When lockdown brings hunting the Whitetail pre-rut scraping and chasing activity to a screeching halt you can do two things. Wait for it to end and activity to resume, or make things happen.
To do the latter, you need to focus on where the bucks are now: hunkered down with does in breeding nests—secluded spots they slink off to for privacy while mating.
Grab your binoculars and GPS and key in on these ten whitetail breeding nests.
1. Deer Love to Hang Out Near Swamps
When a doe goes into estrous, she’ll often lead a buck out through the shallow swamp water to reach a dry hummock where they can have total privacy.
Extra Tip: Study the elevation lines on maps and see where the ground rises slightly in a swampy area. That’s your hotspot
2. Keeping an Eye on Field Vantage Points
Deer love to enter fields at corners, but these vantage points in the field sometimes get neglected. That’s why a doe will lead a buck here to claim an isolated spot where she can keep an eye on the surrounding area of the field. Areas off a field-edge vantage point can be some of the best places to get a shot at a mature whitetail buck.
|Hunting near a patch of warm season grasses and cedars...two prime peak breeding spots combined offers excellent chances for locating a pair of mating deer during "lockdown" or the peak breeding phase of the rut.|
Extra Tip: Use satellite photos to locate these points and make sure they have the cover that a mature buck demands.
3. The Edge of Deer Rut Chasing Grounds
During the pre-rut bucks and does use traditional courting grounds to display, eyeball potential mates, and chase. Immature bucks are sparring to determine the pecking order. You might see some of these smaller bucks chasing does. An isolated switchgrass field is a favorite pre-rut chasing ground. Locate the chasing areas and they’ll use them year after year.
Extra Tip: Find these chasing grounds, and then walk the perimeter. Key on the first piece of semi-thick cover off to the side where a couple might head as the pre-rut merges into the rut.
4. Isolated Cover Patch in an Open Field
This is a classic lockdown lair. It’s neglected by the majority of deer that don’t want to be penned up in this tiny brushy area.
Extra Tip: The best spots are in fields that have some leftover crops that the pair can nibble on when not breeding.
Extra Tip: Native warm season grass patches are particularly attractive to breeding pairs of deer, especially small patches where there won't be many other deer around.
|Look for fresh sign such as this deer rub and droppings and scrapes to show whether a peak breeding spot is being currently used and active.|
5. Look for Potential Deer Breeding Nest
If you can find a place where the ground dips down into a bowl shape perhaps 40-80 yards across, you’ve located a potential breeding nest. Does love to make the buck they’ve chosen follow them down into these depressions or basins in big woods, back up the sides then settle down into the bowl for the act of breeding.
Extra Tip: Search on topographic maps and satellite photos for these small depressions, but often they’re so small you’ll have to discover them by foot work when scouting or still hunting.
6. Below a Lake Dam
The wet drainage area behind earthen dams of lakes and ponds nurtures lots of weeds, brush and secondary foods that attract mating deer because it’s a small isolated spot with cover. Whitetails also seem to like the structure itself, occasionally venturing up on the top of the dam to survey the surroundings.
Extra Tip: Sometimes you can use a boat to ease down from the upper part of the lake. Beach the craft a safe distance away, and then sneak around to check out the area below the dam.
7. Isolated Switchgrass Clump
You won’t find a breeding couple in a large switchgrass field very often. It’s too crowded. Too many does like to bed there and it’s a favorite pre-rut chasing ground. But often seeds get blown to a nearby clearing and a small patch of grass emerges separate from the main field. That’s your spot.
Extra Tip: Try to find a warm season grass clump that also has some forbs and tender edible plants mixed in. The deer won’t eat the switchgrass. It’s strictly for cover while they’re mating. A bite to eat will make the spot more attractive.
|A cluster of conifers such as these cedars and a bit of brush makes a great hideout for a breeding pair of whitetail deer.|
8. Pine Trees Can Be a Useful Tool in Killing a Mature Buck
Not all small clusters of cedars or pine trees will hold a buck. But if you check out several, they are useful tools in patterning a mature buck and chances are good one might have a bruiser at home bedded with his lady friend.
Extra Tip: Look for very small conifer pockets with mostly young to medium-aged trees and lots of honeysuckle, olives, multiflora rose, and greenbrier mixed in with the evergreens for extra cover.
9. Islands Can be the Deer Hunting Honey Hole
Just like they 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.
Tip Read: The Island You Fish Around May Be the Deer Hunting Honey Hole You’ve Dreamed About
Extra Tip: Check along shore to see if there are fresh deer tracks leading down to the water across from the island. If there’s no fresh sign that deer have crossed over to it, you might be wasting your time there. Find another island that perhaps is easier for them to get to or offers better food and cover.
10. The Side Hollow Can Draw Deer
|This Iowa buck in the 150 class was moving up a side draw a (favorite breeding hideout) with a doe.|
Major hollows get too much traffic from other deer. But sometimes a smaller brushy side hollow will offer enough seclusion to draw an amorous buck and doe.
Extra Tip: These gentle furrows or folds in the terrain are usually too minor to show on topo maps. Find them by scouting ahead of the hunt on a reconnaissance trip.
11. Always Confirm the Lockdown Lair is an Active One
Whitetail breeding nests aren’t always occupied. You can verify you’ve found an active one, though, by finding large and medium tracks, two beds close together, moist droppings, plus half-hearted scrapes and rut rubs where a buck pawed the soil and thrashed bushes between breeding sessions.
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