Mathews Inc.
What time do elk water?
Contributors to this thread:
DonVathome 31-Oct-12
Ermine 31-Oct-12
Norseman 31-Oct-12
Jaquomo_feral 31-Oct-12
Bou'bound 31-Oct-12
AZBUGLER 01-Nov-12
WylieCoyote 01-Nov-12
Bigdan 01-Nov-12
Bigdan 01-Nov-12
Mathews Man 01-Nov-12
NM_alazan 01-Nov-12
wyobullshooter 01-Nov-12
stringgunner 01-Nov-12
DonVathome 01-Nov-12
Bake 01-Nov-12
Mathews Man 01-Nov-12
Bake 01-Nov-12
StickFlicker 02-Nov-12
Elkhuntr 04-Nov-12
caller79065 04-Nov-12
Bigdan 04-Nov-12
trophyhill 22-Nov-12
400 Elk @Home 23-Nov-12
weighttrain_2000 23-Nov-12
BigAl 24-Nov-12
Outdoorsdude 24-Nov-12
cheeseman 25-Nov-12
BTM 25-Nov-12
BULELK1 25-Nov-12
siltbowhunter 25-Nov-12
elknuts2 01-Dec-12
Wild Bill 11-Nov-23
Ziek 11-Nov-23
Kurt 11-Nov-23
From: DonVathome
What time have you noticed elk water. Let me narrow it down: while it is light in the AM/PM when coming/going to bed.

For example if elk are active until 9:30AM (then they bed) and it is warm (60's - 70's) have you noticed elk water right before heading to bed down or is watering anytime several hours before enough?

Have you seen them head straight fo water when getting up in the evening or do they just head to water sometime that evening?

Assume water is fairly scarce and elk need to hit tanks/ponds etc - any seeps available are not nearly enough for a herd of elk and are few, far between and small.

From: Ermine
Most all times I have observed elk watering has been in the evening right before dark. But they could water at anytime. Alot of watering occurs in the dark I feel.

From: Norseman
When they r thirsty

I have trail cams on waterholes during the season, and have pics of them watering at all times of the day and night. More often late afternoon and in the dark, though.

They'll sometimes feed their way to water in the evenings, not arriving there until well after dark. Sometimes they quickly graze their way to the nearest water if it's really warm. But usually it's just a "moseying" feed in that direction until they get there.

I almost never see them water in the mornings before heading to bed, however. Most of the good water in our area (enough to hold herds) is down in the lower country from where they bed, and they're usually well back upslope on morning feeding travel by the time it's first light, so I suspect most, if not all, takes place at night.

From: Bou'bound
when there is a perfect convergence of thirst and available water they often seem to take advantage of it and drink

I have had cameras on water for many years and have seen then watering at almost every hour imaginable. 90% of the time, it is at 0 dark thirty. Most commonly the early evening.

From: WylieCoyote
This doesn't fit the norm, I suppose...but I hunted the same Idaho H20 hole 4 years in a row...shot 2 elk and missed a couple others.....every elk i saw was about 9 AM...never had an elk come in the pm!!


From: Bigdan
With over 500 elk on trail cams on water. I have never had any come in before 5:30pm most the last 15 min before dark. And have never got a photo of any coming in after day light.

From: Bigdan

From: Mathews Man
The area we used to hunt, surprisingly most of the nicer bulls would come in during the rut around late morning to early afternoon alone. I think they put their cows down to bed then snuck in for a drink or to check the waterhole for scent of a hot cow.

I've also had friends sit our waterhole and even if it is raining out, they will usually come in in the late evenings.

Where I live now (NW corner of Colorado), it seems tough since most of the elk around here are using the river for a water source.

From: NM_alazan

NM_alazan's embedded Photo
NM_alazan's embedded Photo
I've gotten thousands of trail cam pics on water during and leading up to the archery season, and I've found it depends on the area and also the location of the water in relation to other things. Later in the season (Oct and later), they water much less, but I assume you are referring to the rut and pre-rut time.

On some water holes, we've had pics at every single hour of the day. Others, with concentrated visits at dusk. I believe water such as this is used by the elk as they move to feeding areas.

On other water holes, mostly morning, midday and late in the day with nearly zero visits after dark. I believe water holes like these are near bedding areas.

So to answer your question, my experience has been that elk water at all times of the day in August and Sept. The real question is, which water source are they hitting at a given time of day????

Here's one of several we got this year right in the middle of the day, well into the archery season.

I have a trailcam set up on a wallow. Elk drink out of it as well. Like the others, I have pictures of them watering throughout the day and night, although the majority come in between first light and 10 am.

I believe the location of the water source has something to do with when elk will water. If it's isolated and surrounded by cover, they feel more secure and will use it whenever the urge hits them. If the location is more open, I would expect them to hit the water more during first/last light and at night.

From: stringgunner
I too think it depends on the location of the water in relation to their bedding area. We have hundreds of pics of elk using water holes at all times of the day including at night. But we put cams on about 9-12 different water sources. The water sources getting hit during the day are closer to bedding areas than others. We also have water sources that only get hit during the early morning or late evening thus making us think perhaps these are in travel routes to and from feeding areas.....

Just some thoughts from what we have seen over the years.

From: DonVathome
Very good info guys keep it coming. I was surprised that elk do not specifically grab a drink right before bedding - which agrees with what many have also observed.

Water location is also very crucial too but I thought with minimal water elk were sure to hit water before bedding and rush to it as soon as they got up in the PM - which I know do not believe is the case most times.

From: Bake
I have very little experience with this personally, but thought I would chime in with what happened for me this year on my elk hunt

My buddy and I hunted Colorado this year. Colorado of course was very dry all summer. We found a seep that had pooled in several places and had been wallowed in repeatedly. It was 3/4 of a way up the mountain. Nearest water that we know of was 1/2 mile away at the bottom

The seep was surrounded by thick thick cover. The North side of the seep was less thick, and that happened to be our way in. The uphill side, and South side of the seep was thicker than thick. Literally so thick it was very difficult to walk through.

I killed a mature bull over that seep at 2:51 p.m. My buddy killed a mature cow over that seep at 9:30 a.m.

I believe that with the elevation of the seep, coupled with it's secluded thick nature, added to the unusually warm conditions and unusually dry conditions, really made that place a hot spot

I'm not so sure that had we had more folks there with more tags, that we couldnt' have killed another elk or two off that seep in a couple of more days. And I think they could have hit at any time during the day


From: Mathews Man
If you had stayed at that spot you probably would have discovered that you would not have seen many more elk for a while.

Once we kill an elk or two, we usually went home- what we had been missing out on for years was that us killing our elk meant dinner bells ringing to the bears! Once I was focused on bear hunting, and stayed over such spots after killing my elk, the bears generally became so thick that the elk would not come around.

From: Bake
Mathews Man. . .

I'm sure you're right. I certainly don't claim to be any kind of elk expert at all

We didn't see nearly as much bear sign in CO this year. We didn't see any of the little acorns either, so maybe they'd moved lower. Or maybe higher. Don't know. But I'm sure the bears would have found the two carcasses pretty fast.


From: StickFlicker
I think a lot of it depends on where the water is located as compared to their daily pattern. If the water is located near where they spend the night (large meadows), they may be more prone to water there in the morning before returning to the (normally) higher bedding areas. If the water is located closer to the daytime bedding areas or in the path of their movement down the hill to the overnighting areas, they are more likely to hit it in the evening. That being said, I've had much more luck with them coming to water in the evenings, and most often very close to the end of shooting light.

From: Elkhuntr
the type of vegetation is a factor. feed in some areas holds a lot of moisture. elk often get enough water from this moisture in their feed.

there are too many factors to be able to say elk routinely water at a certain time.

From: caller79065
This year i shot a bull out of a herd right at dark at a waterhole. 3 days later, my wife shot another bull out of a herd 1.5 hrs before dark. We had him cut up before dark. There was another herd on the way when she shot hers, but we spooked them. I guess you just never know.

From: Bigdan
I have to take back that I have never had elk come into water all in the Pm Thats the way its been in Montana. But when I was hunting Utah in 2009 I had them water at all hours .

From: trophyhill
i've found elk bedded beside creek bottoms so it tells me some elk drink whenever they want

For what it's worth... I think every situation is different. In the area I hunt in Wyoming, I sat on a wallow on the west side of the mountain. It was in a very think area where you could only see about 35 yards total. All of the trail camera picture I had from that wallow showed the elk watering and bulls wallowing in the middle of the day (it is very near there bedding area). This wallow is only 50 yards off a logging road. I shot my elk at 3:00PM. There is another wallow on the south side of the mountain is in the middle of a meadow and it never gets any elk during daylight hours. I have another area where there is a wallow on the south side of the mountain. That wallow gets hit all hours of the day every day. The wallow is out in the open and there is no bedding area for at least 1/2 mile. I have watched elk walk into the wallow when it's 90 out and the heat waves distort the glass. The thing about this area is that there are NO ROADS anywhere near the wallow. I think pressure and routine play major roles in all elk activity. Not sure that helps but that is what I have seen and learned in 20 almost 30 years elk hunting.

The last three bulls I harvested (2010 2011 2012) had been in the early evening while they were coming to water. However, I have trailcam picks of elk watering between 1 and 3pm as well.

From: BigAl
I was fortunate enough to find a secluded water hole in black timber. I have seen them come to it at any time of the day, more usage first and last light as they travel a nearby run. My water hole is obviously spring fed and doesn't either dry up or anchor ice because I've seen a couple 8 or 10 inch fish in it. I fully expect to get an opportunity every year I hunt there. I've found a few water holes where it's quite open and don't find much elk sign on them.

From: Outdoorsdude
Stuck my heard bull at 3:30ish this year. There wasn't a lot of water around, it was just days before the rut peak and he came running in. Heard him coming, sounded like it was a horse.

From: cheeseman
I asked this question a while back and one guy, I think it was Kelly something, he told me 1:14.I'm not sure AM or PM.

From: BTM
I only sat over water once, and a bull came in right at dark. Based on that massive statistical sample one must conclude that 100.00% of elk water in the late evening.

Like said above---elk water??? like whenever they want to....

Early mornings--mid-hot-afternoons--or even late in the evening before sunset...basically----at anytime.....

Granted I am talking during the hotter bowhunt type September dates----

Not much help on rifle/muzzy gun date hunts.

I do notice on late bow date hunts ~~~ when water sources are frozen...elk will water later in the afternoon if the sun has moistened the water source or has softned the hard snow melt.

Good luck, Robb

Mathews man has the option covered.

3 2 dark is typical. 3 on private n dark on public.

If near undisturbed herd bull 10 am as mathews has learned. This is a thick nasty spot on public though. He doesnt want want to see or be seen but does like the smell of honey dew drinking n beddi.g nearby.

From: elknuts2
As everyone else has said, they'll water whenever they're thirsty, and at all 24 hours.

That said, I certainly would sit water at least from mid-afternoon till dark. I usually try to be on a stand or in a blind by 1:00 or so, as I've seen some very big bulls water as early as 2:00. I drew Monroe, Utah back in 2008, and had a 380 class 6x7 with 25 cows watering at 2:00 at a tank out in a big sagebrush flat where he could be seen from 400+ yards away. Killed the biggest bull of my life, a 386 bull, on water in New Mexico's unit 13 at 4:00 in the afternoon. I've seen a good number of other very big bulls come to water during times that most of us are in camp eating lunch and doing other stuff between the morning and evening hunts.

From: Wild Bill
In Idaho, big Bulls prefer to graze down to hidden spring streams late in the evening about 1 hour before dark (depending on recent human activity in that spot). During the rut, they prefer to call cows up to their hiding spot rather than come down to them exposing themselves. In my favorite Idaho unit, cow calls in evening hours are the ticket enticing bulls to answer. The elk have their routine down. You just have to give them what they expect to see and hear.

From: Ziek

Ziek's embedded Photo
Ziek's embedded Photo
Depends on too many variables to try and determine any answer that's worth knowing. I can tell you that this one was watering at about 9 AM.

From: Kurt
I shot my two best bulls over water in sagebrush country. Best one was with 15 cows at 7:30 PM in mid-Sept. The other that looks like a twin brother to Ziek's was taken Sept 1 at 4:00 PM. Four days earlier a really large bull tried to water about 5 minutes before legal light ended but something spooked him off....might have been my blind?

I had another large group of elk come into a water hole in the trees while I was hanging a tree stand with my bow at the base of the tree at noon. Stood on a limb and watched them water, a big bull wallow, etc. Sat the stand for 3 more days and never saw an elk.

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