It’s one of those words you curse your hunting buddy for uttering: lockdown. This alleged rut phenomenon occurs in mid-November across the heart of whitetail country and stems from the majority of whitetail does coming into estrus in a short window. The evolutionary trait allows females to birth in a brief time period when spring nutrition growth is optimal. Of parallel importance is the fact that the fawn explosion overwhelms predators and ensures enough fawns survive for the good of the species. Unfortunately, for a week or two the activities of whitetail bucks change, and not necessarily for the better if you’re a hunter.
There’s a debate afoot as to whether the lockdown actually exists as described by your uncle at hunting camp. For years you heard stories of bucks hustling a hottie away for a 24- to 48-hour hookup. The “do not disturb” sign was hung on a woodlot door. The buck would supposedly stay with the receptive doe until the cycle wanes or he is driven off by an athletic hustler. But do they actually lock down?
Data from GPS tracking suggests that instead of staying put in one location, a missing buck may simply have moved. This corroborates hunting-camp lore of the lockdown, as oftentimes bucks are spotted standing guard over does in odd locations. Other than the occasional campout, movement continues as the chase ensues, browsing persists and pairs happen upon new hideouts. It’s just a changeup happening undercover in another zip code, and your trail cameras can’t follow along.
Off The Grid To win the lockdown battle you may need to abandon your comfort zone. Start by inventorying all possible wooing waypoints. Think in terms of privacy. Whether the doe or buck leads the escape, the pair characteristically find a nook away from mainstream whitetail activity. A grassy swale in a harvested field, a deserted farmstead, the brushy head of a coulee and even a cattail quagmire could provide mating couples with some privacy as they get to know each other. In the West it’s customary for whitetails to vacate riparian zones to join pronghorns on the prairie. Put your optics to use.
Having stands or blinds pre-set also gives you the jump to watch one of these hideouts when your trail cameras begin to sputter fewer images. The honeymoon suite may be next door to a core area, but the swapping of trail camera images between land managers could reveal a move of a mile or more. During the past several Novembers in Kansas and Iowa, nearly all my bucks have come from neighboring properties corroborated by camera confirmation.
Stick It Out You don’t necessarily have to hire a U-Haul to move your hunting operations. You can stick it out. This strategy works due to reverse dispersion. Although your target buck may have jumped ship, another could replace it. If your property includes whitetail habitat extravagances it will likely catch the eye of another exploring suitor. A drifter buck could pass through a food plot or bedding cover at any hour of the day. Still, offbeat locations on your own property may hold the key to success, so be meticulous in scouting. Explorers may also head straight to these haunts as does shy from food-plot harassment.
Rut Rolling Stone Finally, don’t be afraid to unchain yourself from the tree. Things can get crazier than a Tractor Supply Co. on Black Friday. Several bucks chasing an estrus doe creates confused chaos you can use to stalk into shooting range. A buck literally locked down in a ditch provides the concealment to sneak in close. Even jumping deer isn’t a game ender. It’s not uncommon at all for the pair to run off and circle back, sometimes with more bucks in tow.
Expect things to change when you see your first band of bucks chasing a doe across an opening. Regardless, it’s a rut battle you can win with strategy modifications.