Overall activity status: From what hunters across the Great Plains are reporting, we’re in transition from the seeking to the chasing phase of the rut, where bucks are continually checking and chasing does. Every day, more and more does are coming into estrus, and that’s keeping big bucks busy as they lock on to a hot doe until she’s ready to breed. As Denton Rich of Mule Creek Outfitters in southern Kansas so accurately described one such encounter with an estrous doe late last week: “A dandy buck was working her like a cutting horse.”

These days, just before peak breeding or lockdown are when bucks are the most vulnerable, and consequently offer the best chance for hunters to tag the buck of a lifetime. Cliff Grindstaff of Old Fort, North Carolina, found that out when he intercepted this Kansas giant hunting with Twin Chimney Outfitters. As TCO guide Brenden Mick put it, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time to stick it out in the stand.”

Fighting: As bucks are out cruising they’re a lot more likely to interact, which should lead to some epic battles this week. Evidence of those fights is starting to become evident across the region. Denton Rich reports seeing lots of broken points and antlers this week in Kansas, and several hunters in Nebraska and the Dakotas are seeing similar damage.

Scrapes and Rub: Both bucks and does are hitting scrapes hard this week, according to my sources. In south-central Nebraska, Justin Smith tells me the river bottom where he hunts is “littered with scrapes and rubs,” and he reports the two biggest bucks he’s seen in the last week were by themselves working over fresh scrapes. Chad Bragg also says he’s been seeing tons of fresh signs and witnessed more than one buck “really working over the trees.” Hunters who find a hot scrape would do well to hang a stand and hunt it that day, before those bucks get locked down with an estrous doe.

Daytime movement: Given the amount of activity hunters have been reporting, daytime activity has been surprisingly lacking. Some hardcore hunters I know have been spending their lunch hours scouting fields for mid-day movement, but, except for a few seemingly random instances, it’s quiet out there. I bet this cold snap will change that dramatically.

Estrous signs: One of the strongest signs that does are coming into estrus is the sight of multiple bucks chasing a single doe. From north to south, it’s been happening with increasing regularity. Spencer Neuharth checked in Friday night with a quick e-mail to say he had two mature bucks pushing does all morning. In Kansas, Brenden Mick has been seeing small deer chasing and puts it as only he can: “Lots of young bucks out running around trying to figure out why the girls suddenly aren’t so creepy.” In the next few days, these smaller chasing bucks will undoubtedly move out of the way as the big boys move in on the many lone estrous does that are wandering the woods.

X Factor: Decoy strategies and all-day sits–these are two of the best tactics for killing a buck this week. As the chasing phase gives way to lockdown, lone bucks will be looking hard to find a doe. If you’re hunting a field or other open area, having a fake planted near your stand could bring a curious buck into range. If you’ve got the stamina and a good book, couple that with a day-long sit and you could be rewarded with the biggest buck of your life.