October 31, 2023
That promiscuous doe keeps running all around the woods, spreading her stink and dragging that lustful buck back up into the cedar thicket with her. The good? The rut is in full swing. The bad? It ain’t happening anywhere near your treestand.
This is what we call the lock-down phase. It can be a difficult time to chase whitetails. You’re in either the thick of the action, or none of it. But let’s say you see a big buck bed down with an estrous doe. What’s the dynamic? What’s the location? What’s the play? Here is the rundown.
Understand the Lockdown Dynamic
Understanding the dynamics of the rut is important. All does aren’t in estrus at the same time. That said, in areas with a more synchronized rut (i.e.: northern states), the lockdown is the period when the most does are in estrus. Therefore, odds of seeing a mature buck “locked down” with a doe are significantly higher during that window.
So, when a mature buck finds an estrous doe, he generally “pushes” her toward an area that gets his gal away from the bulk of the deer herd. That means less competition as he courts her over the next 24 to 72 hours.
Still not sure if that’s an estrous doe? If her tail remains flat and straight out, is squatting frequently, is bedded in a weird location, is running around a lot, or especially if it’s estrus bleating, that doe is likely in estrus. Bucks are nearby, or soon will be.
Where to Find Breeding Pairs
There are numerous places you might find bucks with estrous does. But as mentioned above, certain places tend to work better for bucks that successfully defend does. Some of these places include:
- Brush piles
- CRP fields
- Ditches and drainages
- Mid-field cover
- Old homesteads
- Small woodlots
- Standing crops
- Thick security cover
Additional places might work, too. But the above are commonly known areas that serve as great but weird spots to find bucks during the lock-down phase.
But, once you find them, what’s next? How do you go from glassing them from 300 yards out to putting that monster buck in the back of the truck?
Option 1: Stage a Scene
The best situation is getting that buck up and coming to you. But first, try to get within 100-150 yards or so of the pair without being seen. Then, set up a decoy. Grunt, snort-wheeze and try to provoke that buck to come to you.
Option 2: Stretch That Range
Hopefully it’s crossbow, muzzleloader, or rifle season where you are. If so, and you have the appropriate licenses and tags, consider picking up that extended range and get after that big deer with some heavier firepower.
Option 3: Use the Terrain
Sometimes, rolling terrain makes getting closer to game easier. If in a situation where that holds true, think about using the terrain to creep within range, or at least as close as possible, to the buck and doe in your sights. Then, from there, wait for a good shot opportunity.
Option 4: Belly Crawl
Hunting is rarely easy. Therefore, it might require belly crawling to get within range of a buck and estrous doe pair. If it comes to that, and you pull it off, you’ll have certainly earned the awaiting reward.
Option 5: Stalk with a 2-D Deke
Watching a buck react to a deer decoy is a spectacular thing. Hair stands on end. Ears pin flat against the head. Eyes roll back in their sockets. It’s a pretty incredible thing to watch. It’s even more impressive when you stalk a buck with the 2-D decoy right in front of your face. Decoying for deer can be a very effective tactic, if used correctly. Do it right and you have the makings of a great hunt. Don’t follow guidelines and things can go south in a hurry.
- Rid the decoy of any scent.
- Set up the decoy (the right way).
- Approach from downwind.
- Use a grunt call, if necessary.
- Add realism to the illusion.
Those are five of the main things to keep in mind. But the following are important, too:
- Visibility: It’s all about visibility. Make sure bucks can see your decoy from a distance. You don’t want to be “too sneaky with your decoy.” You’re trying to lure him, not startle him.
- Provide an Escape: Keep it to where the buck has a 360-degree escape route. In case things go south, bucks are more apt to engage if they see a way out.
- Read Body Language: Body language is extremely important when decoying whitetails. Make sure you’re fluent in it. If the deer is reacting poorly to the decoy, don’t push it.
- Shoot to Protect: With traditional decoying efforts, you don’t always get a shot before the buck crushes the decoy. But given that you pretty much are the decoy, best get that shot off before getting stabbed by some G2s and G3s.
- Be Patient: Don’t expect it to happen with the first stalk. Give it some time and stay persistent. It’ll come together if you put the time in.
All things considered, stalking a buck and doe pair during the rut isn’t easy. But with the right knowledge and game plan, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it might’ve been. Get it done during the rut this season.
One of the coolest aspects of hunting is the vast number of possibilities and outcomes. There are so many minute decisions that impact the hunt. Of course, there are numerous skills and tactics that can influence success, too.
- Understanding the bedding habits of bucks, does, and especially when paired off together.
- Map out the plan in your head.
- Note obvious landmarks where the deer are bedded, as perspective changes when you move locations.
- Wear quiet clothing material.
- Use quiet footwear.
- Keep the wind in your favor.
- Move when the wind blows.
- Remove that extra layer of clothing (if you sweat a lot).
- Use weather to your advantage.
- Take advantage of the terrain and topography.
- Know what specific vocalizations mean.
- Read body language effectively.
- Be very patient that last 70-80 yards.
- Watch for other deer.
- Don’t let them see your human form, especially the doe.
- Know when to call an audible and regroup.