When I speak with a prospective hunting
client about our general season elk/deer combination hunts, his or her
first question is "How much does the hunt cost?" The second
question is "What is the 'best' week?"
This question is probably the hardest to answer, as it depends on a
number of factors. First, you must ask some questions of yourself. Would
I rather hunt in warmer weather, or does cold weather not bother me?
If you have never shot an elk before, is a "brush bull" a
trophy? Are you going to pass up smaller animals to harvest a true trophy
bull elk or buck deer? Next, be honest with yourself. Are you in good
shape physically? What are your criteria for a 'good' hunt? How hard
can you hunt, day after day, without getting burned out?
I know that prospective clients would like a simple answer to "What
is the best week?" Nearly everyone has read articles by well-known
outdoor writers that claim either the first week or the last week is
the best. However, looking back in our harvest records (over 30 years
worth!), I was not the least bit surprised to find that there may not
be a 'best' week! Here are some of my personal observations:
The game has not been hunted with a gun for a whole year. For our
Yellowstone area ranch hunts, this means they also haven't been hunted
during the archery season either (ask us why!). Elk have been in our
vicinity all year and have gotten comfortable in their surroundings.
The deer aren't quite into the rut yet, although we would expect to
shoot some. Overall we would expect the weather to be the warmest of
The opening week rush is over, and the elk have been chased up high.
We usually have to work hard this week to get to the game. Mule deer
bachelor bucks are beginning to show up in preparation for the rut.
It is now November, with colder temperatures and snowier days. When
the weather gets bad, the herd bulls worn down during the rut begin
the migration from Yellowstone - 'nuffsaid?
The weather is colder and the snow is deeper. The bulls are spending
more of their time foraging and less time in 'defensive' mode. The deer
are starting to rut with the bigger bucks asserting dominance. Don't
forget, however, that the trophies killed the first two weeks are now
The days are getting shorter and winter weather has limited the
terrain animals can escape to. The deer are in the heat of the rut,
and the chances of having poor weather (better hunting) even in years
of drought is higher. This is my favorite week, but I'm not really sure
This is the last week of the Montana season - Thanksgiving week.
It is also the week that all the outdoor writers tell you is the 'best'
week. Sometimes they are right, often they are not! If the elk have
just begun to migrate about a week or two ago, they (outdoor pundits)
are usually right. If the elk began to come out early in the season,
all the elk that were killed the first four weeks are gone now. Same
goes for deer.
From our historical harvest records, I have come to the conclusion
that every week has been the 'best'- and worst - week of the season
several times! Overall, I am not sure it matters too much; you just
need to be lucky with the weather. If the success of your hunt can only
be measured in meat and horns, you should (in my estimation) go caribou
or antelope hunting. If you come with the mind set that you are going
to hunt hard, do your best, and enjoy your hunt - you won't go home