When I was a younger man, I believed there were two kinds of deer drives–those that worked, and those that didn’t. Here, the word “worked” was translated to read one or more dead deer in somebody’s truck at the conclusion of the drive.
And as for the strategy involved in these drives? Most of the ones I took part in were conducted from Point A to Point B, simply because that’s the way they’d always been done–some as recently as the day before. Others involved large groups banging on pots and pans. Did these drives move deer? They sure as heck did. But did these “human wave” drives result in notched deer tags? Only sometimes.
My point is this: All too often drives like the ones I remember from my youth end with success–though I use the term loosely–entirely out of happenstance: a right time and right place kind of chance meeting.
Conversely, many of these same drives end in failure because either too much of the drive’s planning was based on tradition (“I’m going to stand by the old oak ’cause that’s where I always stand,” says Uncle Ernie), or attention wasn’t paid to the details. What’s the bottom line? Maybe it’s time to put a little more thought into those good old line ’em-up deer drives. Because every situation is different, it’s almost impossible to state a hard, fast deer drive rule of thumb that applies across the board. However, there are some guidelines that can and do apply regardless. This type of planning can result in everyone involved seeing more deer and better bucks.
1 APPOINT A DRIVE MASTER
If the drivers are pawns and the standers knights, then the drive master is, without question, king. His word is law. If he says stand, you stand. If he tells you to wait 20 minutes, you don’t start moving in 15. It’s as simple as that.
The drive master’s primary responsibility is to ensure everyone’s safety. He does this by command, by command enforcement and through his knowledge of the property being driven. True, he cannot be present every time a trigger is pulled, nor should he have to be. However, his presence via direction and instruction should be ubiquitous. The drive master’s knowledge of the terrain allows him to organize the movement of the drivers and the placement of the standers.
It’s vital that the drive master possess leadership qualities and assume command of every aspect of the drive. Here, command involves delivering a concise pre-drive presentation. It doesn’t have to be formal, but complete instructions are important. Ideally, this talk will include a map and a brief show-and-tell.
Keane Maddy of Centerville, Iowa, a long-time drive master whose resume includes several years spearheading the annual Iowa Governor’s Deer Hunt event, prepares maps in advance and relies on them heavily to answer any questions.
Maddy’s pre-drive presentation also allows time for watches to be synchronized–timing is important to both success and safety–and a brief refresher course on compasses, even on short drives.
“It’s one thing to show someone new to an area a map and say ‘Go there,'” says Maddy, “but things have a way of changing once people get into the timber. I try to make sure I have new people close to or teamed with those who know the ground, but I also push for the use of compasses.”
Finally, there’s command enforcement. The drive master must be willing to enforce his instructions, even if it means taking an errant hunter aside and speaking with him in private. Sometimes it can lead to removing him from the drive altogether.
“I’ve had drivers intentionally wander off-course for one reason or another,” says Maddy. “And I’ve had standers move a hundred fifty yards from where I’ve personally put them just because they thought the other spot looked better. My main goal is a safe hunt, which is why adherence to the directions is essential.”
“Plus,” he adds, “if I put you here and a huge buck crosses two hundred yards away, that’s my fault. But if you move and that same buck walks out of the timber where I’d put you–well, you have to live with that one…if you’ll ‘fess up to it.”
2 KNOW YOUR LIMITS Don’t attempt to drive too large an area. Trying to work 100 acres with two standers and three drivers is more often than not an exercise in futility. If your numbers are few, it’s better to cut a large block into smaller sections–perhaps 10 to 20 acres–and work those slowly and thoroughly.
3 TAKE YOUR TIME Moving too quickly often frightens deer to the point where their escape routes become unpredictable. Also, a hasty march through the woods will push drivers past bucks that have learned to hunker and hide.
4 KEEP THE NOISE DOWN Your mere presence in the timber is all that’s necessary to get most whitetails up and moving. An occasional thwack on a hickory with an old stick is all right, but it’s best to leave the pots and pans back at camp. And normal voices will suffice; there’s no need to holler and scream.
5 HOLD THE LINE Maintain a constant space between drivers, but adjust that space to the terrain. Seventy-five yards might be appropriate in the open timber; swampland might require 25 yards between drivers. An even spacing between drivers is a safe spacing.
6 KNOW YOUR SHOOTERS Post standers based on their abilities. Is there an escape route that could present a 125-yard shot? If so, maybe the practiced hand with the scoped muzzleloader gets the nod there. If it’s a short-range thicket crossing, put the slug man there. Here, the drive master not only needs to know the escape routes, but must be able to match the shooting abilities of his standers to these routes.