Buckmasters Magazine

Surviving Lockdown

Surviving Lockdown

By P.J. Reilly

When the bucks won’t come to you, it’s time to go to them.

Lockdown.

It’s like deer season constipation. After several weeks of steady deer sightings, they suddenly just disappear. Hunters sit in their stands and hope and pray things will shake loose, but often all they experience is frustration.

Lockdown is that difficult period of the rut when many bucks are paired with does finally receptive to breeding.

Up to that point, you watched buck action build to a crescendo. Then it was like the mature bucks fell off a cliff. The big buck has his girl, and the two have wandered off to a secluded place to shack up.

They don’t move much. They stick together and breed, usually for at least two days. All you’re seeing now are the young guns, the 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-year-olds.

We know a large number of whitetail does drop their fawns around the same time as a defense against predators. Fawns are extremely vulnerable to predation during their first few days on earth, but in a target-rich environment, there’s no way predators can get them all.

In order for a majority of the fawns to be born at the same time, the does have to conceive at the same time.

That’s lockdown.

That doesn’t mean you should quit hunting. What are you going to do, sit at home and sulk?

Like other parts of the season, lockdown is a unique period that requires unique tactics. Adapt, and you shall overcome.

GET OFF YOUR BUTT

As a professional whitetail hunter, there’s not a phase of deer season that Mark Drury hasn’t experienced. That means when the season’s on, he’s out there.

“By the time lockdown hits, we’ve been hunting for more than two months, so it’s definitely frustrating,” he said.

What’s really difficult during lockdown is trying to be successful using traditional stand-hunting tactics. For stand hunting to be productive, the deer have to be on their feet.

But just because they aren’t covering lots of ground doesn’t mean mature bucks aren’t vulnerable during lockdown. In fact, Drury said, they can be more vulnerable.

“Lockdown is when they really let their guard down,” he said. “They don’t care about much, other than the doe they’re following.”

Drury likes to get to a high point with a quality pair of binoculars and pick apart the countryside. He looks for bedded deer or a pair standing together.

“Sometimes those big old boys will be right out in the open with their does,” he said. “You don’t see them doing that in broad daylight at other time of the year.”

Once he spots a decent buck, Drury studies the land around the deer to see if it might be possible to sneak up on it. He wants the wind in his face, and terrain that will allow him to creep close without being spotted or heard.

“Spot-and-stalk on whitetails with a bow is never easy,” he said. “But when it’s lockdown, you have your best shot because the buck’s guard is down. You just have to have everything right so you can slip in without spooking him or the doe.”

If conditions aren’t right, Drury won’t force the issue. For instance, in the Midwest where he spends a lot of time, bucks often lock down with does in the middle of a big field far from any concealing cover.

That buck is just about invulnerable. There’s no way to sneak up on it without being seen. Drury keeps tabs on such bucks in hope of catching them moving into a more vulnerable location in a day or two.

When lockdown coincides with firearms season, odds greatly improve for a hunter who has a lot of ground to roam.

Deer get spooky when guns start blazing, so a hunter looking to spot-and-stalk locked down deer must have access to a large block of country where the pressure isn’t affecting them.

“It’s pretty effective, but you have to have the land to do it,” Drury said.

While bowhunting in Illinois in November 2012, my buddies and I spotted a giant, 190-class typical buck lying in a winter wheat field.

It was out there in the middle of the day with a doe each of the last two days of bow season before the shotgun opener. That buck was on ground we couldn’t hunt, but it was exciting to see a true monster out in the open.

None of us was surprised to learn the landowner shot that buck just off the big field early the next morning when shotguns became legal. He reported the buck was tight on the rump of a hot doe when he shot it.

STAND TIME

When he’s not spotting and stalking whitetails during lockdown, Drury is parked in a stand somewhere. But he’s not necessarily sticking to the same schedule he did before lockdown hit.

“What we’ve found over the years is that we don’t see that push of big buck movement first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon,” he said. “During lockdown, we see our best big buck movement between 10 and 2.”

Surviving LockdownSince he starts hunting Sept. 1 most years, Drury said he can get stand weary by the middle of November. When he knows big bucks are paired with does, he’ll sometimes sleep in and make sure he’s on stand in time for the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. rush.

“If I sleep in some of those days, I feel better, more alert and ready for that peak movement period,” he said.

What’s happening, according to Drury, is locked-up bucks don’t really care about feeding; their only concern is the does. The does, meanwhile, are separated from their family groups for the first time all year, so they shuck the morning and evening feed times.

They tend to feed during the middle of the day, and wherever they go, the bucks follow.

Even so, Drury said he always ends up making some all-day sits during lockdown.

One of the many difficulties of stand hunting during this period is paired deer tend not to travel far. That means Drury has to gauge the difficulty required to get to the stand. If he suspects locked down deer are nearby, he might have no choice but to climb and exit under the cover of darkness.

When you do that, Drury said, you have to go out with the right mindset.

“You’re probably not going to see a lot of deer, so you better be prepared for that,” he continued. “It could be a long day anyway, so get your mind right.”

Whether sitting part of the day or all day, lockdown days are going to be slow. What hunters should remember about lockdown is there’s probably no other time when the biggest of the big bucks will be as vulnerable.

If you’ve ever seen a buck locked down with a doe, you probably noticed he didn’t seem to care about anything in the world except for that doe. The wariness that helps a buck elude you all the weeks preceding lockdown has disappeared.

One time on opening day of Illinois’ first shotgun season, a hot doe led a 140-inch buck out into a field of standing soybeans near my treestand.

I fired at the buck with my inline muzzleloader and missed. The buck paid absolutely no attention to my shot. He didn’t even turn his head to look my way.

Instead, he kept his eyes glued to his doe. I reloaded, and my next shot found its mark. There’s no way that scenario would have happened outside lockdown.

“It can be tough sitting in your stand all day during lockdown, but a doe could lead the biggest buck of your life past your stand at any time,” Drury said. “You have to be there to do something about it.”

Also, you just might see a trophy buck lay down in a compromising spot. If that happens, Drury said, climb down and try a stalk.

“It’s kind of like spotting all day,” he said. “If you see one and it looks like you can slip in on him, go for it.”

Another benefit of sitting all day during lockdown, Drury said, is you never know when a paired buck and doe are going to split up. Being in your stand when the deer couple’s 48 hours expires can allow you to catch a mature buck cruising for another hot doe.

CALLING

One of Drury’s favorite tactics during lockdown is calling to bucks. That’s a trick that works at other times of the season, but Drury doesn’t call during lockdown the same way he calls during other periods.

“I’m pretty much snort-wheezing and growling then,” he said.

Both are aggressive calls. The snort-wheeze is a challenge. By making it, you could cause a buck paired with a doe to feel threatened. He could come over to run off the would-be challenger.

“If it’s a mature buck you’re calling to, he’s not going to be able to stand that,” Drury said.

Also, a passing buck might hear the snort-wheeze and sneak in hoping to find a hot, unattended doe. There are no gentlemen’s agreements in the deer world, and it’s not uncommon for a buck to steal away a doe while two of his rivals fight over the right to breed her.

The growl also is considered aggressive because it’s the noise a buck makes when he’s on the tail of a hot doe. The buck gets so worked up, his tending grunts run together into an excited, guttural buuuurp.

Any buck in the vicinity that hears the growl will know immediately there’s a lady ready to breed nearby.

“Again, a mature buck won’t be able to stand that,” Drury said. “He’ll charge in to see what’s going on.”

Don’t let lockdown constipate your season this year. When it hits in your neck of the woods, recognize it for what it is and try these tactics to fill your tag.

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This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

Copyright 2022 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd