to plan your elk hunt around the timing of the rut. The “rut”, or the estrous cycle of the cows, is naturally triggered by the amount of light that enters into the pupils of a cow elk. As summer transitions into fall, the amount of daylight decreases, and that decrease in light triggers a change in the hormones in the cows, causing them to come into estrous and opening a small window of time each fall when breeding must occur.

Of course, not all cows come into heat at the exact same time. Older cows usually start first, with the younger cows coming into estrus slightly later. However, cows are generally triggered to come into estrus (and create the “peak rut” period) due to the shortening of the days each fall, and this usually occurs 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. And for 2024, the Fall Equinox occurs on Sunday, September 22nd. So, if you’re looking for the peak rutting “action”, sometime between the 17th-27th of September should get you pretty close.

Personally, on a “perfect” year, I would prefer to hunt just slightly before the peak of the rut. The days leading up to the “peak rut” is when you will typically find the more mature bulls fighting to establish their dominance, and aggressively working to establish and maintain their harems. Once the peak rut kicks in and the bulls begin focusing solely on breeding, calling herd bulls away from their cows can definitely become more challenging.

To find the perfect dates to hunt, it’s important to consider what the moon is going to be doing during this Fall Equinox timeframe as well.

2024 Moon Phases

It has been 8 years since we have seen a moon phase similar to the moon phase we will experience this fall. In 2024, similar to 2016, there will be full moons on August 19, September 18, October 17, and November 15. Immediately, we can see that the days leading up to the Fall Equinox – and the Fall Equinox itself – are going to overlap with a very bright moon, which can cause hunting conditions that are less than ideal.

Let’s start with September, and walk through the conditions – and opportunities – that we are likely to see during each week of elk hunting this fall.

For September, we can break the month into the following 4 weeks:

Week #1 (September 1-7)
Week #2 (September 8-14)
Week #3 (September 15-21)
Week #4 (September 22-30)

The first full week of September 2024 is going to be mostly “dark” from a moon perspective. The New Moon occurs on September 3, which means there will be no visible moon on that date, and any moonlight during the 4-5 days leading up to and directly following that date will be minimal. This generally correlates with more daytime activity from the elk, as the lack of nightly moonlight encourages them to spend the majority of the night bedded down and not up feeding.

I would still consider Week #1 to be “early-season”, and for the most part, the actual rut – and pre-rut activity that precedes the rut – hasn’t yet kicked off. So we have ideal moon conditions with “less-then-ideal” rut conditions. But, don’t overlook this week…

The first week of September can be a great time to find mature bulls that haven’t yet established their dominance or their harems, which can leave them susceptible and vulnerable to calling. Additionally, they haven’t yet been pressured by hundreds of other elk hunters, so their guard may be dropped a little lower than it will be later in the month. There is still uncertainty in weather conditions early in the month (usually still hot and dry), but the dynamics of the herds – or the lack of herd bulls with herds – can provide some incredible calling, especially for more mature bulls.

In 2016, we hunted Wyoming during the first week of the month, and had some really good calling encounters with some really big bulls that season, and our group went 3-for-3 in 7 days of hunting.

Week #2 (September 8-14) is often my favorite week to hunt. I consider this timeframe to be the start of the “pre-rut”, when the more mature bulls will start leaving their staging areas to find cows and establish their harems – and their dominance. This means the calling action usually starts heating up and you’re likely to find some very aggressive bulls that are willing to fight to gain or protect a harem of cows. You’ll also be hunting elk that are still less pressured than the elk that will be hunted during Weeks 3 and 4, which can translate to elk that are still less “call-shy”.

The moon during Week #2 is still going to be pretty good, especially during the first half of the week. By the weekend, it will be getting close to full, but I think with the bulls actively and aggressively searching for cows during this timeframe, we’ll still see great daytime activity coupled with increasing calling action. I think Week #2 will be a great week for elk hunting this fall.

As we head into Week #3, we are looking at the days directly leading into the Fall Equinox. This timeframe often brings our best bet for consistent elk rutting action, and typically ushers in the transition from pre-rut to the peak-rut. Cows will start coming into estrous during this timeframe, and the activity of the bulls should be reaching a fever pitch when it comes to establishing harems and fighting to protect their herds. Calling action should be really good during this week, with one consideration…the Full Moon.

While calling action and aggressive behavior will likely escalate considerably during this period, the bulls are going to be able to do much of their work throughout the cooler hours of the night, thanks to an incredibly bright moon that will be on display the entire week. Three weeks of elk hunting activity will also have the elk more “on edge” in many heavily-hunted areas, and with most herds being fully established by now, there will be more eyes and ears to content with as well. While this isn’t the best recipe for success, there is one strategy that could absolutely shine during this week this season – Midday Madness.

I’ve detailed my affection for Midday Madness in several articles and videos previously, so I won’t go into all the details in this article, but the combination of escalating rut activity and a full moon is often the perfect storm for finding aggressive calling opportunities while the bulls are relegated to their bedding areas during the middle of the day. If you choose to hunt during Week #3 this September, be prepared to forego your midday naps back at camp.

Week #4 is often the main event during the elk rut – cows are ready to be bred, bulls are running themselves ragged chasing cows and fighting off intruding bulls, and this timeframe often brings magical mornings covered by a hard frost and bugles from daylight until dark. And this September should bring a 4th Week that does not disappoint.

The moon will be waning, and by the end of the week the nights should be mostly dark once again. This is going to force the elk into spending more time rutting during daylight hours, which is going to bring more opportunities for encounters for hunters. The challenge with hunting during the “peak-rut” is that the herd bulls are so hyper-focused on breeding, that it really can be difficult to get their attention – either as a lonely cow or as an aggressive intruder. But the volume of calls that you hear should be off the charts during this week, and by implementing a couple tweaks to your calling strategy, Week #4 could be magical this fall.

If I was picking a week to focus on hunting elk during September in 2024, especially if I was using calling as my primary tactic, Week # 2 or Week #4 would be my top picks and should bring some pretty incredibly calling encounters.

October Hunting

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 starts winding down. For 2024, October looks very similar to September from a moon phase perspective. The moon will be waning through the first 10 days of the month and hitting full brilliance right around mid-month, on the 17th.

The true peak of breeding usually takes place during the last few days of September into the first few days of October. This typically translates to vocal elk well into the first week of October, and with a completely dark sky during Week #1, if you’re lucky enough to be hunting elk during this timeframe, it should be off the charts.

Week #2 in October is still going to be pretty solid from the moon phase perspective, and it’s likely that some rutting and calling activity will still be going on. Again, if you’re hunting an area that provides an open season during this time, calling should still be a solid tactic and you should be getting into plenty of elk activity.

The biggest disappointment for 2024 is that rifle elk seasons in most states open in mid-October, and Week #3 is going to be filled with lots of moonlight. In fact, the entire week is going to be highlighted by a pretty full moon. This means that as the rut winds down and we go from peak-rut to post-rut activity, elk activity in general is going to slow down. Then you add in a Full Moon right in the middle of this week, and any activity that is still lingering can be done mostly during the night. And there is suddenly an influx of hunting activity taking place during this week, which will send the elk seeking hard-to-find and hard-to-get-to sanctuaries to avoid the hunting pressure. All of this can lead to a very frustrating experience of trying to find elk and catch them exposed in any way during daylight hours.

The following week (October 20-26) isn’t going to be much better, and there will still be plenty of moonlight to allow the elk to remain active at night and seek refuge during daylight hours. The more mature bulls will mostly be separated from the herds, and aside from getting up to stretch and grabbing a quick bite to eat, they’re going to be spending a lot of time laying in a sanctuary and not moving very far at all during the day – which means it’s going to be really tough to find them.

The last week of October into the first part of November though, could be a turning of opportunities. Weather will often bring bulls out of sanctuaries and kick them into feeding mode during this timeframe, and this year, that week also brings another completely dark nighttime sky. This should bode well for finding elk – and mature bulls – out in the open more during daylight hours as the post-rut starts to transition into the late-season where elk are primarily focused on feed for the upcoming winter. During this transition, the bulls will start coming back together and forming bachelor herds, which again, makes them a little easier to find and a little easier to hunt.

As with any post-rut and especially late-season elk hunting, targeting primary feed sources where the elk will be focusing will be the key.


From my experience, elk are elk, and they are going to rut regardless of the moon phase. However, I don’t think there is any doubt that a Full Moon directly in the middle of the week preceding the Fall Equinox can make traditional hunting tactics more difficult to employ. I really like the look of Weeks 2 and 4 in September, and if I was forced to hunt during Week 3, I think midday calling tactics could be really effective.

Early October should be great, but mid-October and many rifle openers might be challenging this fall. But by late October into the first part of November, I think the combination of moon phase, weather, and transitioning into the late-season feeding patterns could bring some great opportunities for rifle hunters as well.

Once you select the week that’s going to fit your schedule and/or your hunting style, understanding the effects of the moon phase will help you not only plan when to hunt elk, but also how you can efficiently hunt them as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about detailed tactics, strategies, and information related to consistently filling your elk tag during any elk season or moon phase, be sure to check out the 

University of Elk Hunting Online Course,

which is now part of the OutdoorClass family.



to sign up for a membership to OutdoorClass (and the original University of Elk Hunting), and use the discount code ‘Elk101’ to save 20%!


And good luck on your Elk Hunting Adventures this fall!