The Soft Drive

The one-antlered buck slid past me, and I let down the bowstring, confident I would see a bigger one before the week was up. My hunting partners had assured me there would be plenty of opportunities to fill my tag, and I believed them. Over the course of three hours I saw more deer than I'd ever seen in a single day of bowhunting. More than 50 deer passed by, including a dozen bucks. I drew the bow no less than four times, each time opting to let the target pass in hopes of a bigger one. Even more remarkable was that all of this activity took place between 1 and 4 p.m., and it wasn't even the rut.

Such was my introduction to deer drives for bowhunters. I've been hooked ever since. This method differs dramatically from deer drives conducted by gun hunters, although the two share some similarities. Bowhunters must execute what's called a "soft drive" in order to create stationary or slow-moving close-range targets.

CHOOSE YOUR BATTLEFIELD

The foremost task in orchestrating a soft drive is choosing your battlefield. Large expanses of timber are not well-suited to this technique, as they offer deer too many escape routes. Seek out narrow strips of timber bounded by cultivated fields, pastures or open water. You want to find bedding areas in these places, so that the deer will most likely attempt to escape by moving straight away from the driver.

The driver's job is not only to flush deer, but to corral them and keep them moving toward the stander or standers. The driver uses his scent to accomplish this by simply walking back and forth through cover with the wind at his back. Of course, deer are often reluctant to move downwind, and might try to flee across the open pasture.

As a driver, if you see deer bolting for the exits, run to the side to cut them off and keep them moving through the timber ahead of you. Deer don't know that you can't catch them. Some might still bolt across the open, but others will sense your pursuit and turn back into the woods toward the standers.

A good friend of mine knows from experience where the deer in his area tend to bolt across the open. He carries a few small coat hangers and rolled-up T-shirts in his day pack. As he hikes to the upwind side of a strip of timber, he hangs the shirts from branches at various points along the edge of the woods. Deer that move toward the edges will often see my friend's "scarecrows," mistake them for hunters and turn back into the timber.

Note that the driver has been described in the singular. Only one is needed. If you have four hunters, put three on stand duty. You're hunting deer, not pheasants. One driver can move a lot of deer by zigzagging back and forth to let his scent fill the whole woods. This frees the other hunters to take up multiple hiding places and block as many escape routes as possible. The driver should move stealthily to the upwind side of cover, making every attempt to avoid detection until he is ready to begin the drive.

For safety, each hunter should carry an orange vest or cap in his pocket or fanny pack and wear it when taking his turn as the driver. Also, make sure the driver knows ahead of time where the standers will be hiding so he can be alert as he approaches.

CHOOSE YOUR STAND

Good camouflage is important for standers. The need for them to have mobility makes tree stands more hassle than they're worth, so hunt from the ground. Deer moving downwind are nervous about what's in front of them, so they'll have their eyes peeled for danger. I wear face paint or a face mask, and I carry a quick-detachable quiver so I can hide my brightly fletched arrows in the brush by my feet.

Deer will most often use a familiar trail when sneaking away from the driver, so they can move quietly and with minimal effort. An ideal place to set up is the junction of trails where two strips of timber meet. Deer fleeing the driver will likely pass through this junction as they seek another patch of timber where they can hide.

CHOOSE YOUR SHOT

Select a place where you can obscure your silhouette. You also need a visual barrier between you and the trail, such as a large tree trunk or a dense shrub. Draw your bow when the deer passes behind the obstruction, and shoot when it emerges. By choosing my hiding places well and timing my draw properly, I am rarely detected.

Each time I hunt this way I'm amazed by the number of broadside opportunities I have on deer standing dead still, looking over their shoulder toward the driver. Inevitably, some deer will run and offer no shot. Enjoy watching the grace and beauty of their bounding motion. That, too, is a perk of hunting this way.

Mastering the Moving Target

No archer should ever attempt a shot at a deer running hell-bent for the next county. But you can learn to make lethal shots on deer that sneak past your position at a fast walk or even a modest trot.

You'll need a partner, some foam disk targets and lots of practice. Have your partner fling the disk so it rolls along the ground, crossing in front of you. Start at 10 yards with a slow-moving disk and gradually increase the distance and speed as you improve. Blunts or judo points are safest and will minimize loss of arrows. However, they destroy disks fast. I opt for field points and extra caution about my shot angle, since I don't mind spending time looking for arrows.

With practice, compound shooters can master moving targets, but traditional bows are easier to use for this type of shooting. Recurves and longbows can be shot fluidly and instinctively, with no sights to obstruct your focus and no turning cams to interrupt your rhythm. Don't aim the bow; point and swing it while you keep your eyes on the target. You can buy disks from Three Rivers Archery Supply. (3riversarchery.com; 866-732-8783)