Hunting the Rut – Lockdown Strategies

by HuntingFreak

Rut Hunting Strategies

When asked when their favorite time to hunt is, most deer hunters will reply without a doubt, “during the rut.” Perhaps it was summed up best in a recent tweet I read – “City boys live in a rut, country boys live for the rut.” (Definitely retweet worthy to say the least).

Most hunters reflect on the rut being a time of action, excitement, and one of the only times a big buck will let his guard down. Early in the rut things are exciting and most hunters are pumped. A week or so goes by then it’s like someone flips a switch (or claps off for those still using The Clapper). The action stops, bucks disappear, and whispers of the “lockdown” begin to spread. Sound familiar? Well it should because it happens every year. To understand it better, let’s take a look at the dynamics of the whitetail rut. The rut can basically be broken down into 3 phases – the seeking, chasing and breeding phases.

Seeking Phase

As most of us know, animals including whitetails are affected by the moon phase. The second full moon or “rutting moon” after the autumnal equinox (first day of fall) is when the seeking phase is in full swing. There is usually a period of a week or two leading up to this phase called the pre-rut where you will start to see some buck movement but normally it’s the younger more impatient bucks.

In the Northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn is normally around the 3rd week in September, the 2nd full moon following that is usually around Halloween. During this time more mature bucks will start seeking out does or doe groups. They’ll begin scent checking trails and any does they find. Hunters are seeing good bucks during shooting hours and everyone is excited. This is when mock scrapes, doe calls, and scents can work wonders.

Chasing Phase

About 3-5 days after that 2nd moon has triggered the seeking phase, does will start coming into estrous thus triggering the chasing phase. The first week of November can certainly be the most exciting time for a deer hunter. I’ve literally had bucks all around me in the middle of the day chasing one hot doe and it’s like they are oblivious to everything else around them. When bucks are chasing it’s tough to call them off a doe and/or get them to stop. But if they are aggressive, a buck decoy or a snort wheeze might piss them off enough that they may come to investigate.

Breeding Phase (Lockdown)

After several days of being chased and pestered by rutting bucks the does get skittish and will hunker down in thick cover close to their main source of food. This occurs in the 2nd to 3rd week in November. They lie down on their bellies and may not move more than 50 yards or so throughout an entire day. A buck or even multiple bucks will stay with her waiting for her to come into estrous. This is the reason for decreased buck sightings and deer activity commonly called the lockdown phase.

Once a doe comes into heat it lasts approximately 24 hours and she may be bread 10 times or more by the same buck or multiple bucks. But for 72 hours (24 hours prior to being in heat, 24 hours during heat, and 24 hours after being in heat) there isn’t a lot of movement at all. And unless you have a hot doe right next to your tree stand it could be a long day.

Lockdown Strategies

Once lockdown occurs it is certainly a challenging time for a deer hunter. To keep from getting frustrated you need to change your strategies. You have to remain flexible and open-minded during this time. The stubborn hunter who is still rattling or calling and stuck on hunting rubs or scrapes is doomed.

It’s possible you can still hunt the same stands depending on their location but first and foremost you want to start hunting doe groups. Knowing that the does aren’t going to move far, hunt the bedding areas closest to the primary food source.

Don’t go directly into the bedding areas where you may start to pressure the does or you’ll spook them off and cause them to become nocturnal. Be between bedding does and the food source so when they get up to feed in the evening or in the middle of the day, that buck that is on her will follow and you’ll be in the best ambush spot. Don’t forget to always wear scent control clothing and have the wind in your favor.

If you aren’t sure where the majority of the does are, set up where you can scan a large area over the food source like in a lone tree or edge of a crop field. Take note of where the does are coming from as they enter the field then adjust. This is where being the flexible hunter is going to pay off. You may even have luck stalk hunting once you’ve located the doe groups.

Summing Up

During the lockdown or breeding phase, choose the thickest bedding areas that are closest to the primary food source. Set up between the two on the downwind side and be patient. If you don’t know the best areas then scan the food sources to see where does are coming from. If you spot a doe on the edge of a food source, it’s likely she won’t be there long and she is probably bedding within 50 yards of there.

Use this information to come up with a plan of attack. Don’t hesitate to move in once you’ve located them but do it smart without pressuring them and always play the wind. It’s also a good strategy to use your binoculars to constantly and methodically scan the woods and thick areas for bedded deer.

YOU have to locate the deer during this phase, they won’t come to you. Sitting in an overused tree stand in open woods on a rub line isn’t going to cut it. Deer movement is minimal, so locate the thickest nastiest areas that are relatively close to the primary food source to increase your success during the lockdown.

Thanks for reading and happy lockdown hunting!

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