by Chris Larsen
Talk to most whitetail deer hunters and they will tell you the way to shoot deer is by sitting all day. Don’t go in for lunch & don’t go back to the truck. Just sit. I believe in their logic and many of these sitters will shoot great bucks and see several deer. On the other hand, many hunters in western states use a strategy known as still hunting. That is, they move very slowly and stop periodically to observe. They are covering ground while walking the way a deer would. Again, a great strategy that is highly effective.
An underrated and frankly, more exciting way to hunt deer is by driving. Driving is simply walking through thick cover to move deer out of their hiding places and into other hunters. It sounds simple but there is definitely an art to driving deer.
Drives can be made with as few as two people and some big woods drives have as many as twenty or thirty hunters. Some members of the party are set up in a line on the opposite side of the cover from the drivers. These posted hunters are often referred to as “standers”. In my experience, the standers should be downwind from the cover. In other words, the wind should be in their face. This will help conceal their position from fleeing deer. After the standers are in place, the drivers set up in a line and start moving toward the standers. Having the wind at their backs will be a big a advantage. The scent of the drivers will flow into the cover and cause some deer to begin moving before visual contact is made. This usually leads to deer getting up and moving slowly away from the drivers and toward the standers. The goal is to make these deer move slowly to provide quality shots for the standers.
If you are conducting a drive through woods, it’s a good idea to post one driver on each edge of the woods. If a deer squirts out one of the sides, these edge walkers are ready for them. If some hunters have guns with scopes and some without, put the open sight gunners in the thickest cover. The hunters with scopes should be standers or edge walkers. Shots in thick cover will be quick, giving open sight guns an advantage. Standers will have longer shots, making scopes an advantage.
A deer drive is very much like a military operation. Thus, someone needs to be in charge. Everyone has a role to play and assigning people to their roles based on known strengths and weaknesses is a duty best left to a deer camp leader. It should be someone people respect, who can delegate well, and reprimand a hunter who makes a mistake without crushing their psyche. This person will also declare when a drive begins and when it ends.
Loud or Silent
Back in the old days, hunters used to bang pots and pans & hoot and holler as they moved through cover. The idea was to startle everything out of the cover to the standers. To this day, many states allow the use of hounds to drive deer. It’s an effective method that rarely leaves deer behind the drive. However, most hunters today employ silent driving techniques. That is, they move quietly through cover. This method often gives the drivers shooting opportunities and doesn’t pressure deer as much as loud drives do. The drivers can shoot at deer that get up late. Deer that get up early will typically sneak slowly away from the drivers and give standers easy shots instead of challenging running shots. The big disadvantage to the silent drive is that some deer will simply circle around the drive or hold tight and let the drive go right past them. Deer act differently in different areas, so experiment and decide for yourself which strategy is best.
This is probably the most important point of driving deer. In Wisconsin and probably in many other states, about half of all hunting accidental shootings occur during drives. It’s pretty easy to figure out why. You have people with firearms facing each other with plans of shooting at deer. It should go without saying, but everyone involved with the drive should be wearing blaze orange. This makes it easy for shooters to see where everyone is. Drivers should always stay in sight of the driver next to them. Anyone pulling the trigger must wait until they have a good backstop. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it! Anyone who has shot a deer knows in most cases the bullet will pass through the animal. Often young hunters are not allowed to carry a gun during their first year or two of driving. I think this is a good idea. But honestly, I see more careless gun control from experienced hunters than youth hunters. Youth hunters are typically well coached and their hunters safety course materials are fresh in their minds. Many experienced hunters were never required to take hunters safety and many are just too complacent. Stressing firearm safety to all hunters is vital to carrying out a successful drive. Shooting two or three deer on one drive is an incredibly successful drive. Shooting ten deer and one person on one drive would obviously be a tragic failure.
Know The Area
Twenty years ago aerial maps were expensive and hard to get. Now, anyone can go to google maps or yahoo maps and get a fairly detailed aerial map of just about anywhere for free. Print off color copies of your hunting area at varying degrees of zoom. You can take these to your local office products store to have them laminated for a very reasonable price. Now you have detailed maps to help coordinate drives. Another thing I like to do is nickname areas. Nicknames are easy for everyone to remember and locate.
The Finer Points
You don’t necessarily have to hunt a forest from edge to edge. If you know where the trails and funnels are on a particular property, standers can set up right in the woods. Deer will often stick to the same trails they always use, especially if they are not too panicked. If you have permission to hunt both sides of a fence, I like to set standers up just off the opposite side of the fence. Even running deer will often hesitate at a fence line. This hesitation leads to high percentage shooting. As drivers, be prepared after the first shot is taken. Often several deer are moving together and when a shot is taken, they literally scatter. They could, and regularly do, come right back at the drivers after a stander shoots.
Driving For Archers?
Still hunting is popular in western states, but 99% of archery hunters are stand hunters. However, driving techniques can be very successful for archers as well. The key is to move slowly and quietly. Picking the right location can also increase your success. I look for narrow strips of timber with developed funnels and trails. Predicting where deer will be and how they will attempt to escape is vital to the success of an archery drive. With big woods, it’s just too tough to predict which way deer will go when pressured. A fence line or creek will also help stop a deer to create better shots.
Philosophy Of A Drive
I won’t condemn or advocate driving deer early in the season. However, I prefer to sit on stand for the first few days of the season. But keep in mind, if no hunters are moving during the day, deer will follow suit. This is especially true when the weather is nice and food is plentiful. Sometimes, you need to make something move by driving. Driving deer is invasive and in most cases, will move deer out of the area for at least a day or two. If someone mugged you downtown, you would probably avoid going downtown but still feel safe at home. But if someone mugged you in your house, you would likely not feel safe anywhere. Driving deer is basically going straight into a deer’s house. It rattles them. That’s why most people won’t drive until late in the season even though it is very effective.
Chances are you’ll see more deer during drives than sitting. The action is fast and that’s what makes it fun. I’ve already talked about safety for hunters. But it’s important to respect your quarry as well. When deer are scattering, it’s easy to start spraying bullets in hopes of putting a deer on the ground. Waterfowl hunters call this flock shooting. Not only is this unsafe, it can lead to crippling a deer. As hunters, our goal must always be a quick, clean kill. Wait for deer to give you a good shot before pulling the trigger. If you see deer moving down a trail, pick out an alley and wait for another deer to move through it. Wounding a deer is not only unethical, it can set the hunting party back several hours. Time spent tracking a wounded deer is time wasted that could be used for hunting.
I enjoy driving because it makes deer hunting a social affair. It’s fun to work with your friends and to share in their success. This past season, I pushed a few deer right to my buddies. I never put the gun to my shoulder but I was a big part of their harvests. How cool is that? Drives are also a good way to get youngsters involved in deer hunting. Even if they are not old enough to carry a gun they can walk through cover and help. There is often a lot of action in deer drives, so keeping their interest isn’t a problem. Another advantage… I rarely get cold when driving. You are moving around and the blood is flowing. If you haven’t tried a deer drive, give it a swing the next time you hunt. If you have, I hope some of these tips increase your success on the next hunt.