When deer seem to vanish during peak-rut lockdown, you can do one of two things: take a break from hunting, or go find the deer. To do the latter, you need to focus on secluded, private spots where bucks hunker down with does to court and mate. So grab your binoculars and GPS, and key in on these 10 breeding nests.
 Swamp Hummocks
Flatland deer love to hang out near swamps. For a private honeymoon, a doe will lead a buck out into a swamp and find a hump of dry ground.
Field corners see a lot of deer activity; points, not so much. That’s why a doe will lead a buck here—to a quiet spot where she can keep an eye on surrounding fields.
 Chase-Place Fringes
During the pre-rut, bucks and does use traditional chasing grounds to display and eyeball potential mates. Find these, and then walk the perimeter, glassing the closest semithick cover where a pair might retreat as the pre-rut merges into the rut.
 Islands of Cover
An isolated patch of brush, grass, or cattails in an otherwise open field is a classic mating nest. And it’s usually surrounded by leftover crops so the couple can nibble when not breeding.
 Big-Woods Bowls
Does in the timber love to run their mate playfully down into woody depressions between 40 and 80 yards wide and then back up the sides. Eventually, they will settle back down into the bowl for breeding.
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 Pond Dams
Every year I find a mature buck and doe using the thicket below my largest pond. The wet drainage area nurtures lots of weeds, brush, and secondary foods, and they seem to like the structure itself, occasionally venturing up on the dam to survey the surroundings.
 Grassy Clumps
You won’t find a breeding pair in a large field of switchgrass; too many does bed there, and it’s a favorite pre-rut chasing ground. But a small patch of grass separate from the main field—that’s your spot.
 Cedar Clusters
Look for very small cedar pockets apart from other cover but close to pre-rut display areas. Most won’t produce, but the few that do make the search worth it.
 Actual Islands
Just as they’ll use an island of brush in a field, mating deer will sometimes wade or swim out to a real island for seclusion. Use a boat or chest waders to reach them.
A small tree won’t cut it, but when a mature oak falls in open woods, it provides browse, cover, and structure that attracts mating deer. If a storm knocks several such trees down into an isolated cluster, odds are excellent that you’ll find a doe and a big buck tending her.
BONUS TIP: Empty Nests
You can confirm that you’ve found a breeding nest even if your binoculars tell you that it’s not occupied. Carefully move in, ready to shoot, and look for large- and medium-size tracks together, two beds in close proximity, and halfhearted scrapes and rubs where a buck pawed soil and thrashed bushes between breeding sessions. Mark the spot. It may not hold deer today, but it might tomorrow. —G.A.