If you can find one of the handfuls of does in early estrus, you may find an elusive buck during October Lockdown. (Photo: Bill Vaznis)
In early October, hunting is great as whitetails still have their summer feeding habits. As the month progresses and deer get out of their routing, it is like bucks have suddenly fallen off the face of the earth. It can be tough hunting during this “October Lockdown.”
Where I live in south central Illinois, the chase phase of the rut begins around the last week of October. The time between when deer stop feeding at their summer food sources and when they start thinking about chasing does is the hardest hunting you will experience all month long. Deer are beginning to feel hunting pressure. Also, food sources are changing, and they must find new ones. Also changing is a buck’s drive from food to sex. Bucks are still going to eat, but not where they are highly visible.
When October Lockdown approaches, forget your early-season and rut stands. You need a whole new approach.
Just because you do not see bucks during Lockdown does not mean they are not around or that they are inactive. It simply means you are hunting in the wrong place. As deer move from their summer feeding routine and into their fall routine, the only thing that changes is what and where they are eating. They are not eating any less.
Where are they feeding? One way to find out is by shooting a doe and looking at her stomach contents. You’ll know what the bucks have been eating, so you’ll know what food sources to look for. If you haven’t killed a doe, I bet a buddy has. Ask to see what the doe has been munching on and hunt that type of food source.
Instead of feeding in the wide open as they did before, chancee are that they are now deep in the woods feeding on hard mast and browse. Scout for what they are eating and set up accordingly.
Deer love acorns, especially from white oaks. A white oak acorn is sweeter than that from a red oak. White oaks usually drop their fruit before a red oak. Persimmons are another buck favorite. Search for fresh rubs, scrapes, and other buck sign that is nearby or actually in a feeding area. Determine the predominant wind, plan an entry and exit route to your stand that will not disturb deer. Now all that is left to do is hunt some very active whitetails.
Besides pattering deer and determining food sources, there is one other tactic for hunting during Lockdown. It is a bit of a hit-and-miss tactic and requires some luck. Although, if a bowhunter is in the right place at the right time, he can take advantage of the early rut.
Around October 15 a handful of does comes into early rut estrus, but it won’t last long. Chances are that there will only be only one “hot” doe in the area, and she probably has several bucks chasing after her. If you find this one breed-ready doe, you can take advantage of the one- or two-day early chase phase.
This early in the season bucks will not feel the need to chase does like they will in another couple of weeks. But anything that resembles breeding will get a buck’s attention. Hunters can use this to their advantage to pull a deer within shooting range.
When you have a buck upwind of your position, give a few contact calls, then a couple of buck grunts to get his curiosity up. If these calls are not enough to entice a buck to within range, try a buck-growl or snort-wheeze call. For added realism, throw some rattling in with your calls.
A buck will show if he is interested in your calls or not. If he responds and begins to head towards your position, stop calling. You do not want to expose your position and get busted before you get a shot opportunity. On the other hand, if the buck shows no interest in your calls, stop calling. A hunter does not want to educate a mature buck to your location and calls. That’s a sure-fire way to ruin any future chance you might have.
The October Lockdown might have some hunters ready to pull their hair out. Do not go to that extreme. Find out what they are eating or, with luck, take advantage of a hot doe, and you will see a lot more deer. Who knows? Maybe the buck of a lifetime finds itself at the business end of your arrow.