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In the Outdoors: Lockdown makes for tough hunting

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“And when Lockdown occurs, to those of us who hunt deer, it seems as if a magical switch was thrown”

By Oak Duke,

     Deer hunters who hit the woods in New York State’s Southern Zone deer opener, Saturday enjoyed beautiful weather, cool and sunny. Not too warm and not too cool.

     But mostly, the day favored the deer.

     Why is that?

     One would think that the relatively benign temperatures would help hunters stay in the woods longer. And therefore, a better chance to fill a tag.

     When conditions are mild and there is no snow on the ground, the game actually swings toward the whitetails.

     Historically, deer harvest numbers tend to always go up when the white stuff covers the forest and fields, aiding in visibility, checkmating the deer’s camouflage.

     But maybe even more importantly, Southern Tier whitetails were in a behavioral phase called Lockdown.

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     Huh?

     What is Lockdown?

     Lockdown is a term that deer hunters have come up with that accurately describes the final phase of the Rut, or the actual breeding window of the whitetail.

     And when Lockdown occurs, to those of us who hunt deer, it seems as if a magical switch was thrown.

     Deer movement that fueled excitement and dreams during archery season, preceding Saturday’s firearms opener, quickly came to an abrupt end.

     The woods seemed quiet, almost too quiet.

     Where did all the deer go?

     And those times on stand during Lockdown can be pretty uneventful, with the most exciting moments of gray squirrels chasing each other around a tree, or a “V” of geese flying over honking like a traffic jam.

     The annual whitetail Rut always has the same basic pattern, even though the timing is often off by a couple weeks.

     The Rut spans a timeframe of about a month, a frenzied time with bucks primarily running almost day and night. Literally running themselves into the ground at Lockdown.

     Does are pretty much terrorized, especially during the earlier parts of this time frame, often seeking dense cover, sometimes even surprisingly near human habitation, houses, barns, behind garages, to get away from the almost constant pressure of bucks testing and following them.

     Bucks have virtually nothing to do with does through most of the year: through winter, spring, and summer, and even early fall. But once the Hunter’s moon shines in October, pheromones are released as a precursor to the breeding time of the whitetail deer. And bucks can’t stay away.

     As hunters, we say, the Rut peaks when it is apparent that bucks are chasing does and tearing up the woods, making scrapes on the ground, leaving white scars on trees and saplings with their antlers, and vocally grunting like pigs as they chase does.

     This first Rutting action, has historically been called The Rut and it spans the initial chasing mode in late October, through the actual breeding time usually in mid-November, with the first go-around ending with Lockdown.

     There is a second Rut that occurs in early December when the un-bred does, does that did not conceive, and a percentage of the oldest doe fawns of May cycle.

     But by the end of the first week of November, all the chasing had pretty much ended as the helter-skelter frenzy settles down to the typical precursor of actual breeding.

     The first stage of this running time is analogous to sheep breeders introducing a “Novel” ram, often castrated, to stimulate ewes to ovulate.

     This internal biochemical process, once initiated within does takes about two weeks for the egg to be released, travel down the tubes and set up shop. When that proceeding is completed, then whitetail does are ready to breed, and actually seek out bucks.

     Meanwhile in the boy’s world, bucks are seriously sorting out their hierarchy.

     And it’s not always the buck with the biggest antlers that win. As they say sometimes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” And bucks battle, and break their tines, beams, and even entire antlers off by fighting for a better position in line.

     I’ve noted lately as our bucks are getting larger and older, compared to years gone by when a two and a half year old eight-point was considered a big deer, that does often shelter in the domain of the large buck.

     And the Lockdown bedding area is surrounded by smaller bucks, like electrons orbiting around the center of a molecule.

     The big buck stands guard as the doe nears the moment and will not leave her. They don’t move much from their safety area.

     Hunters who tagged big bucks on Opening Day this year as often as not, got them tailing does, busted out of bedding cover while in Lockdown mode.

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ November 2023

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