I was pumped about spending six days in Northeast Missouri the week prior to the regular firearms season. Everything seemed like it was going to be absolutely perfect! Long story short, I got quite the education. Deer movement slowed to a crawl and I was left trying to categorize why.
Is Lockdown a “Thing”?
Before the 2017 season, I began gathering insight from some of the whitetail world’s leading voices. The most helpful resources I found came from Drury Outdoors 13 series, Bill Winke’s “Chasing November”, and Mark Kenyon’s blog Wired to Hunt.
The first three days of hunting were lights out for the most part. I saw 10-20 deer per sit, but I also noticed that all but one buck I encountered were immature. Where had the big boys gone? Some hunters credit it to a phenomenon called “Lock Down.”
I had heard the term lockdown before, but was hesitant to believe it. Data varies widely by region as to the validity of whether or not mature bucks actually spend a brief “honeymoon” together. If the activity of these deer does slow, and if lockdown is real, it is a small phase of the rut with major implications for a hunter that only has a small window of opportunity to hunt.
After harvesting a fawn for the freezer Tuesday night, I chose to let the meat hang for one entire day, and butcher on Thursday morning to give my brother the opportunity to have his pick of the property. That afternoon, my suspicions were confirmed. Two mega bucks had bedded with a doe directly under my stand at some point during the day and I assume, were planning to hold tight until dark. As I walked in, I got quite the show as all three exploded from the brush and ran across a cut bean field where I never saw them again.
The trouble with making a blanket statement about the validity of “lockdown” in this situation, is three fold. These deer could have simply chosen that spot to bed for the day. This could have just been another part of their home range that they frequented, and I just happened to miss my opportunity. Or, they could have been pushed from another property and found my location to be hidden enough to wait for sundown.
Points of Reference
Lindsay Thomas Jr. of the QDMA published a helpful article framing the idea of Lockdown as a myth in 2014. Lindsay cites the work of researcher Andy Olson at the University of Georgia in 2012. Part of Andy’s findings concerning lockdown revealed an expansion of a buck’s range during this typical Lockdown period, “A hunter who happened to be in the northern end of the (GPS collared) buck’s range might be seeing or photographing him regularly one week, and all of a sudden he disappears,” Andy said. “The buck might now be focusing on the eastern portion of his range instead of the north. He didn’t lockdown with a doe.”
In contrast, whitetail writer Bill Winke notes in an answered question from a Midwest Whitetail viewer, “Regarding lockdown, it is the same time every year. Roughly November 13-18. Those can be some slow days most years. The second round of cruising for the bucks usually starts around November 20 for a few days, but it is not as strong as the first round.”
Both of these views point to one thing. Whether “lockdown” is a legitimate moment in a mature buck’s rut activity or not, during this period, a hunter can count on the need for increased patience and in the field.
Winning the “Lockdown” Battle
If you are truly serious about harvesting a mature buck during the peak-rut phase, plan for long days on the stand that are filled with very little action. The waiting game is the “slugfest”. Day after day in the stand seeing nothing can wear on you.
Second, if you will be hunting for a series of more than two or three days, have multiple stand locations that work with the wind you are given. This will prevent your spot from being burned out by your presence.
Third, don’t be afraid of an all day sit. Andy Olson’s study also revealed, “You’re not wasting your time if you stay in the stand all day long. While morning and evening movements were always greater than mid-day, movement throughout daylight hours was double to quadruple the levels of pre-rut movement.”
Finally, be prepared to walk away empty handed. My family processes and eats every deer we kill. It’s a staple around our home. I don’t like going home empty handed, so because this property isn’t “managed” for deer, and there was clearly an abundance of immature bucks, harvesting the buck I did was justified in my mind. Had I been looking for a trophy class animal, I would have simply gone home with an unpunched tag on that trip.