Many of you have asked when the best elk hunting season is. In the western United States, elk season can last anywhere from August through January. Because hunting methods change from week to week, the time you go will have a significant impact on how you hunt. As an example, calling is good during the rut, but it may not be good when rifle season starts up again. Successful elk hunters are aware of how elk behavior fluctuates throughout the hunting season. Seasonal rhythms, breeding, food and water availability, habitat preferences, and security considerations all influence elk distribution. Hunting pressure and weather have an impact on the behavior of elk. All of these things must be taken into consideration.
Here’s a breakdown of the elk hunting seasons, including weather, hunting pressure, and elk behavior for each month. Most inexperienced elk hunters will carry generic, over-the-counter, or easy-to-draw elk tags in their pockets.
Although some archery elk seasons start in late August, the majority of them start in early September. During this time, muzzleloader and rifle hunts may be available, so elk hunters aren’t necessarily limited to archery gear. Warm temperatures and elk that aren’t as active during the day frequently coincide with early morning archery hunting. Sitting water pools and wallows provide a welcome reprieve from the morning and evening hunts in the beautiful alpine meadows. Calling in these regions may attract a curious bull or cow.
By mid-September, the rut is fully underway, and elk, especially males, become extremely vocal. Calls can be used to locate and attract bugle bulls into bow range. During the day, the elk are quite active. In most situations, the rut lasts until September or early October. Despite the fact that hunting pressure is normally lower during archery season than during rifle season, archery elk hunting during the rut has become increasingly popular throughout the West. Rutting activity is often more intense in regions with easy access and over-the-counter tags because rutting activity is generally more intense at night in these areas. Even some distant wilderness areas have enough hunting pressure during archery season to keep bugling bulls quiet.
The weather in the Rockies varies throughout September, but it is typically moderate. Look for tiny meadows hidden in shaded, forested creek drainages where elk will be driven by water if the weather is hot and dry. If you get trapped in a snowstorm early in the season, don’t give up hunting. Rutting elk may stay active all day under these conditions.
State officials usually give elk a few weeks off after archery season. Rifle seasons typically begin in the middle of October. The rut is largely over by the time rifle season begins, though there may be some lingering bugling and rut activity in the early days. Keep some elk calls on hand just in case, although most males have begun to distance themselves from the herds of cows they’ve been following for weeks. They go on their own or in tiny bachelor groups to secret hell holes in secluded valleys to avoid having to deal with the rut and avoiding being chased.
Rifle season elk techniques differ greatly from archery season elk techniques, especially once the shooting starts. In the mornings and late afternoons, elk will only forage in the open for an hour or two. The most successful strategy is to find a high-view location before dawn to examine a large area and spot elk with your optics. Once you’ve found the animals, find a concealed path that keeps the wind in your face. Some hunters will hunt through aspens and dark forests where elk hide from other hunters throughout the day. This method can work, but it demands a hunter who is both thorough and discrete. During rifle season, if you manage to come across a herd of elk, they’ll flee to steeper, more difficult terrain.
The likelihood of cold, snowy weather is higher in October. Early snow may cause elk to flee the highlands, but this isn’t a given. A substantial amount of snow must be used to push elk to lower elevations. Elk are more prone to seeking refuge in thicker, cooler woodlands during a warmer, drier period when hunting pressure is higher. These regions can be found on north and east-facing steep slopes.
By November, when the rifle season has been open for a while, elk in public areas become highly fearful. Mature elk have learnt to hide their faces during the day after a few hunting seasons. In high-hunting-pressure environments, they may go completely nocturnal. In the morning, they may only feed for a few minutes before fleeing to the woods. It’s possible they won’t show up until the permissible shooting light has almost passed in the evening.
If you find elk in the morning but can’t get close enough before they disappear into the woods, set up an ambush for the evening hunt. If the legal shooting light runs out before you have a shot, you’ll need to be back in position the next morning. Your ambush spot should be close to where elk enter and exit the woods in the morning and evening. Set up well ahead of when you expect the elk to appear, and keep the wind direction in mind. This could mean walking or hiking in the dark long before the morning.
This is as difficult as it appears to be. It’s difficult to hunt elk in November, but there are a few things you can do to make it simpler. The first is a circumstance where the outcome is determined by the weather. If a powerful early-winter cold front brings a lot of snow, elk can be easier to find. If there is a lot of snow on the ground, elk will migrate to lower elevations and create larger winter herds. Elk will commonly eat in the late morning and early afternoon during and after these cold fronts.
Following a herd through the snow is another option worth considering at this time of year. Hunters who overcome difficulty earn their tags. The second option necessitates both mental and physical endurance. If you’re willing to travel where other hunters aren’t, your chances of finding an elk increase dramatically. This is true at any time of year for elk hunting on public grounds. Long, arduous journeys to distant drainages are nearly certain, but the payoff may be well worth it.
While a few states provide late-season bull hunts, the majority of December and January tags are reserved for cow elk. Hunting for elk in December and January can be easier or more difficult than in the fall. The snow will almost definitely be deep, making hunting outlying herds difficult. If winter approaches late and there isn’t enough snow, elk may be pushed into open river valleys and sage flats. Elk, on the other hand, are far easier to identify once they’ve reached their winter ranges.
Late cow hunting has the benefit of remaining open for a long time. So, if the elk aren’t low and accessible when the season begins, you have the option of hunting higher or waiting for optimum conditions. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a lot of elk in the late season. During the fall archery and rifle seasons, elk usually congregate in groups of six to twenty animals. Hundreds of elk can be found in a single herd during the winter months. This has both a positive and a negative aspect to it.
Large herds are easier to track down, but getting into a shooting range is tough with so many eyes, ears, and noses to deceive. When you have time and pay attention, large herds are usually predictable and easy to locate. Before sleeping in the open, they gently feed in one direction. You’ll have a good chance of finishing your tag if you study the terrain, use the available cover, and take advantage of the wind. There’s no need to hurry if the wind isn’t blowing right or if there isn’t anywhere to hide. Because the elk won’t travel far, you’ll have plenty of time to wait for the perfect moment.