Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.

Rut activity is heating up across the region, and Cayle Pich proved it Monday morning, tagging this gorgeous Minnesota 10-point. Hunting on one of the “Best Days” we’d selected in our rut coverage, Cayle headed to a stand on his family property in the pre-dawn. Cayle’s step-dad, Dean Mierau, had several trail camera photos of a great buck working scrapes on a logging road connecting two farm fields. But early attempts to find this deer had been fruitless until Cayle’s hunt. Shortly after first light, Cayle worked a grunt call, hoping to lure in a cruising buck. The trail-cam 10-point had clearly been working the nearby edge of one of the fields and responded almost instantly, trotting toward Cayle’s stand down the logging road. Cayle made good on the point-blank shot, and tagged his biggest buck to date. Congrats to Cayle!

This successful hunt illustrates several interesting rut behaviors. The rut is nearing a peak across the region, with some bucks (in Illinois and parts of Wisconsin) tending the first does to come in heat. In other areas (Minnesota, Indiana and parts of Iowa, according to my sources), the peak breeding is still yet to come.

Regardless of locale, the biggest bucks in the herd are vulnerable now, either searching widely for that first doe, or done with their initial encounter and looking for a repeat performance. In my mind, this period typifies the rut like no other. The mature deer are putting in major effort now, and hunters with patience who’ve done their homework in selecting stand sites, and–like Cayle–aren’t afraid to run a call or work the rattling antlers, can score on bucks that have been ghosts up to this point.

In my own hunts near my Minnesota home, I’ve had younger bucks trolling the woods especially hard in the mornings and today I saw a full-speed chase that occurred in open alfalfa fields at 11:30 in the morning. There’s a major weather system heading this way over the next 36 hours, and this wintry mix of rain and snow could play a huge role in getting previously-sluggish whitetails to move throughout the day. I expect plenty of great harvest photos to come my way in the days ahead!