5 All-or-Nothing Plays for Lockdown Phase Bucks

Try This Playbook When Your Tried-and-True Rut Stands Go Cold

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Don’t Hunt

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1 | Don’t Hunt

If you suddenly run out of mature buck sightings at your funnel stand locations during mid-November, stop hunting and return to work until about November 18. Give or take, whitetail experts I know hunt seriously hunt from November 18 through Thanksgiving, which is the period following lockdown when some of the oldest bucks come out of hiding and become vulnerable.

One man is Frank from Colorado. Frank owns property in Kansas, and in 2016 when mature buck sightings zeroed out on November 15, he returned to Colorado to regroup and handle some work obligations.

Frank returned to Kansas the evening of November 19, and the very next morning killed his hitlist buck as it entered a food plot to eat at 10 a.m. Frank’s buck grossed in the 180s.

After killing my little Kansas 8-pointer (referenced earlier) back in 2007, my mother walked back to the vehicle to retrieve our deer cart, and on the way encountered a typical 12-pointer that would’ve netted in the high 160s — a true public-land monster. The date was November 18, and given the buck’s demeanor — darting erratically with tongue hanging out — he’d just bred and left a doe to search for the next hot doe.

Though every November hunt could be “the” hunt, don’t beat yourself down for a week straight when it’s obvious lockdown has hit. Again, Nov. 18-25 (depending on your location) can be the best time to nail a big buck. Overhunting your stands during lockdown can hurt your odds for a Thanksgiving-week buck due to stand burnout. Go ride your new Kawasaki Mule instead.

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Photo Credit: Courtney Celley/USFWS via Flickr

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Grab a Decoy

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2 | Grab a Decoy

In states with prairie, plains or CRP topography, bucks often lock down with does in the wide open. I’ve seen it several times during out-of-state bowhunts, and a friend of mine sees it annually while hunting in Kansas. To the treestand bowhunter, these bucks appear non-huntable. But, the aggressive bowhunter welcomes the scenario.

The key is to secure a lightweight, 2-D buck decoy. Once you locate a buck locked down in an approachable location, get the wind in your face and begin stalking. If possible, continue until you reach bow range without making your presence known. However, if you run out of cover during the stalk and are within 80-100 yards of the buck, erect the decoy when the buck isn’t looking. Then, gain his attention with a grunt. If that doesn’t work, try a snort-wheeze. The buck will either flee the scene or come to push the “invader” away from his doe.

Now, be mindful of your surroundings when hunting with a decoy. If other hunters are on the property or a gun season is open, don’t hunt behind a decoy. Never risk safety.

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Photo Credit: Becca McDougal

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Run-n-Gun

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3 | Run-n-Gun

When your funnel or food-source stands go cold, but you want to keep hunting, try slinking through the timber at a slow, cautious pace. Of course, timber-country bucks often lock down in isolated areas where they won’t be disrupted by humans or pesky immature bucks.

Although bucks in lockdown aren’t stupid, they generally lower their guard to an extent when occupying a hot doe. In most cases, they’ll hold tight until the doe spooks. All this is to say that aggressive hunting on foot can put you in the action.

This is also a great way and time to explore new ground, but with your bow in hand. Always move into the wind. Put in your time, and you’ll most likely encounter deer and learn something new. Maybe you’ll even kill a whopper the way the Native Americans did hundreds of years ago.

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Photo Credit: John Hafner

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Hunt All Day

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4 | Hunt All Day

Most hunters sit in stands during mornings and evenings. Yes, these are typically peak movement times, but there is no telling when a buck will breed a doe, leave her and be on the loose looking for another one. This could happen as easily at 1 p.m. as 8:30 a.m. Will you be there when it does happen?

Next, let’s review a classic stand location that can be extremely productive for catching a midday buck as he hunts for his next girlfriend.

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Photo Credit: Darron McDougal

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Hunt Doe Bedding Areas

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5 | Hunt Doe Bedding Areas

Bedding areas are ground less traveled. While growing up, I learned that you just don’t go there. And unless you use the correct approach, that is sound advice.

However, hunting bedding areas is very doable and probably your best bet for treestand hunting during lockdown. Mornings are the only practical time to get close to most bedding areas. Arrive well before deer are returning to bed down for the day. Secondly, don’t push right into the middle of the bedding area. A central bedding-area stand will get you busted as deer almost always approach from downwind.

Instead, hunt the downwind fringe of the bedding area, and you’ll often catch bucks as they circle to scent-check the area. This is a great place to guard when a buck pops out of lockdown and scours the landscape for his next lover.

In 2016, while hunting the downwind fringe of a doe bedding area during lockdown, a 150-class mainframe 8-pointer nearly offered me a shot opportunity. He veered off course and didn’t offer one, but my hunch to hunt the area produced a mature-buck sighting when my funnel stands went dead.

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Photo Credit: Darron McDougal

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I remember my first Kansas hunt quite well. I arrived just before dark on November 11, 2007, and immediately hung a stand so I could hunt the following morning. Joining me on the hunt and to run the video camera was my mother.

We climbed into that ancient cottonwood tree the following morning as planned. Right at the first glint of daylight, a nice 125-inch 8-pointer marched by broadside just 30 yards away. My brother, who’d been hunting the area a week earlier and killed a 150-class buck on his second morning hunt, instructed that the area could produce far better than that, so my arrow stayed on the bowstring. I was sure the best was yet to come.

After a week of morning and afternoon hunts — not to mention a couple all-day sits — that first buck was the largest we’d seen, an onslaught of immature bucks invariably walking about at our stand locations. Curse. We’d hit the rut’s dreaded lockdown phase.

Two mornings later, I mistook a mediocre, broken-racked 8-pointer for a mature buck and let him have it. Though I value the life of every animal I take, I was less than impressed with my age/antler judgement, the buck shrinking with every step as I approached him. I felt as though lockdown had won and I’d lost.

For most hunters, lockdown can be a difficult and frustrating time to hunt. If you confine yourself to funnel stands where bucks were trolling for does a week, or even a few days earlier, it’ll just about drive you mad. Immature bucks and fawns will mosey around your stands, but it’ll feel as if every doe and mature buck has vanished.

However, you don’t have to occupy that same 20-inch platform during this time frame. There are alternative moves you can make that can potentially put you in the game during November’s most difficult days.

Here are five alternative options.