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Deer Drives for Better Hunting: Safety and Success go Hand-in-Hand

 Posted on: October 11th, 2021

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Driving game out of hiding is an age-old practice engaged in by most hunting cultures. In the past, game might have been moved by dogs barking, clanking pots and bells. Today, it’s a subtler event designed not to frighten deer, but rather gently prod them into moving in a certain direction.

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What is a deer drive?

A deer drive is a coordinated procedure performed during hunting where drivers spread out across a field or woods and gently move deer out of hiding towards stationary posters or standers, who take positions at the end of the cover to intercept the game. Drives can be performed by groups as small as two people, or as large as 30 people, although smaller drives are easier to plan and control. The sweet spot is right around 6 to 7 people.

Who are the key players in a deer drive?

  • Drivemaster: Usually the most experienced hunter in the drive, they know the territory and how to position the hunters to take advantage of the day’s weather and wind direction. They know about any recent changes to the landscape that might affect terrain funnels, as well as the boundaries of the property and the location of any residences on the hunting property and around the borders. Ideally, they’re familiar with deer behavior and know which way they will likely head and why, once the shooting starts. Being familiar with the land, they know where deer will be on opening day and where they will be later in the season. They’ll know morning preferences, midday and early-evening haunts which will help them plan drivers. They are the timekeeper whose signal stops and starts the drive.
  • Lieutenant: During extremely large drives, the drivemaster may appoint a lieutenant to handle smaller logistical concerns.
  • Driver: One of the hunters who will assist with walking the planned route and alert deer through sound and smell. Often, and especially in larger drive groups, the drivers will not carry firearms to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Poster/stander: These stationary individuals are the ones lying in wait for the deer. They will not move during the drive, and will have their shooting lanes figured out beforehand based on where they estimate the deer will come from, and where the drivers are located. They will not take any shots unless they are absolutely sure that they’re shooting at a deer and no other hunters are in front of or behind the target.
  • Deer: Furtive, tasty little animals.

When should you organize a deer drive?

Deer drives are good options for when stand and still hunting conditions are poor, such as high winds, crunchy snow, etc. Some hunting parties save drives for the last afternoon of a weekend hunt, so that deer have a few days or weeks to return to their original core area before the next round of hunting the following weekend or later in the season.

How to plan a deer drive

Because laws regarding deer drives can vary by state, consult your local laws and regulations before planning.

Rely on the most experienced hunter of the group to be drivemaster. They knowledge of local deer movement, property boundary lines and funnels will make them invaluable to the planning process and success of the drive.

Make the most of today’s technology. Unless you’re lucky enough to be hunting with Davy Crockett, maximize your use of satellite images and hunting apps to help plan where posters should sit in ambush, and where drivers should walk.

Every hunter involved should have a working smartphone or similar device, not only for communication but also to ensure accurate time-keeping so that the drive stays on track with everyone carrying out their roles according to the plan’s schedule.

What makes a drive successful?

Safety should first and foremost be the top priority of any drive, regardless of the success. Good organization, careful planning, terrain familiarity and knowledge of deer behavior are all important factors that will lead to kill.

Good organization and careful planning

Having awareness of the surrounding area and understanding the route of the drive is key to success. Using wind direction can give you a huge advantage if your crew is small. Drive deer downwind and set posters downwind as well. Then, upwind or crosswind, the drivers will gently coax game out of hiding using scent and sound. If you don't have a lot of drivers, get them to zigzag across the space to and spread their odor throughout the woodlot. As deer smell and hear the approaching danger, they’ll move to get out of the way.

Gun safety is critial during deer drives, as well as any time you handle a weapon. Never shoot in the direction of another hunter.

Terrain familiarity

With intimate knowledge of the local landscape, natural geographic features can be used to the drivers advantage. Broken terrain with impassable sections will help funnel deer through a predictable route to reduce risk and increase the chances of harvesting a deer. This also helps posters choose positions where they have the best chance of shooting.

Planning a route where there is not a lot of thick cover makes larger deer more pressured to move. Mature bucks are much more likely to hide in self-preservation, so maximizing what the terrain has to offer will be a definite advantage.

Knowledge of deer behavior

Understanding the way deer operate normally will help predicate patterns during a drive. Deer that aren’t harried choose to lie low, then backtrack through the drivers, so ideally the drivers need to make some noise to give away their positions and allow the deer to plan a successful escape route. If drivers are too quiet, the confused deer might amble into their sight picture.

Deer who move and aren’t panicked might stay 100 yards of so ahead of the drivers, stopping from time to time to check their backtrail, which presents great opportunities for the standers.

Hunting safety factors during a deer drive

A lot of this might seem like Hunter Safety 101, but you can never be too prepared for a hunt.

  • Always wear fluorescent orange. You want to see other hunters, and be seen.
  • Be aware of where every driver and poster will be during the drive
    • Drivers should be able to see the drivers on either side of them.
    • Standers should know where the standers of either side of them are, if the drive occurs over a wide area. They should never shoot in the direction of the nearest standers, or the drivers.
    • Some standers won’t load their guns until they’re in position, and empty their guns before they leave their stands.
    • Similarly, some drivers won’t allow the standers to leave their posts until the drive is over and they’re picked up, even if they’ve shot a deer.
  • Never shoot in the direction of another hunter. In fact, it’s best to be posted in tree stands for absolute safety. Only shoot when you can clearly identify your target and what’s behind it. Some hunting parties will never shoot at running deer for this reason.

What are the cons of a deer drive?

The biggest con to deer drives, besides the occasional stigma that it’s not “Real Hunting”, might be another misconception. Many people believe that by performing a deer drive, they’re going to ruin future opportunities to stand hunt or still hunt in that area because the deer will be too spooked to resume their routes. That may be case in the short term (think: a day or two after the drive), however more often than not deer return to their regular routes within a week.