Gerald Almy: Time hollows right to move bucks easily
Halfway through the drive, I heard the unmistakable roar of a rifle. When I reached the top of the hollow, I was thrilled to find one of our group of hunters kneeling next to a big-bodied buck that the rest of us had jumped up and pushed towards him.
If you’re still in the deer hunting mode, which is open through Jan. 2 in most areas with muzzleloaders, bows, and crossbows, one of the best tactics you can use for this time is a drive.
The most productive places to drive are linear-shaped and push deer along a route they naturally want to follow because it offers security and cover. If you stop and think about it, hollows fit that description perfectly. They’re long, narrow funnels and natural travel routes for mature bucks.
That’s exactly the type of habitat a group of us were driving when we pushed that buck described earlier past one of our posted hunters.
In the morning deer move up hollows from lowland feed areas to high bedding cover. In the afternoon they typically reverse that pattern.
By timing your hollow drives right, you can move big bucks easily because you’ll simply be gently bumping them in the direction they were going anyway. Drive deer up from the bottom of the hollow in the morning, down from the top in the afternoon.
Using this approach also lets you take advantage of natural thermals in hills and mountains that drift upward in the morning and settle down in evenings. That pushes the driver’s scent toward the quarry and carries the scent of posted hunters away from the deer.
Choosing optimum locations.
The best hollows to drive have feeding or staging areas near the bottom and good bedding spots near the top. They can vary from 150 yards to half a mile long. And while the hollow topography itself offers some security, they should also have cover such as deadfalls, sapling thickets, young conifers, laurel, blackberry brambles, greenbrier, olives, plum, honeysuckle or grapes.
Planning the drive
Look at a hollow as a crease in the mountain or hillside and plan to push deer up or down it. Some will go all the way to the top or bottom. Others will bail out at strategic locations where they feel secure trying to leave the hollow. Post standers at each of these potential exits if you have enough hunters.
Identifying breakout points
One point where bucks typically bail out is where a strip of brush leads out of the hollow part way up. Post a hunter there, on the downwind side of the hollow if there’s a crosswind. The buck will typically run that direction to catch the scent of what bumped him.
Another spot is where a smaller side crease or depression in the topography juts out. That offers a low area where a buck with a tall rack feels secure slipping out.
Benches just down from the peak are another natural exit point from the hollow. A buck may try to sneak out there on a morning drive to avoid being silhouetted at the top of the ridge. On afternoon drives they’re quick escape routes for bucks to use the instant they feel pressure from above.
Two final exit points are the top and bottom of the hollow. The top is especially favored if there’s a saddle offering a low spot to cross over the ridge. On afternoon drives bucks may run all the way to the bottom, especially if there’s some cover there, such as a staging area next to the feed fields they’ll be traveling towards that time of day.
Push with the thermals at the driver’s back, blowing up in the morning, down in the evening. Move slowly with no shouting or whistling.
Pause occasionally near brush and blowdowns. The movement, noise and scent of the hunters will all help push the quarry. Since you’re moving slowly and quietly, bucks should ease away at a walking pace or slow trot, offering good shots for posted hunters.
That’s exactly the kind of shot our group had when we drove the hollow described earlier. And through our collective effort, we turned that opportunity into a hefty eight-pointer on the ground.
As a final word of advice: be sure all hunters wear plenty of blaze orange and know their safe shooting zones for safety’s sake.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.