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Best Hunting Times for Deer, Elk, and Other Game

by Mike Searson
In today's day and age, time seems to be in short supply. With work schedules, family activities and precious little time left for simple enjoyment or partaking in hobbies, it makes sense to maximize our best use of time.

Hunter timing his walk in the forrest to see deer

This is extremely important when hunting season rolls around. Whether your quarry is elk, deer, bear, wild hog or antelope; each species has its different quirks depending upon the time of day, week or month.

Gone are the days when a hunter can expect to spend as much time as he wants in the bush leisurely scouting for his resupply of venison, elk, bear, pork, or antelope.

As a hunter in the modern world, you want to make the most efficient use of your time when you set out to bag your animal.

By the way, for a detailed overview of all the basics of hunting, read our Hunting for Beginners guide. 

Best Hunting Times for Deer

Deer grazing on grass during deer season

Thousands of anecdotes and copious amounts of research have taught us that deer are most active at dawn and dusk.

Most deer feed at night time and when the sun rises, they make their way back to their bedding areas.

After sleeping most of the day, they head back to feed around dusk.

They are also easily motivated by hunters in the woods.

You can hunt midweek, when fewer hunters are out and about or get into their area early on the weekends and set-up, allowing the masses to drive them toward you.

Our tactic has been to always go midweek and setup an hour or two before sunrise.

A good hunter will want to pinpoint the areas where the deer feed and sleep and setup far enough away so that they do not spook the animals.

Best Hunting Times for Antelope

Pronghorn antelope buck walking in grass field during antelope season

The Pronghorn Antelope is one of the more elusive game animals in the West. They have incredible vision and a smart hunter knows that a long range rifle and the best camouflage job he can muster on the plains are the keys to success.

Time is a factor, too. In the case of the Pronghorn this means time of the year.

The antelope goes into rut about mid-September and the rut can last 45 days. Ruts will bring in bucks from other areas on their search for does and the antelope spend all day running around looking to mate and fending off other bucks.

This means that they will be going to watering holes on a more regular basis because their activity level is up and the weather is typically hot and dry.

The actual time of day during most antelope seasons has never meant much for us as long as you can hunt during the rut.

However, this may vary by state.

Best Hunting Times for Elk

Elk deer walking by forrest during hunting season

We consider elk to be the king of North American game animals. Hunting elk is much like hunting deer with regard to time patterns.

Like deer the elk will feed and socialize at night time. During the day they will bed down in secluded areas. So for a morning hunt you will want to setup early and try to take them on the way back to their bedding grounds.

In our experience and despite their much larger size, elk are much more wary and alert than deer. A smart hunter will want to make as little noise as possible when setting up in the morning.

However, our success at bagging elk has mostly been in the late afternoon when they awaken and move out to feed.

A local guide once told us that the elk like to take a big drink after they wake up and we set up over the local watering hole and took a prize animal at exactly 4:30 in the afternoon. Other excursions since then gave us more success in the early evening hours than they did in the morning.

Best Hunting Times for Black Bear

Black bear walking in grass during bear season

There are generally two seasons for black bear: Spring and fall. We are partial to hunting bear in the fall and the primary reason for this is you can run into them at any time of the day while they are on the move for food prior to hibernation.

Black bear give a little more leeway as they are constantly on the move for food, but like the deer and the elk they are most active early morning and early evening.

Springtime patterns are similar because now the animals are waking up from their hibernation and are again on the move for food.

Best Hunting Times for Wild Boar

Wild boar walking during boar season

In most of the United States, it is open season for wild pigs or feral hogs and they can be hunted 365 days of the year, sometimes even at night. The prime hunting time of year for these animals is December through February as they do not hibernate and the search for food keeps them moving about longer and farther than normal.

Outside of the winter, they are like every other animal we have looked at and are most active early in the morning or late in the evening. This can vary by location.

For example, we have culled most of our feral hogs in the afternoon to early evenings year round in Florida. While in two other states it was always later in the day.

Best Hunting Times All Vary by Locale

Regardless of the game you intend to hunt, we always recommend consulting with local guides and other hunters. This is extremely important if you are heading to another state. Consider Alaska where the animals in question may migrate and the migration time seems to change every year.

It’s one thing to miss a local hunting opportunity by a few minutes. Quite another to book a $4000 Caribou hunt in Alaska only to find out the animals left the area weeks or even months earlier and are now hundreds of miles away.

Hunting may always be a bit of a waiting game, but if you know the habits of the quarry in the area in question and get to your blind, stand or other hunting location before the animals get there, you can spend less time waiting and more time enjoying the best parts of the hunt.