Musical Chairs for Deer

Give everyone in your deer-hunting party a shot.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Our deer camp's annual hunting strategy is pretty much the same as any other deer camp's-we sit on stands, we still-hunt and we stage drives. But that's where the similarities end. In other camps, hunters generally sit on stand early and late in the day, still-hunt on their own at midday and then join forces to stage drives toward the end of the season. Our hunters engage in all three methods simultaneously-and we do so right out of the gate on opening morning of every hunting season.

How It Works
Sound like a game-scattering free- for-all? On the contrary, ours is an orchestrated method of deer hunting that has produced an impressive roster of bucks over the years. In predawn darkness on opening weekend, my friends John Morris, Tom Enterline, Bert Wilson, Nick Ansely and I headed for our stands, scattered around a 300-acre farm in southern Ohio. Shortly after dawn, I heard a gunshot from Bert's stand; one buck was tagged, a six-pointer. An hour later, Tom, who doesn't have the temperament for sitting motionless for long periods, climbed down from his perch. But instead of simply hiking to Bert's stand to congratulate him, he began still-hunting toward my stand in the hope of either seeing a deer himself or pushing one in my direction. Bang, the second buck was down, this time an eight-pointer.

By 1 p.m., four of us had filled our tags. Only Nick Ansely had not seen a deer up to that point, so we staged a conventional drive toward him. No luck. We moved Nick to another stand and put on a second drive, and this time he scored on a six-pointer.

What makes this "musical chairs" approach to deer hunting so rewarding is that it satisfies the varying interests of a group's members. In effect, each can spend the bulk of his time afield hunting the way he wants. It's when his decisions are coordinated with those of the other members in the party that some mutually beneficial strategies begin to emerge.

Ground Rules
In our only digression from the "free will" policy, we've found it's best for everyone to begin opening morning sitting on a stand for at least an hour or two because the animals have not yet been subjected to hunting pressure.

After that, two crucial rules apply to our planning. First, all tree stands and ground blinds must be positioned so the occupants will have a good chance of seeing natural deer movements as well as those of animals pushed by a still-hunter or group of drivers. Second, each still-hunter must be familiar with the terrain so he'll know how to approach various segments of cover in such a way that if he doesn't get a shot, he'll at least push deer in the direction of a partner on stand.

Here's where the coordination of the group effort-and knowing your partners' hunting tendencies-becomes crucial. For example, in last year's scenario, if I had decided to begin still-hunting two hours after dawn's first light, I would not have headed in the direction of Tom Enterline's stand. Tom is too restless to spend much time on stand and would already be still-hunting on his own, thus negating my effort. Instead, I'd still-hunt toward John's stand because I know he likes to sit quietly for many hours and I might succeed in nudging something his way.

Try playing musical chairs. If the effort is conducted in a carefully coordinated manner, deer can be kept slowly circulating all day, every day.