We’re at the point of the rut where getting a precise read on the breeding phase makes a huge difference. This fact was hammered home as I reviewed the latest reports from around the country.

There are plenty of clues, from the subtle to the dramatic, that can help you figure out what’s happening with the rut. Several reporters note that studying immature bucks, does, and fawns can tell you what’s happening with mature bucks. Mid-South reporter Will Brantley says he’s still seeing does and fawns together, a sure sign that those does are not entering estrous. Meanwhile Mike Shea has noticed an uptick in young-buck movement, which is usually a precursor to the Main Event. Other reporters, including Dave Draper, have noted that bucks showing up on trail cams with unblemished racks with intact tines means that no serious fighting has occurred and the best rutting activity is a ways off. Recognizing these subtle shifts in the herd dynamic is a critical step in deciding on a hunting strategy.

Of course, other external factors can also influence rutting activity, or at least the activity we see. In my opinion, weather is the key factor in determining daytime movement. When warm temperatures, high humidity, and prolonged rain events settle in during the usual breeding buildup in your area, hunting can be downright poor. Conversely, if a cool, high-pressure weather system arrives, it’s time to grind it out in a stand.

Naturally, adapting your hunting strategy to the ever-changing rut dynamic is critical to success. South reporter Josh Honeycutt did a great job of pointing this out in his latest posts. Josh outlines six top stand-hunting setups for the rut, which differ (for the most part) from the places we concentrate on during the pre-rut. I agree completely with all of Josh’s site selections, and as I thought about them, I further refined the list to include my favorite times to hunt them. I like pinch points, saddles, edges, and ridges on mornings when the rut is really popping and bucks are running big. When we hit peak breeding (lockdown) and in the days following, I’m really focusing on thickets and secondary food sources.

We’re knocking on the door of some volatile and exciting rut action in many areas in the days ahead, and I look forward to reading the reports (and seeing the pics) as the 2015 rut progresses. Stay tuned!