When gun seasons open for deer over the next few weeks, most hunters will be hunting from tree stands or ground blinds. But if you prefer to put on “drives,” here are some strategies to make them more successful and safe. Even if you don’t turn to this method regularly, sometimes it’s worth having as a last resort as the season winds down if there’s no venison in the freezer.
Forget the loud, raucous approach. Shouting, barking like a dog, whooping, banging pots are things many old-school hunters do when they drive. But making noise isn’t necessary to push deer. In fact, a loud commotion hurts your chances by giving your position away.
The ideal drive has a buck confused and guessing where you’re at. And when he does feel the pressure, you want him slinking slowly away so he offers a good shot—not high-tailing it because he’s scared out of his wits.
Stop occasionally. Rather than shouting, use a sudden halt in your progress when you come to a thick area. This pause will flush skulking bucks hunkered against brush piles because they’ll think they’ve been spotted.
Try to drive after a fresh snowfall. The white background will make the deer easy to see when you jump them. And you’ll be able to tell from tracks which patches of cover bucks have concentrated in. Send one hunter in following the tracks while others watch the edges where the deer will likely come out.
Use your trail cameras. Most people use trail cameras to locate prime spots for stand hunting. They can also be helpful for planning drives.
Place cameras where trails or large individual tracks enter dense, isolated thickets, young conifer groves, warm season grass stands, or regenerating clear-cuts. Monitor which ones show good bucks entering when pressure builds a few days before your planned drives. Focus your efforts on those.
Use the wind. Most hunters know to post blockers down wind and drivers up wind. But you can actually use the wind before you even start the push.
Have drivers get in position and just stand upwind for a pre-arranged time before beginning the drive. Their scent will blow toward the deer and help push them out at a slow pace before the drive even starts.
Keep safety foremost on your drives. A safe hunt is the first priority. Getting a deer is the second goal. Everyone must know his or her safe shooting lanes on each drive. And the more blaze orange you wear the better. Shoot only when you are 100 percent sure of your target and have a safe background behind it in case you miss.
Be flexible about the size area you drive. In some cases you might be driving a particularly thick one-acre patch of cover with just a couple of friends. In other situations it might be a long five-acre tract with half a dozen hunters involved.
Take advantage of funnels. These are great for stand hunting, but deer also follow them when fleeing drivers. They’re natural travel routes that offer bucks vital security cover as they flee.
Tip: Strips of timber, gullies, saddles, drainage ditches, and brushy fencerows are all good spots to post.
Save a few prime spots to drive. One of the biggest problems of drives is not having a really hot spot to push because your group has hunted all the prime areas throughout the season.
Avoid that by putting a couple of choice locations off limits from day one. A switchgrass stand, small cutover, marsh, evergreen thicket, isolated hollow…reserve a few such spots and deer will pile in them.
Drop out. If you have a narrow finger of woods or draw you want to push, have three hunters form a wedge and work into it against the wind. A short distance in, have both flank hunters drop back while the center hunter continues. He may jump a buck and get a shot, or the deer may loop back on either side, offering the flankers a crack.
Find natural travel impediments. Channeling whitetails past waiting hunters is easier if one or more sides are blocked by natural features. Choose spots with a deep river, cliff or other obstruction on one side and you’ve eliminated a potential escape route.
Watch the weather. Some of the best drives take place in extreme weather. If it’s raining buckets, brutally cold, or unusually hot, deer will often concentrate in thickets and conifer stands, making drives especially productive.
Heavy winds can also drive deer into predictable spots where they’re sheltered from the harshest breezes. Focus on lee sides of hills, hollows, and stream bottoms with breeze-breaking cover when the winds howl.
Shout at that buck. If a deer is racing past you too fast on a drive to get a shot, yell at him or “bleat” loudly. Sometimes he’ll pause to look for the source of the sound. At the very least, he’ll probably slow down, offering an easier shot.