We’re at or near peak breeding right now, and for hunters this can be both good news and bad. The good is that if only a handful of does have been bred, you can expect intense rutting behavior to continue through this weekend. Today will be a particularly good one for hitting that last-of-the-peak-breeding action. With a rising moon this afternoon, bucks will be cruising doe feeding areas and chasing or tending does. Arrive at these areas early and call to any cruising bucks you see. If you’re bowhunting, stake out a doe decoy, which will attract a loner buck.
But the bad news is that if the majority of local does are in heat, you’ll be staring in the face of “lockdown”–when deer activity seems to have taken a nosedive. Young does are tired of being chased every time they stick their nose from cover. Young bucks are divided between those just learning the breeding thing, and those that started a while back and are running low on energy. And the big boys are paired up with females somewhere.
It’s easy to get frustrated now. I’ve grown to enjoy this time of the rut, however. Even if lockdown is in the cards, some of the rut’s best hunting is going on.
Why now? In many states today will be the start of firearms season. This sudden influx of other hunters will push buck-doe pairs into protective cover that allows them to stay together and still avoid pressure. Search out offbeat covers–abandoned farmsteads, brushy fencerows, small cattail swamps–where a breeding pair might hole up. One top tactic now is to set up on a high vantage point that lets you glass for bucks seeking refuge in these small covers.
This tactic remains solid even if your firearms season hasn’t opened. With lockdown here or fast approaching, any mature buck intent on breeding will intentionally herd a hot doe to a place other bucks won’t find her. This is why buck-doe pairs are spotted in uncustomary places in November, such as pastured woods with minimal holding cover, or even a cultivated cropfield. Once you’ve found a good observation point, thoroughly glass such spots for movement. If you see a breeding pair, figure out the method to match the situation: Slip in tight and hang a stand, or stalk within range.
In denser habitat, still-hunting is the ticket, and open cover is your ally. Not only will you be able to see better and move quietly, but also, a big-woods buck will be paying more attention to the doe he’s tending than to his backtrail. Keep your nose to the wind, and stop to look and listen at vantage points such as an open ridgetop, a clear-cut edge, or the thin cover surrounding a beaver pond. And pay attention to any doe you see–a buck could be right behind her.