Hunting The Lock Down

Upstate Outdoors
November 09, 2018 - 11:00 am

Phillip Gentry

If there was a halftime in deer hunting, that time would be now. The whitetail deer season has been open, depending on which Game Zone you identify with, since either mid-September, the first of October, or back during the summer in mid August.

Many Upstate deer hunters have a phrase for the the middle of November, it’s affectionately known as “The Lock Down”. The reference is to the one to two week period when sightings and encounters with bucks in the woods has slowed down dramatically or come to a screeching halt.

The term “Lock Down” is used to describe the period of peak breeding for whitetail deer. Generally, the entire breeding cycle can be broken down into the pre-rut, seeking/chasing phase, peak rut (lockdown), and the post-rut.

The suggested reason for this reduction in buck sightings, but not necessarily deer sightings, is because the peak of the rut is occurring and bucks are holding tight to females, especially mature females that have quit running from rutting bucks and decided it’s time to breed. 

It’s essentially the only time the real life deer world even slightly resembles the beloved Disney movie Bambi. The Great Prince of the Forest is closely attuned to Bambi’s mother needs and won’t stray from her side and even Bambi might get a kick to the head if he doesn’t learn to stay out of the bedroom.

The existence of a lock down is made under the assumption that all deer in a given area are breeding at the same time. Years of age-data from wildlife biologists would support this to a degree.

 “Many years of deer reproductive data indicate that the peak breeding time is from mid-October to mid-November for the bulk of the state,” said Charles Ruth, Deer Project Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “Approximately 80 percent of the females examined over all years conceived during the period of Oct. 6 through Nov. 16. More specifically, the last week in October and the first week in November represent the peak, with the average doe conceiving on about Oct. 30. Of course there is a bell shaped distribution of breeding dates around this average date.”

Other deer hunters say the Lock Down is merely a myth, made up by unsuccessful hunters as an excuse for too much hunting pressure in the same handful of stands and at the same predictable times of day. The other philosophy is that there is not a hard and fast rut, but that deer are prone to breed at any and all times from early October through the end of winter. This suggestion is made by hunter observation of fawns from the same year class with decided age gaps and rutting chasing behavior starting earlier and later than the prescribed time.

Ruth does offer a Bell Curve behavior explanation, and also states that rutting activity varies based on the topography of the state.

“Our studies show the peak breeding along the immediate coast occurs from Oct. 1 through Nov. 1,” said Ruth. “However, over most of the state, it occurs from Oct. 15 through Nov. 15. Then you have a later rut up in the mountains in Game Zone 1 in the northwest part of the state, it peaks between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15.”

Because it’s nearly a statistical impossibility that all deer are breeding at the same time, the best method to increase trophy buck encounters is to change your hunting strategy. Closely monitor trail cameras as well as change camera locations to heavier cover. Try to reestablish buck movement patterns and then pick a stand location that will allow you to intercept that buck during legal shooting times.

Now is also the time to use the rutting tricks as well – more aggressive calling, doe-in estrous attractants, and even rattling. If you are seeing does, and make sure these are not immature button bucks or yearling does, you are probably in as good a location as possible.

Sooner or later, a suitor will come calling.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. The show can be streamed live online at or via podcast anytime.


Whitetail deer hunting during the phase known as the “Lock Down”, when bucks are holding close to mature does, provides some additional challenges for deer hunters.  


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