It’s happening. Right now. If they don’t have does pinned down somewhere, bucks are on their feet; searching the edges of bedding areas, cruising past food sources, working scrapes, hashing up rubs. In the upper Midwest, if you’re not in the woods this week, you’re missing the Big Show.

My father shot the buck pictured above a few days back, and his hunt was a classic rut scenario. Dad was in a stand by a secluded food source (a mini food plot we scratched into a log landing) when a trio of does fed past his stand. One of the does had apparently filled her belly and decided to wander off down a logging road. Dad watched the doe start to drift off, then noticed that she’d slammed to a stop and was gazing toward some thick cover nearby. Suddenly the doe whirled around and trotted back toward the stand. When dad heard a low grunt, he grabbed the bow and clipped the release on the string.

Seconds later, this buck appeared and walked confidently in to check out the doe. Dad was drawing as the buck focused on the doe, and was anchored in and ready for the shot when the buck turned broadside at 10 yards. We didn’t follow a very long blood trail before finding the 3-1/2 year old 9-point piled up. My dad will be 83 years old in a couple weeks, and this was his biggest buck ever. We did a lot of handshaking and hugging before dragging his trophy out of the woods!

Lots of little things have to go right for scenarios like this to work out perfectly, and only a fool would deny that there’s some luck involved. But this much I know: The only way you tag a fine buck like this one is to be out in a stand right now, when he’s as active as he’ll be all year.