Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.

At the end of last week, the Rut Reporters all received an e-mail from the executive editor at Field and Stream with instructions for the weekend. It simply said, “Saturday is November 12, Field & Stream’s Best Day of the Rut for 2011. Go hunting and let us know how you did.”

Some assignments are easier than others.

November 12th was also opening day of Kentucky’s gun season, and that meant sacred time in the woods with friends and family. With our buck tags already filled, Michelle and I were on doe patrol first thing Saturday morning. By eight a.m., she had a nice one on the ground. By 10 a.m., it was quartered and chilling on ice.

Our nephew, Caleb, joined his Papaw for his first-ever deer hunt that same day (Papaw is Michelle’s dad, Larry Adams), and after a long morning and evening sit, a 7-pointer finally strolled into range, scent-checking a group of does.

Larry told Caleb to “take his time,” and indeed he did. “I didn’t think he was ever going to shoot!” Larry said later. “He wanted to make sure he was on that buck before he pulled the trigger.” Caleb dropped the buck from 70-plus yards with his .243. He was all smiles–but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Papaw smile any wider.

In the midst of taking photos of Caleb’s deer later that night, I noticed I missed a call from my dad. He’d left me an excited voice mail, telling me he killed a nice 8-pointer earlier in the evening. Evidently, he had a front-row seat to some pretty intense rut action–chasing and fighting included–over a clover plot. I filmed a short victory video of Dad’s buck, and he relayed the story. Afterward, he added, “There was so much going on in that food plot, I got as excited as I have in a long time in the deer woods.”

So there it is. Technically, I didn’t follow the assignment; I didn’t even hunt. I just carried a camera and helped with dragging and skinning. But looking back, November 12th was definitely one of the best days of the season so far.