Photo by Mark Raycroft

At the end of lockdown, bucks relocate back to their pre-rut core areas, where they’ve felt safe in the past, according to Pat Willis of Kentucky’s Buck Country Outfitters. “Unless they were pressured out of their pre-rut bedding area during the hunting season, they’re going back to their last safe place, where they can avoid hunters and other bucks,” he says. Here’s how to find and hunt that hidden sanctuary.

Look for food
Food sources near thick bedding cover are the first places to check. “The deer are going to be exhausted, traveling less, and focused on easy pickings,” Willis says. Focus on isolated mast in heavy woods, not ag fields or big food plots, which are too exposed for late-season bucks.

Hunt any scrape
If you find a fresh scrape back in the core area, hunt it. Even after lockdown, some mature bucks still have doe fever. “Often, scrapes open up because bucks are capitalizing on the end of the rut,” Willis says. “They’re running those scrape lines close to home, trying to find one last honey.”

Wait him out
Mentally prepare for two, three, four days without a deer sighting, Willis advises. “Movement is low this time of year, even in a place they feel safe.”

Make noise
Rattling works now, as do grunts and doe bleats. “Sometimes that last bit of rutting spirit, plus exhaustion, can get a buck to make a mistake,” Willis says. “He’s been fighting and chasing, so he’s more easily annoyed. Even some mature deer that may not respond in the pre-rut can slip up post-lockdown.” Bucks may not run wide now, but if a ready doe or intruder buck enters their home turf, they’ll respond.