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.

With the chase phase in full-swing, I set out early last weekend to hunt a saddle between two white oak ridges, one of which borders a sprawling clear cut. Along with 299 other hunters, I’d been drawn for a two-day quota gun hunt on public land in Kentucky. This particular chunk of public ground is where I grew up hunting, and is virtually all woods. Deer densities are low there, but it does produce a good buck from time to time.

I’d put my climber on a tree the night before, but rather than mess with climbing in the dark, I just still-hunted my way down the ridge at daylight, found a good spot to sit at the base of a big oak, and watched the sun rise. My plan was to hunt from the ground a few hours, at least until my butt got numb, and then slip into the climber, where I’d eat lunch and be waiting on any deer that other hunters happened to jump en route to their trucks at midday. Though I’m not the most patient guy around, I like to hunt daylight till dark this time of year. Having a plan in place such as this to break up the monotony helps me do that.

A spike trotted through the saddle no more than 30 minutes after daylight. Intermittent shots rang out in the distance (a few shots were close, too). At nine a.m., while texting a friend who was hunting in Indiana, I looked up and saw this buck cruising through the oaks. It was obvious he had a place to go and does in mind. I dropped my phone, threw the rifle to my shoulder, and made a quick mouth bleat. The buck stopped. I counted three points on one main beam, saw another main beam that seemed to match, and a frame beyond his ears–good enough for me. The buck was quartering to me, and the Ballistic Silvertip from my .308 broke his front shoulder and left through the back of his rib cage. The whole experience, from the time I saw the buck until he hit the ground, might’ve lasted 20 seconds.

Hunting ridgetops in the mornings is a sound strategy this time of year, as that’s where bucks often travel, checking rising thermals for hints of does in estrus. The action tends to happen fast in the timber during the chase phase, though, and opportunities to size up bucks and take the shot don’t last long–especially on public land when rifles are booming.

There are probably four or five more prime chase-phase days ahead of us in most of the Mid-South before the true peak of the rut gets here. Kentucky’s statewide firearm season opens this coming Saturday, and a cold snap is in the forecast. I expect it to be a lively weekend.