What Time Of Day Are Elk Most Active?

Location: Elk can be found in a range of environments, including forested areas, alpine meadows, and valleys in the desert. They used to dwell across most of the United States and Canada, but since European settlement, they have tended to concentrate in the mountainous areas of western North America.

Solunar Calendar: John Alden Knight postulated in 1926 that animal movement is influenced by the moon’s position and degree of fullness. Before Knight’s idea was published, it was rumored that hunters and fishers employed this theory, which is still extensively used today.

Peak rut season usually begins around the first day of fall and lasts until the first half of October, though elevation and latitude have a little impact.

If you want to bring home a trophy bull from your hunt, now is the finest time of year to do it.

Elk, like many other animals, are most active in the morning and the evening. During the rut, midday hunts might be successful, but if you want to see the most activity, aim for dawn and dark.

Temperature: Because elk can survive extremely cold temperatures, hunting is usually best later in the season. Elk will seek refuge from the heat in woodland areas or shaded hiding places on prolonged hot days. They are compelled by the heat to feed when it is cooler—at night or around twilight.

Elk, like white-tailed deer, are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. When a storm or cold front is approaching, they become more active due to the lowering air pressure.

Elk are accustomed to sudden and drastic shifts in the weather, but hunters might not be as ready. You may be in the midst of a violent downpour one moment while the skies are clear the next. Make sure you’re ready to endure all types of weather if you want to improve your chances of snagging that prize elk.

Wind: When elk hunting, wind ought to be one of your primary considerations. They have excellent hearing and vision, but their sense of smell is superior. You won’t get much benefit from cover odours when pursuing these animals. To avoid having your scent frighten them, your best strategy is to keep the wind in your face.

Cold conditions

Elk are often quite active in colder temperatures. You can observe that they sometimes eat sooner in the evening and later into the morning. They can be seen out in the open grazing on mountain grasses and seem to like the cooler nights and days because their coats are designed to keep heat in. The cold weather has a way of turning things up and boosting bugling activity if it is the rut.

lunar phase

Every year, I hear stories of hunters scheduling their hunts to take advantage of specific moon phases. The declining photoperiod, which causes the rut, causes it to occur year at the same time, regardless of the moon’s phase. Do not let the number of days you hunt simply depend on the moon phase, even if you should be aware of how it impacts elk behavior. I will go hunting as many days as I can since I only have a limited number of days available.

Elk behavior will change due to the moon. Elk tend to do the majority of their mating and become more active at night when the moon is “fuller.” I recognize that this is crucial knowledge for a hunter to have, but the “fuller” moon also impacts the amount of time I have to hunt, leaving me with less time in the morning and evening when the elk are changing from feeding to bedding.


According to my own experience, the best time for archery is mid-morning (9:00–11:00). Usually, I am on an elk early, but it takes some maneuvering to get a shot. I suppose I was more careful and it just took longer to close the deal early in my archery hunting career since I was most successful noon. Out of 20 or so elk I shot with a bow, just two were in the evening; I hunt in the evenings much more subtly and it shows.

A few bulls I saw on their feet during the day had to wait until late for them to rise up and present a shot, and I’ve killed a few 2 minutes into legal light with a rifle, but again, a vast majority mid-morning.

We rarely actively pursued elk the way I like to due to clients’ lack of fitness so we sat crossings and funnels much more; interestingly, during the years I guided, the majority of elk killed by clients were midday. I would guess that 80% of the elk we killed at that operation were between 11:00 and 3:00.

Simple Ambush?

Numerous hunters make preparations for an ambush on the edge of the trees at dawn after observing this mass morning exodus. The setup is far more difficult to execute than it first appears to be. Elk are more alert when they are out in the open during the advancing day. When it’s daylight, they frequently move quickly. A few hundred yards away from your best estimation, they could enter the trees. Good luck relocating quickly enough to beat them to it!

Once inside the trees, they begin to move more slowly. If you set up an ambush further back where the elk can’t be seen, you won’t know if you’re in the proper place unless they start bugling. When under pressure, they might wait to bugle until they are hidden by a few trees.

Plan B would be to creep up behind them as they feed and move around in the trees. With proficient stalking and still-hunting techniques, it is possible. Bulls that are bellowing might keep you moving in the proper path. But keep in mind that the cows are not adjacent to the obnoxious bull. If they see you or smell you first, they’ll bust you in a flash.

Halloween hunting

Mid-October marks the start of rifle seasons in many states, so it’s critical to understand how the moon may affect elk behavior during this time of year, particularly after the rut. From a moon phase perspective, October for 2021 looks a much like September. The third full week of the month will see the moon at its brightest, providing post-rut elk with extra protection while they feed at night when we are unable to hunt.

The elk haven’t been shot at or chased from one end of the unit to the other, therefore opening days will continue to be the most successful. Those days should be excellent in places where the rifle seasons begin on the 10th or 15th. However, as Randy Newberg points out, a rifle season actually consists of two distinct components: opening day and all other days.

From a moon phase perspective, the first half of the month, from the 1st to the 15th, will be favorable. Elk will be coming out to eat earlier in the evenings and staying out longer in the mornings when there is little to no moon. I would definitely take advantage of an opening day offer if it came along before the 15th. If I had an option, I probably wouldn’t choose to take my week of vacation during the third full week of October.

October’s first 10 days should be excellent. There should still be some healthy rut activity (especially if my full-moon-during-the-Fall-Equinox theory holds water and the rut is slightly delayed).

If your hunting season starts on the 10th, I would definitely go hunting on opening day, and the rest of that week (10th – 16th) should be quite productive. During that week, you ought to be able to detect some leftover rut activity, and the moon shouldn’t have a detrimental impact on your hunting.

The 15th is a Friday, so more hunters may be enjoying a 3-day weekend and perhaps congested the elk woods that weekend. If you’re hunting a 15th opener, hunting the 15th through the 17th may be nice. If I had to pick just one week to go hunting, I would probably wait until the last full week of October because the full moon will occur in the middle of the next week. The third week, from the 17th to the 23rd, could be challenging for hunting post-rut, recovering bulls due to the full moon that will be there.

Cooler weather, a waning moon, and an elk’s acute need for food should keep them out eating for extended lengths of time by the end of the month and into the first few weeks of November, enhancing your chances of success.

Targeting the principal feed sources that the elk will be concentrating on will be crucial, as with any post-rut and late-season elk hunting.

Additionally, make sure to check out the University of Elk Hunting Online Course for more information on elk hunting during the Post-Rut and Late Season. A whole Module is devoted to hunting elk in the post-rut and late season, and it includes thorough methods and strategies to boost your success.

Where do elk spend the day hiding?

Elk don’t spend their nights lounging on day beds. Hunt during the day in lodgepole pine or Douglas fir second growth forests. Elk choose to sleep high on north slopes in warm weather where the forest is dense but the breezes keep the flies at bay. Elk prefer to forage in the open, primarily in the morning and evening.

In the morning, do elk move up or down?

Elk generally travel up in the morning and down in the evening, according to several people I’ve heard on podcasts, elk101, and other platforms. This is usually related to thermals, in my opinion.

Do high alpine basins have this phenomenon? In my limited observational experience, I have observed elk moving up to the open, tall grass in the evening, night, and morning to feed, and then moving down the mountain near timber in the morning to sleep.

This year, I’ll be hunting in South Central Montana’s high elevation wilderness, and I’m attempting to figure out my hunting strategy and what to look for.

At what time should I bugle my elk?

Early September through October are when elk often start to bugle. As early as the end of August and as late as the beginning of November, they may be heard. After dusk and just before dawn is when you should be listening for elk. Elk will also bleat at night.

Elk are able to remain in one place?

Elk are nocturnal creatures, therefore a bull’s “day” will start in the late afternoon. He will get out of his bed in the dense wood, frequently on a hill to the north. He will slowly make his way through the woods as dusk falls, feeding along the way. The bull will often stay in the shadows while the sun is still up as he makes his way to a drinking well or his preferred meadow to graze for the night.

Bull elk may drink from a seep in a distant canyon, a muddy puddle made by recent rain, streams, rivers, lakes, or water tanks set up for domestic cattle, depending on availability and perceived threat.

Elk will feed and interact with one another all through the night, either remaining in the same meadow all night or lazily moving to another meadow if the whim strikes.

Bull elk will begin moving toward a bedding place as the night transforms into day and the sun rises over the mountain tops, maybe stopping along the way for water. Bull elk frequently select the same general place to nap during the day when not disturbed by hunting pressure or other circumstances.

Up until the rut, both bull and cow elk typically exhibit the behaviors indicated below. The rut has a huge impact on habit change, as we’ll see in the following section.