Deer Hunting Tips | The Lockdown Phase
If you were to ask any deer hunter you know when their favorite time of the year to hunt is, we bet that 95% of the answers would include the rut. When we think of hunting the rut, we envision a magical time frame when mature bucks are running helter-skelter through the woods chasing does like lovesick teenagers just like on hunting videos. Unfortunately, that’s only partially true and only during the chasing phase. So what do we do when the dreaded lockdown phase hits? Sit in our stands and twiddle our thumbs? No. Instead, use these deer hunting tips to put the “knock-down” on a lockdown buck.
What is the Lockdown Phase?
This term is used to describe the period of peak breeding for whitetails. Generally, the entire cycle can be broken down into the pre-rut, seeking/chasing phase, peak rut (lockdown), and post-rut. Let’s look at these phases of the rut to understand them a little better.
- Pre-rut – During this time, pre-rut bucks are still loosely living in bachelor groups and establishing their social hierarchy. Antlers are polished and this is when a lot of rubs and scrapes are made.
- Seeking/chasing phase – Technically, this phase could be included in the pre-rut category, but there are some big differences. At this point, bucks start dispersing to seek does, constantly on the move and checking for the first one to come into estrus.
- Peak rut/lockdown phase – When a doe finally comes into heat (only for about 2 days), she will accept a buck’s advances and the two will generally isolate themselves in thick cover. They will mostly stay put during this time frame, and a buck will breed her several times during her cycle. This means hunting the whitetail rut can be extremely tough.
- Post-rut – Most does have been bred at this point, but there are likely a few that weren’t. Bucks will still be on the lookout for estrus does during this timeframe, but the action will be much more subdued than the peak rut. Bucks will start transitioning towards winter habits, focusing on thermal cover and feeding areas to build their bodies back up from the stressful rut period.
Signs of the Lockdown Phase
During the lockdown, it can seem like deer literally just disappear in one of the best deer hunting secrets there are. But there are signs that the peak rut is approaching. In the northern half of the country, the first two weeks of November usually overlap the lockdown period. The time frame will be the same from year to year within a few days, which is your best bet at estimating this period. But there are also other signs. If you notice fawns wandering around by themselves, looking lost without a doe, it’s likely the doe chased them away to breed. Similarly, you may only be getting yearling bucks responding to your Code Blue® estrous scents during this time period. They are chased off by larger bucks and often not accepted by doe groups, so they tend to wander the woods looking to take part in the action somehow. If you’d been getting daylight pictures of mature bucks regularly on your trail cameras, but they suddenly seem to disappear, you’re likely in the lockdown. Finally, you’ll rarely see a lone doe during the lockdown phase. Any estrus does will usually have a buck in tow, and any that aren’t in heat will usually stay in larger doe groups.
Deer Hunting Tips for the Lockdown
If you’re curious how to hunt deer during the lockdown phase, there are a few deer hunting tips you can use. While it might be harder to see a lot of daytime movement and connect with a mature buck during this time period versus during the chasing phase, there is still an opportunity for you to do so if you adopt the buck hunting tactics below. Simply because of the way hunting seasons work, most hunters will be bow hunting deer with their Hoyt® bows during this phase of the rut, which means you will need an even better plan to make it all come together. Check out the various deer hunting tips below for ways you can score when hunting the lockdown phase.
Check Your Trail Cameras
As we mentioned, bucks will likely be more remote and sneaky during the lockdown phase. You can use your Bushnell® wireless trail cameras to keep tabs on their movement. If you start noticing any of the signs of the lockdown phase that we mentioned above, and the mature bucks seem to disappear, you can be pretty sure you’ve hit the lockdown. Using this information, you can adapt your hunting tactics so you don’t waste several days on stand. The more you hunt a particular tree stand, the higher chance you have of educating the deer about your intentions.
Lockdown Phase Tree Stand Locations
If there’s just one of these deer hunting tips you’ll apply to have better deer hunting success, let it be this one. When bucks and does pair up to breed, they tend to isolate themselves from other deer for 24-48 hours. They will find small patches of thick cover (e.g. drainage ditches, swale grass openings, alder swamps, etc.) to hide out in. There are a few different rut hunting tactics you can use.
You could move a tree stand into these isolated areas before the lockdown happens, hoping a pair will move in, although that’s a pretty risky gamble. If the conditions are right (i.e., rainy, windy, etc.), you could still-hunt into these remote thickets, scanning ahead for deer as you go. You might be able to sneak up on them in their bedroom using this hunting tactic.
A better spot for the mornings and midday hours include the downwind fringes of common doe bedding areas. Bucks during the rut that are looking for the next doe to breed will often skirt these areas to scent-check for a receptive doe. But they won’t be running across the open hardwoods. They will usually take the thickest, nastiest route they can find. If you can locate a thick travel corridor downwind of a doe bedding area, this is the place to have a tree stand set up for the lockdown phase.
If you primarily hunt during the afternoon and evening, set up between this doe bedding area and a feeding area. That way, any does that are currently paired with a buck may wander by, bringing the buck behind them. But all the doe traffic may just bring other unpaired bucks by to investigate too.
Stealth and Concealment
Mature bucks almost never truly let their guard down. Even during the chasing phase, they are still relatively cautious animals. But this is especially true during the lockdown phase. No matter which rut hunting technique you choose from above, you need to be absolutely sure you’re staying off their radar. That shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s probably one of the first deer hunting tips you ever heard. But it means paying attention to the wind direction and keeping yourself downwind of their travel routes. It means using high quality Bone Collector clothing to reduce and mask your scent, should a wind current swirl on you. It also means concealing your tree stand and yourself in the most realistic camouflage pattern you can find. Realtree® has long been a winner in that category.
Don’t Be Afraid to Call Aggressively
This is something that many hunters get confused about. With the apparent drop in deer activity, they might assume that being quiet is the way to see deer so you’re not drawing attention to yourself. But especially in areas with a few mature bucks, getting vocal and calling aggressively is one of the best deer hunting tips there are for luring a buck away from a doe, if only for a few minutes. Here are a few deer calling tips for you. Every 20 to 30 minutes, let out a buck calling sequence consisting of aggressive buck grunts and even a snort wheeze or two. If a dominant buck is bedded within earshot, they may well leave their doe for a little bit to push out the challenger. A few rattling sequences can also draw a buck away momentarily to investigate the bucks fighting on his turf. If you’re wondering how to trick whitetail deer during the lockdown, use a buck decoy (where legal) to provide a visual target for him to focus on. After hearing a Knight & Hale® snort wheeze and buck fight, and seeing the intruder so close to his doe, he’s very likely to sidle on over and show him who’s boss.
When You See Deer
As we mentioned above, does will rarely wander alone in the lockdown phase. If you see a doe walking past your tree stand location, it’s time to really get your head in the game. Pay attention to her movement and behavior. Is she jumpy or does she keep turning around to look back in the direction she came from? It’s very likely that she’s being pursued by a buck. Do your best to stay absolutely quiet and still at this point so the doe doesn’t notice you. Pay attention to the downwind side with your Bushnell® binoculars to see if a buck will emerge. More than likely, one will. If not, don’t do anything to spook her, as a live doe beneath your tree stand is one of the best attractants you could ever have during this time period.
Time to Use These Deer Hunting Tips
If you’ve ever sat in the tree stand during the lockdown phase, questioning your sanity after multiple days of seeing nothing, we hope you will consider these deer hunting tips today. Hunting bucks in the rut can be very frustrating, but it’s entirely possible to still kill a mature buck. You’ll just need to switch up your deer hunting strategies a little.