This is my favorite time of the hunting season. As recent dispatches from our rut reporters indicate, the hinges are starting to pop loose, and full-blown breeding bedlam should come busting through in just a week or two. But in the meantime, the days are getting cooler and buck activity is steadily ramping up at a time when the deer are still fairly predictable. It’s a great time to be in the woods, and it will only improve daily, making each new hunt full of promise.

The latest reports prove what a huge factor temperature can play in spurring daytime buck movement right now. Two successful hunters–our own Brandon Ray with a great Texas buck, and Casey Martin with a gorgeous Louisiana whitetail–took advantage of cool fronts to down tremendous whitetails. If you can only get a day or two to hunt this week, check the forecast and try to time your hunt for when the thermometer will take a dive.

The other reason I love this part of the season is that bucks are especially vulnerable to calling now. As mid-South reporter Will Brantley points out, he’s seen lots of sparring and fighting lately and has been using his rattling horns to pull bucks in. If you’re one of the people who believe that rattling is just for the madness of the full-blown seeking-and-chasing phase, you’re missing a big boat right now. Keep those rattling antlers with you on every hunt, and either blind rattle or–better yet–use them to tempt an animal you’ve spotted that’s working out of range. Bucks are testing each other right now, ahead of the main event, and rattling is an excellent tactic to lure one close; whether he’s feeling aggressive or just curious.

Finally, while we cover a lot of information in this space about how deer behavior and hunting tactics, we shouldn’t forget shooting skills, which came to mind for me when I read Eric Bruce’s recent Southern report about a friend who missed two chip shots at deer in a single day. I’ve been there, folks, and sometimes those misses are a pure case of buck fever, no matter how experience you are. But I also know that some misses are a result of just not shooting enough, and that’s a problem that’s simpler to solve.

Some bowhunters shoot like madmen all summer, and then stop flinging practice arrows as soon as hunting season starts, assuming they’re “set” for the year. This is a huge mistake. Shooting a bow well is a matter of constant repetition that keeps muscles trained and the mind sharp. In other words, you need to shoot all season. Reduce the length of your practice sessions (a handful of arrows every day is better than one long session a week) and do your best to mimic actual hunting situations, such as shooting from a stand. Keeping sharp and focused is not that difficult, but it can make all the difference, especially now that bucks are really starting to move.