Mark Livesay Elk Rut, Moon and Equinox 10.38

How to combine the equinox with the moon phases?

How does this combination apply to our hunt planning? Unlike some, I don’t believe the moon phase changes the actual dates of the elk rut. I’m convinced that when cows come into estrus, it is game on—no matter what the moon is doing. The equinox is the key factor in determining the estrus cycle. The moon has little, if anything, to do with it.

However, as a hunter, I don’t think you should just ignore the moon phase. It may not change the estrus cycle, but it can dramatically affect your hunting success and especially your tactics.

September 2019 moon phase

Side note: Moon phase calendars are provided to INSIDER members inside every Unit Profile. You can start to access this data by using Filtering 2.0.

Remember the full moon will happen on Sept. 14 and the equinox is on Sept. 23. Hunting elk during a full moon can be particularly challenging. Even so, I believe you must balance those special days running up to the equinox with the corresponding moon phases. A slight adjustment of only a few days could make a huge difference in your encounters and opportunities for a shot.

The more full moon, the more likely the bulls may be active and rutting at night. This does not mean they can’t and won’t be active during the daylight hours. A lot can depend on rut timing, the number of cows in estrus, hunting pressure and weather, but you may need to adjust your tactics and timing.

I’ve found that during a full moon, the hunting can be quite good during the mid-day. During the full moon time, the bulls have been in their beds since early that morning and seem to get restless about mid-day. Many times they will sound off or even respond to a bugle in the middle of the day. Many hunters miss those opportunities because they do not adjust to the elk’s patterns and are, consequently, not in a position to experience it.

Very early mornings during a full moon can also be gold. Get out very early, in the dark and use location bugles to locate elk in those dark hours. Once you locate them, place yourself in very close proximity. You may not have much time before they head for bedding areas, so you must get in position early and be ready. 

Another moon pattern I have noticed is that elk tend to be more active during daylight hours on the days leading up to a full moon as compared to the days following the full moon. It seems once they get used to running at night during the full moon period, it takes them a bit to get out of that pattern. Before the full moon, they are still used to moving during the day.

Elk hunting is never a sure thing no matter what you do. You just can’t predict when success is going to happen. But one thing I do know is that you can stack the odds in your favor.

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