By Bob Robb
Growing up, driving deer was a common technique no matter where I hunted. This was just as true in the West, where mule deer and blacktail hunters tried to push bucks out of deep, brush-choked canyons as it was whitetail hunting. Drives often consisted of a lot of people, dozens even, and it was as much a social event as it was hardcore hunting. Today, the popularity of the deer drive is fading, for several reasons. It’s all about stealth now, sneaking into position and waiting for a deer to make the first move, the first mistake. Even when we hunt with our friends, more often than not we go our separate ways once we get to the woods, perhaps staying connected via the text message during the day.
Where we hunt has also contributed mightily to the demise of the deer drive. Research shows that the vast majority of whitetail hunting today occurs on private land, much of which consists of relatively small parcels where hunters do not want to do anything that would push “their” deer across the fence. Even on large acreages, drives—if they are held at all—are only conducted at the tail end of the firearms season, when there are tags to be filled and, with the last weekend of hunting at hand, participants feel as if they have nothing to lose.
Then there is today’s trophy hunting mentality. We all know how stealthy a mature whitetail buck can be, and how even a small dose of hunting pressure can turn him into a vampire that only shows himself during daylight hours during the rut.
Which is why a well-conducted deer drive just might be your best chance at taking a big buck this year. When done properly, with a team of players that know how to work together hunting parcels of land small enough to be efficiently pushed, you will get the deer moving. If you try it this fall, here are eight tips to up your odds of success.
1) There’s only one Huntmaster: A deer drive can only be controlled by one person, preferably somebody with experience both in driving deer and with an intimate knowledge of the property being hunted. All members of the drive must do as the Huntmaster says, so that the land is driven correctly, escape holes are plugged, and safety is paramount.
2) Know Your Limitations: It makes little sense for three guys to try and push a 1000-acre patch of woods. Small pushes—2, 3 or 4 hunters doing short little sneak-and-peak maneuvers in pint-sized blocks of deer cover—have minimal impact, yet can get the deer up and moving.
3) Play the Wind: Conduct the push into the wind. Always.
4) Watch the Back Door: I have seen more big deer shot on drives that have let the pushers move through, then try to sneak out the back door, than shot racing ahead of then pushers. Whenever possible I like to have one or more trailers follow the main push still-hunt their way forward on red alert.
5) Run silent, Run Deep: Rather than whoop it up, the drivers should act like still hunters, sneaking through the wood trying to find a deer to shoot. Don’t worry, the deer will know you are there.
6) Elevate: On more than one occasion I have had the standers on deer drives climb into existing tree stands, letting the pushers move right past them. Not only have I killed deer being pushed to me this way, I have also killed them by remaining in the tree stand for an half hour after the pushers have moved past, shooting bucks that have snuck back through the drive line.
7) Do It Again: Just because the initial drive didn’t get anything up and moving doesn’t mean there are no deer in that little plum thicket. Many times by simply coming at the cover from a different angle has the drive produced for me.
8) Safety First!: It goes without saying that everyone must exercise extreme caution when shooting at deer during a drive. That’s one reason it is so important that the drivers stay in their lanes and standers stay where they were told to sit. Also, wear lots of hunter orange and never forget, even the legendary 30-Point Buck is not worth risking an accident.