Who's Your Buddy?

Two-hunter drive tactics that work for whitetails.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Some of my closest friendships have been cemented by the shared experience of deer hunting. I'm neither a loner nor exceedingly gregarious. I like to hunt with one buddy, although not necessarily the same one every time I head for the woods. This preference goes beyond friendship and good times. Two-hunter teams can be highly productive for venison. Here are four tactics to help deer-hunting duos do well.

1. Start on Stand
My friends and I always begin our morning hunts by sitting on a tree stand or in a ground blind. I prefer to wait until legal shooting hours before leaving camp, since I often encounter unsuspecting deer along the way. On a recent opener, three bucks were feeding beside my blind when I arrived. Surprised to see me, one of them offered an easy 100-yard shot.

Unless your buddy requires physical assistance or is too young to hunt alone, split up and hunt separate stand locations. Allow time for the first hunter to reach his stand or blind before the second hunter starts out. In this way, deer pushed by the second hunter's approach might pass the waiting partner. If both of you set out at the same time, you might miss such an opportunity. Choose stand locations where the wind will not blow from one hunter to the other, contaminating the second hunter's territory.

Agree on a time to meet after the morning hunt. Always meet by having one hunter go to the other's stand. Don't try to meet at a third location, since you'll have no way of knowing your buddy's exact position along the way. A missed shot could be dangerous. If you were first to the stand at dawn, volunteer to come to your companion's stand at a predetermined time. He might have driven deer to you when he went in; now it's time to return the favor. After meeting, plan a strategy for midday.

** 2. Follow the Leader**
My favorite midday tactic for large, homogenous forests is a game of follow-the-leader. One hunter walks quietly and slowly into the wind. The right pace is about six careful steps at a time, followed by pauses of 10 or 15 seconds. During these pauses, the hunter slowly scans the surroundings ahead of him, looking for movement or a horizontal shape in all that vertical cover. This hunter's objective is not to sneak up on bedded deer, but anything's possible. Deer moving through the woods might fail to notice this hunter until too late, offering him a shot. Failing that, the hunter still might get a good shot at a deer that he bumps, because it isn't likely to run helter-skelter into the next county. Primarily, though, this hunter's goal is to move bedded deer to his partner, who trails behind.

The second hunter starts through the woods when his partner becomes barely visible ahead. Following his buddy, he attempts to maintain visual contact most of the time, but his primary focus is to the sides. Deer alerted by the first hunter might flank him to catch his scent or just sneak out of the picture. Often, deer will have their attention so fixed on the first hunter that they will be totally unaware of the second. In especially thick woods, this tactic can sometimes work with two hunters walking downwind. Deer are often hesitant to move around in cover where they can't see, unless they can travel into the wind. Upon scenting the lead hunter, deer will sometimes leave their beds quietly to get out of his path and then travel back into the wind to check ahead. Such a route might expose them to the second hunter.

[pagebreak] 3. The Parallel Push
In more open habitat, such as farmland or prairie dissected by wooded ravines, I've enjoyed excellent results with a tactic that might be called "the parallel push." This simple tactic involves two hunters walking up parallel ravines, moving deer toward each other. Last year in Iowa, a partner and I filled all four of our deer tags in two days using this method.

In farm and prairie couny, ravines run generally parallel courses until they meet the main stem of the basin they empty into. Deer often bed near the upper ends of such gullies, where mature trees become sparse and ground cover thickens. I use the parallel push whenever the wind blows down the ravines. When alarmed by the sound of a hunter coming toward it, a deer will normally exit the ravine and run across to the closest cover or an adjacent wooded hillside. Either way, it might stop to look for the approaching hunter before escaping. Sometimes the deer is within range of my shotgun or muzzleloader when it pauses. Other times, my partner bags the deer as it approaches him in the next ravine or otherwise crosses in front of him.

When using the parallel push, walk on the outside edge of cover where you can see an adjacent hillside if possible. Even if you can't shoot a deer from this location, you might be able to see where it goes and follow up on a subsequent push through the cover where it was likely headed.

4. Scent Drives
In long, linear bedding areas, such as a river bottom flanked by open fields or pastures, a single hunter can use his scent to move deer to a waiting partner. The hunter who is likely to get the shot should get in position quietly before the driver advances. At a predetermined time, heading in a crosswind or downwind direction, the driver follows a path that spreads his scent over the whole area. The partner should be posted downwind of the bedding area at any transition point between open woods and thick cover.

Deer are sometimes nervous about running downwind and will often slow down or tack back and forth at these transition spots to look ahead for danger. The downwind partner should be well hidden to avoid detection, watch upwind and keep an eye on any openings in the cover. If a buck does come along, chances are it will be sneaking and not running at full speed.

Hopefully you and your hunting buddy will tag bucks from your stands on opening morning of the season, and save your legwork for getting the deer out of the woods. But if that doesn't happen, and you're facing fourth down and long near the end of the season, it's time to go for broke with two- man drives on the property you hunt.

You should keep this in mind, though: Depending on the size of the property, staging a few drives is likely to wreck the normal patterns of the neighborhood bucks. Your tree-stand strategies might be blown because bucks will be nudged out of their regular habits and haunts by human activity.

By working together, however, you and your best drive-hunting buddy still can put a sag in the meat pole.

**The Trailing Shooter: **Here, the lead hunter patiently walks upwind through cover where a buck is likely to be bedded. Though he might get a shot at a buck, this hunter's main goal is to move a buck in the direction of his trailing partner, who is behind him and watching the flanks.

Bucks don't like to run downwind in cover that is so thick they can't see well. Consequently, a buck might slow to a walk after it has been jumped by the lead hunter. Invariably, the buck will circle around downwind of the perceived threat in order to determine, by scent, the nature of the danger.

Sometimes the technique can be effective when the terrain forces both hunters to walk downwind. If a buck is nudged out of its bed in thick cover, it is still apt to hook back into the wind as it gets away from the lead intruder.

[pagebreak] Side by Side: The parallel drive is a useful approach when you're hunting narrow gullies, fence lines or draws that jut into fields or pastures. The hunters stay more or less abreast as they move slowly and quietly up the cover from a downwind direction. If one hunter or the other pushes a buck out of the thick stuff, it is likely to move to the next nearest cover. This should afford one hunter or the other a shot at the buck as it crosses perpendicular to the drivers after it has reached the end of the cover. Wind direction is critical. If the hunters move in a downwind direction, any deer in the cover will smell them and leave too early. If the hunters can't move upwind from thick cover to thin, deer are likely to escape without ever being detected.

Downwind Drive:Getting busted by a buck that smells you on a stand is a common problem, but sometimes there's a way to use scent to your advantage. If you're hunting a big chunk of cover that likely contains one or two bedding areas, you can go to the upwind side, spread your scent and push a buck toward a partner on the downwind side. Depending on what is upwind of you, the driver, chances are you're not going to get a shot, so there's no need to move quietly. At some point in the prearranged plan, you're going to turn downwind and zigzag through the cover toward your buddy. Hopefully, by that time, he's already had a shot. If the downwind partner hears or sees the driver, he should start moving slowly downwind until the end of the cover is reached.

A Digital Camera For the Worst Weather
Take a picture of a duck's legs paddling underwater outside your blind if you want, or a buck approaching in a driving rain. The weather won't matter if you're using Pentax's new Optio WP digital camera. It's waterproof, and darn near foolproof. The camera has an autofocus mode, but you can set the shutter and aperture yourself for different effects. The Optio is simple to use and has a number of special features, including mode palette, 0.6-second start-up time, digital photo frames, clock mode, SD memory card compatibility (above and beyond its 10.5 MB of built-in memory) and 20-second sound recorder for voiceovers on important shots. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery is handy, too, because digital cameras can eat up battery power quickly as the user replays his latest shots on the LCD monitor.

The Optio, with its 2-inch monitor, weighs about 4 ounces. It measures 4 by 2 inches and is less than an inch thick. It has 5 megapixels and a 3X zoom (equivalent to 38-114mm in the 35mm format). ($350; 800-877-0155; pentax.com) ord one hunter or the other a shot at the buck as it crosses perpendicular to the drivers after it has reached the end of the cover. Wind direction is critical. If the hunters move in a downwind direction, any deer in the cover will smell them and leave too early. If the hunters can't move upwind from thick cover to thin, deer are likely to escape without ever being detected.

Downwind Drive:Getting busted by a buck that smells you on a stand is a common problem, but sometimes there's a way to use scent to your advantage. If you're hunting a big chunk of cover that likely contains one or two bedding areas, you can go to the upwind side, spread your scent and push a buck toward a partner on the downwind side. Depending on what is upwind of you, the driver, chances are you're not going to get a shot, so there's no need to move quietly. At some point in the prearranged plan, you're going to turn downwind and zigzag through the cover toward your buddy. Hopefully, by that time, he's already had a shot. If the downwind partner hears or sees the driver, he should start moving slowly downwind until the end of the cover is reached.

A Digital Camera For the Worst Weather
Take a picture of a duck's legs paddling underwater outside your blind if you want, or a buck approaching in a driving rain. The weather won't matter if you're using Pentax's new Optio WP digital camera. It's waterproof, and darn near foolproof. The camera has an autofocus mode, but you can set the shutter and aperture yourself for different effects. The Optio is simple to use and has a number of special features, including mode palette, 0.6-second start-up time, digital photo frames, clock mode, SD memory card compatibility (above and beyond its 10.5 MB of built-in memory) and 20-second sound recorder for voiceovers on important shots. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery is handy, too, because digital cameras can eat up battery power quickly as the user replays his latest shots on the LCD monitor.

The Optio, with its 2-inch monitor, weighs about 4 ounces. It measures 4 by 2 inches and is less than an inch thick. It has 5 megapixels and a 3X zoom (equivalent to 38-114mm in the 35mm format). ($350; 800-877-0155; pentax.com)