The 1st of November is approaching fast and most western states have opened their rifle seasons and many elk have already fallen. It is the time of year that numerous people venture into the field in hopes of successful hunts, great stories, and a wonderful experience in the outdoors with family and friends. The same question comes up year after year concerning the best times to actually locate and successfully harvest an elk and mule deer. As my father would say this year, “Opening day of course” as he was successful on a nice five point bull on the evening of the opening day in Montana. The man is 69 years old and definitely doesn’t have the legs he use to have. However, on opening day he hiked into the same spot he has been hunting since he was twenty years old and thirty minutes before dark as his bones and joints were starting to ache from the cold weather and lack of movement sitting and watching an open hillside, he rose to stretch his legs and keep the blood flowing and happened to peek around a tree and see a nice five bull point feeding on the edge of the timber 150 yards away. One shot with the old trusty Winchester .30-06 and the bull was dead in his tracks. Unfortunately that proven old rifle hasn’t been fired much since his only hunting son moved away from Montana a decade ago and consequentially my father temporarily lost his main hunting partner. Immediately after the confirmed kill, my father sent me a photo which I received in Abu Dhabi. I called him and I could tell that this bull elk meant more to my father than any elk he has killed before because he knows he doesn’t have too many more hunts left in his 69 year old battle tested legs.
Back to the title question, when is the best time to hunt with only four weeks left in the general rifle season in Montana and similar times in other western states? I always look to the moon cycles during rifle season and hope for some fresh snow to get the elk moving. There will be a new moon on October 30 (0% illumination) so get out there and hunt this weekend. In my experience, when there is no moon the elk and deer tend to be out feeding later in the morning and up earlier in the evening moving around and trying to take advantage of what little light is still available during the day. Of course, if you have some cold weather that helps tremendously. Big ungulates like elk and deer will tend to feed more when the weather is cold. The activity of feeding helps them keep warm and they will spend more time out looking for suitable feed.
After the new moon on October 30, the moon will gradually become brighter and brighter until reaching a full moon on November 14. It seems like elk and deer become nearly nocturnal during the days leading up to the full moon and a few days later. These days may be the toughest time to locate and kill a mature animal. This might be the time to stay at home and watch your favorite NFL team. However, weather plays an important factor. Even if the moon is bright, keep an eye on the weather and prepare to get out in the field the day before a major storm and immediately afterwards. Elk and deer will hunker down in heavy timber during the storm but will certainly be out feeding before and immediately afterwards.
The last week of November will also be a good time to be in the field as the deer will be in full rut and it will be a waning moon cycle with less than 20% illumination the last few days of the Montana general season which ends on November 27. This means the nights are darker and the animals will be out longer in the morning and earlier in the evenings.
Good luck, keep track of the moon cycles, and don’t forget to check the weather reports in order to successfully fill those tags this fall if you haven’t already. Follow this link to see the current moon cycle and future illumination percentages; Moongiant.com.