By Chris Larsen
For many hunters the lockdown phase of the rut signifies the end of all the fun. Bucks aren’t chasing like they were the previous week and the insane activity we think of as “the rut” seems to have cooled off. However, the lockdown phase may be your best chance to tag a bruiser buck.
What is the lockdown? It is a common term for the breeding phase of the rut. A buck will pair up with a doe and breed her several times in a 24 to 36 hour period. During this time he will rarely leave her side. Most people think of this period as a time when the mating pair essentially beds down and doesn’t move. While it is true that a buck and doe will bed down during the lockdown, it isn’t uncommon to see them moving about the woods. A receptive doe won’t be running through the woods like she did during the chase phase. She will browse as her suitor follows intently, waiting for the perfect moment for another breeding opportunity.
When deer are breeding they tend to seek out isolation. If you were hunting community doe bedding areas during the chase phase, look for more out of the way pockets of cover during the lockdown. You’re looking for small islands of cover, ditches, or fingers of timber. Often times these hideouts are close to major bedding areas but still secluded and separated from the rest of the herd.
Bucks will stay with the same doe while breeding but will breed more than one doe during the lockdown phase. Once he is done breeding a doe, a buck will seek out another one. Bucks often skirt the downwind edge of a known doe bedding area to find another hot doe. They will continue scent checking until they find a receptive mate, often moving from bedding area to bedding area even during daylight hours. Younger, less experienced bucks are often spotted in the open. Mature bucks will use heavy cover to get from place to place.
Knowing the lay of the land you’re hunting is a big factor in killing a buck during the lockdown phase. If you know the most likely travel corridors and potential breeding areas, set up on them when the wind is right. Bucks are more careful than they are during the chase phase but often fall victim to the whims of the doe they are shadowing.
If you see a mature doe by herself there is a good chance she is being followed by a buck. It’s up to you to read her body language. If she keeps looking over her shoulder, there is probably a suitor is behind her. If she doesn’t detect you, she may bring him right to you. I have also had a lot of success with killing does during breeding phase of the rut, especially during archery seasons. If she is hanging around my stand for a while and no other deer appear, put an arrow in her if she offers an optimal shot. Don’t take marginal shots. The idea is to get her to drop close to your stand and act as a natural lure. To prevent meat spoilage, this is not something you want to try during warm days. But you will be surprised at how many bucks a dead doe on the ground will attract if the time is right.
The breeding phase of the rut or the lockdown may not be as exciting as the chase phase when it comes to sheer numbers of deer seen from the stand, but it may be the best time tag a big buck if you’re willing to switch up your tactics.