The moon will be in the sky for much of the day. My journal notes over the years have shown that, all else being equal, this lunar position encourages midday deer activity. The frosty weather that usually settles in at this time across much of whitetail range will kick-start buck activity.

But these environmental factors will be trumped by an even larger biological one: Peak breeding is literally days away. Every big buck in the herd knows it. There’s a very good chance a doe or two in the neighborhood has already come into estrus, prompting a brief flurry of rutting activity. Mature bucks are almost always the only deer servicing these early does, and that initial taste of action only sharpens a big buck’s focus on breeding. Bucks that haven’t lucked into a ready doe are experiencing rising testosterone levels, resulting in increasing amounts of activity.

These factors combine to make this day the start of the “seeking” phase of the rut. At no time since summer are big bucks easier to spot moving between doe family groups. They’ll use scent, sound, and body-posture clues (such as a doe holding her tail to one side) to determine which female is closest to estrus. Also, mature bucks are often highly aggressive toward other bucks right now, especially strangers that have wandered into their home range. Today marks the day when some of the true buck battles will begin. Like a playground fight, these confrontations attract onlookers of all sizes.

For your morning hunt, place a stand in a terrain funnel linking a feeding area to a doe bedding area. Slip in before dawn and drag an estrous-scent-soaked rag as you walk to your spot, crossing deer trails en route to attract a cruising buck.

That afternoon, set a doe decoy 10 to 15 yards upwind of a stand edging a feeding area. If a buck fails to notice your fake, give him a soft grunt to focus his attention. Rattle antlers to draw in a buck distracted by other does. Any buck worth shooting will find your “doe” irresistible if he thinks a buck is nearby.