What Is the Best Week?


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 season.

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 gone.

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 why.

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 disappointed.


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