Bowhunters have a couple weeks to wait before hitting the woods this fall, but make no mistake–the bucks are making the transition from summer to fall behavior as we pace the floor, waiting. Last week one of my trail cameras captured the first photo of a buck in hard antler. The pretty 8-point was in his bachelor group (in this case, a bachelor quartet) and the three others were still in velvet.

The period immediately following velvet shed can produce a re-arranging of the pecking order in these guy-groups. Once a buck can use his antlers to express himself, he’s capable of fighting in a different, sometimes more effective–manner than the posturing and hoof-swatting that determines dominance among velvet bucks. Serious fights are still rare, but they do occur.

Velvet shed also kicks off the rubbing season, and my neighbor and hunting buddy Dave Olson just shot me a text today saying that he’d found the first rubs of the season. I always get excited about early season rubs, because they’re often made by big deer. Sure, some bucks help strip velvet by rubbing, but once that process is over, older deer still rub. Younger bucks don’t rub very often until closer to the rut. And don’t be fooled by rubs on small trees as you scout; big bucks will pick on anything this time of year, and a cluster of small rubs is often a good tip-off that a good buck is using the area.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease has been on the minds of many of the region’s hunters this year. Record drought has resulted in significant EHD outbreaks in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and even Michigan. Mature bucks are particularly vulnerable to EHD, and I’ve seen photos of several dead bucks from across the region. Hot, dry weather continues to plague the upper Midwest, so the total extent of EHD’s impact on the deer herd is yet to be determined. Remember that EHD outbreaks can be devastating, but also highly localized.

I received a series of photos of some fantastic Missouri bucks, including the one above, from Ted Marum, owner of Tri-State Outfitting. These deer appear to be healthy and huge, so apparently EHD has not yet impacted this area.

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.