Reports from the region this week indicate that bucks are starting this process in a big way. Clients bowhunting with Tri-State Outfitting in Missouri last week enjoyed several big-buck encounters, and one hunter watched a pair of bucks get into an antler-banging, full-contact brawl. It's a common belief that most serious battles occur only during the rut, but Tri-State owner Ted Marum says he's convinced knock-down fights are more common in the early season than most hunters believe. "Bucks are always working on dominance when they live in summer bachelor groups," he says. "But much of that is posturing and hoof-flailing or kicking. Once bucks get in hard antler, some of them want to have another discussion about who is boss. Plus, when bachelor groups break up, there's some dispersal taking place, and bucks run into other bucks they haven't encountered before. Fights happen."