Recent reports are leaving little question: If pre-rut action isn’t ramping up where you hunt, it’s going to happen very, very soon. Hunters (rightfully) get excited about no-holds-barred rutting activity…but sometimes the best time to actually kill a buck is that narrow window between the October lull and when he loses his mind. We’re entering that period now.

Naturally, painting the rut progression is impossible on a broad, national scale. West Rut Reporter Jeff Holmes makes that perfectly clear in his reports from the Salmon River area in Idaho, where whitetail hunters are reporting excellent pre-rut behavior from area bucks.

Active during daylight and sparring or fighting with each other, these wilderness bucks have given the region’s hunters some outstanding opportunity and excellent trophies. I’ve always maintained that big-woods bucks tend to start their rutting behavior a little earlier than whitetails from more civilized areas, where doe populations are more abundant and less-severe weather dampens the urgency for breeding. Holmes’ reports always light a fire for hunting Western whitetails in me.

Across the country, reports from Mid-South reporter Will Brantley brings up two important things to keep in mind as the season morphs from the lull to the pre-rut.

First, rattling (which Brantley credits for the assist in taking his largest buck) is a killer—though often neglected—tactic right now. Many hunters associate rattling with the peak rut, but in my experience the tactic can be less effective the more bucks get interested in does. Now, when bucks are becoming more active within their home ranges, is when rattling can really shine for luring in a curious buck. Like many hunters, Brantley is dealing with bumper acorn crop this fall. That situation can be frustrating, but as Will notes, whitetails like variety in their diet, and sometimes the key is waiting over another food source–in his brother’s case, a food plot.

Whitetails are never on a time clock, and grinding it out—even when hunting the supposed-excitement of the rut—is often the key to successful stand hunting. South reporter Eric Bruce points this out with a story about Georgia bowhunter Dylan Davis, who endured a skunking one day, then seemed to be suffering through more of the same when a great buck appeared mid-morning of the next day.

Bruce’s special report on two hunters who made a push was an example from the other extreme–two guys with limited time decided to make something happen with a well-designed drive.

Their example is something to keep in mind for the weeks ahead.

Other reports remind us that, even when the action is slow, keeping an eye on core areas, food sources, and cam pics is always important. The best is yet to come, and hunters who patiently monitor buck locations and activity will be poised for success when the action ramps up.