4 Keys to Successful Deer Drives

If you conduct deer drives but are rarely successful, you need to modify your game plan.

4 Keys to Successful Deer Drives

YouTube is filled with helpful how-to content about deer hunting from stands, but few hosts do a good job of explaining how to push deer. One YouTube channel the author highly recommends is The Hunting Public (photo above). Not only do they hunt across the country, much of it on public land, but they use deer drives/pushes very effectively with minimal drivers and posters.

Deer drives — some hunters love them, others hate them. Me? I sit firmly on the fence between the two extremes.

Besides politics, not many topics can spark as heated a conversation at hunting camp than deer drives. Those who hate them believe the method ruins future opportunities to stand hunt or still hunt a given area for whitetails. I agree — to a point.

Others who hate deer drives say safety is a concern. Again, I agree.

So why don’t I simply admit to being a deer drive hater? Because they work — and conducted correctly, they can be safe. Plus, in my experience, whitetails will return to their core range and habits in a day or two, so stand hunting and still hunting the area isn’t off the table forever.

 

Deer Drive Fails

As a young rifle hunter in northern Minnesota, I was part of many big-woods deer drives planned by my dad and uncles. We occasionally killed a deer or two, but the majority of the time deer escaped without a shot fired. Looking back at those attempts, I can name a few reasons why:

Driving into the wind. With posters set up on the upwind side of a drive, whitetails immediately knew something was amiss and could begin slipping away undetected, or hide in impenetrable cover.

Drivers walked too fast. My dad and uncles were a bit impatient, which is another way of saying they walked fast when driving, and they didn’t want to sit long when posting.

Unbroken terrain. The only terrain breaks in our big-woods hunting area were a couple of narrow two-track logging roads. The landscape included no ag fields, no lakes, nothing to funnel deer.

Abundance of thick cover. Our hunting area contained massive tamarack swamps and overgrown clear-cuts, which meant whitetails didn’t have to move when pressured.

 

4 Keys to Successful Deer Drives

Looking back at it now, trying to conduct deer drives in our area of northern Minnesota was a low-percentage play. As I said earlier, we killed a few whitetails (antlerless deer mostly), but I’m sure we simply educated the local herd and caused mature bucks to become even more nocturnal.

In the four decades since my first deer hunting experiences with my dad and uncles, I’ve had the opportunity to pursue whitetails from Idaho to Kentucky, and Saskatchewan to Alabama. While the majority of my time has been spent waiting to ambush deer from ground blinds and treestands, I have had the chance to plan and execute many deer drives. Here’s what the successful ones had in common.

  1. Small woodlots and/or major funnels. Deer drives work well if you can push deer from one small woodlot, say 20-40 acres, into a nearby woodlot. Yes, deer will flee from woodlot A when pushed by drivers, but that’s okay because posters should be waiting in strategic locations in woodlot B, which might be 200 yards across an alfalfa field. As whitetails enter woodlot B, they will stop running and begin to feel comfortable again. This is when posters can take advantage. The same is true in larger woodlots with major funnels. Have posters positioned in or near pinch points (funnels). 
  2. Limited thick cover. Drivers can push deer out of small woodlots or toward funnels in larger woodlots only if thick cover is manageable, meaning deer have to leave if drivers enter the same cover. For example, trying to drive whitetails out of a thick, 200-acre cattail swamp with three or four drivers won’t move many deer. If deer can hide, they will. This is especially true for mature bucks. 
  3. Posters sneak into position downwind of deer. Trying to push/drive deer upwind into the human odor of posters is a recipe for failure. It’s better to push whitetails with the wind at their backs, or at least crosswind, so deer can’t smell what’s in front of them. 
  4. Drivers move slowly, pushing deer with scent and sound. After posters are set up, it’s time for drivers to move into position, either upwind or crosswind of deer. If the push is conducted straight downwind, it takes fewer drivers because each person can zigzag and spread his or her human odor throughout the woodlot. As deer smell — and eventually hear — the approaching danger, they’ll move to get out of the way, hopefully leaving toward the awaiting posters.

The method I’ve described works well during bow or firearms seasons. Posters will get the majority of shots during a firearms season drive, and all the shots during a bow season drive. In fact, during a bow season push, if I’ve volunteered to be a driver, then I don’t mess with carrying my bow.

As for safety during firearms season: Drivers and posters should shoot only when they can clearly identify their target AND what’s beyond it. It’s best (read safest) for posters to be in treestands. In my hunting party, shooting at running deer isn’t allowed. Ever.

If posters are unable to be in treestands, then they should seek ambush locations on higher ground that provide downward-angled shots.
If posters are unable to be in treestands, then they should seek ambush locations on higher ground that provide downward-angled shots.

Generally our group saves deer drives for conditions when stand hunting and still hunting are likely to be poor, which means high winds, crunchy snow, etc. We also save deer drives for the final afternoon of a weekend hunt, which means deer will have a few days or a full week to return to their original core area before we begin stand hunting and still hunting the following weekend.

One final tip: While it’s okay to ask for input from everyone involved in a deer drive, the most successful ones happen when the hunter with the most experience regarding local deer movement, and especially escape routes, takes charge. The deer drive leader should be very specific about who’s doing what, when, and how. Timing is everything, so it’s critical everyone has a smartphone with a charged battery. The satellite images available on phones are tremendously helpful, too, when planning where posters should sit in ambush, and where drivers should walk.

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