THE DEER DRIVE
“Driving Whitetail Deer,” on the Whitetail Fanatic website, describes several different types of drives, and how they are done. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject, and I have 50 years’ experience in driving deer.
Hunters with access to lots of acreage and thorough knowledge of the terrain and the deer runways, have the opportunity to drive deer. This is not the only way we hunt, but because we have hunted the same territory for 50 years, it is an important part of our hunt. I have been the drive leader for 28 years, after working with my father who had been the leader from the early 1950s to 1978.
The hardwood ridges and cedar swamps where we hunt lend themselves to coordinated and timed drives of 200 to 300 acres at a time. We choose our runs to suit the time of day and the weather, according to our knowledge of the feeding and bedding habits of the deer in each locale. Because we hunt under a “bucks only” system, we have scouted these areas over the three months preceding hunting season, to learn where the bucks are hanging out and which runways they are using. With this knowledge, we choose where the “standers” will hide and where the “walkers” will start.
During what has been called the “ultra-silent deer drive,” we apply the following techniques: Standers are always positioned so that they will shoot into a hill, or will shoot in the opposite direction from which the walkers are traveling. Only the best and most experienced woodsmen participate in moving the deer. They do this by still-hunting the main runways and by moving around to check out the holes and thickets where we know the deer have been bedding down. We get 60% of our deer this way. The walkers often shoot the bucks themselves. Or, they get the deer moving, most likely toward their walking partners. All has to be coordinated, with excellent timing, taking into account the rigors of the terrain to be covered by each.
The key to our greater success is what I call “Forming the Box.” This happens when the standers are all in place, and the deer are trapped inside 25 to 50 acres when all the walkers stop at key locations at the same time, for 10 to 15 minutes. The positions of the standers and the walkers, for this length of time, creates so much pressure that even a wily old trophy buck will break and attempt to cut back, or run into the “standers.” There must be more walkers than standers. With too few walkers, the deer will hide in holes or circle back, and there will be nothing for the standers to shoot. If there is no doe around, a big buck who catches the scent of standers will most frequently try to double back on the walkers. I have seen these bucks, crouching low, nose and tail to the ground, skulking at high speed, trying to circle back behind the walkers. In the brush, the odds are against getting a good shot at these bucks. Once clear, they don’t go far. On occasion, when we knew a buck had done this to us, we would regroup, reverse the run, and go after it again.
When the does are in full rut, we don’t worry about tracking the bucks—we push deer. The pressure on the walkers is less, because the bucks will always be following the does. This is the best time to train new walkers: they can concentrate on learning the routes and the hiding places, rather than identifying the buck tracks.
I have helped to train dozens of walkers. I tie lengths of colored ribbon to branches along a deer runway or other route, positioning each one so it is visible from the previous ribbon. The new walker can easily find his way, and the ribbons are a good safety feature in rough terrain. The ribbons also help the new walker to maintain the timing that is so important to our success in “Forming the Box.” Two ribbons on the same branch is the signal to stop for a minute or two and then proceed at a slower pace. These are placed strategically on secondary runways where the walker might encounter a deer moving away from another walker. Farther on, there are three ribbons tied to a branch. Here, the walker stops and waits ten to fifteen minutes. This is the way we “Form the Box.”
We cover the most important escape routes, but deer are smart. They will head for deep and dirty (full of brush) holes by secondary routes, or by cutting back on the walkers. Where we hunt, our hardwoods funnel into a 1-sq. mile cedar swamp with elevations dotted here and there throughout. For safety reasons, we try to drive them back into the hardwoods. When we do this, the standers are always on good runways, where shooting is safe. Everyone always has to know where everyone else is. In the swamps and dirty holes, I recommend that walkers do not shoot.
When we have weekend visitors or kids in training, we use a “carefree deer drive.” This means pairing up the newcomer with an experienced walker. We try to do this in good weather, so everyone has a good time. The visitor is given instructions to stay 10 to25 feet behind the walker, stop when he stops, walks when he walks, and don’t talk or make noise. We also (if they are old enough) give them the responsibility of checking the rear, so that the walker can concentrate on what is ahead. If the walker makes a hand motion downward, or if any shots are heard, the visitor is to drop flat to the ground, instantly, and keep still. This permits the walker to take a good position, in case anything comes his way. This is a safe method we have always used. Of course, visitors or trainees never carry firearms—cameras are the weapons of choice.
The end of each drive is always the start of the next one: analysis is essential. We take every opportunity discuss, critique, and explore what we will do next. Keeping notes is of the utmost importance to improve both standers and walkers. No matter how successful the hunt, we can always improve..
In finishing, I want to say that I have hunted deer using other methods, but for fun and satisfaction, drives with friends are a great way to go.
AN EXPERIMENT IN ORIENTEERING
From the time I was old enough to save up dimes and quarters, that’s exactly what I did, so that I could buy hunting and fishing magazines. I knew I could read them at the library, but I wanted to own them. I read them over and over, committed parts to memory, and always tried to test out the hints and techniques described in the articles.
I was probably in my early twenties when I read an article about a Swedish woodsman who traveled through deep woods for twenty miles, without a compass. The article described how he dragged a twenty-foot long pole behind him. The pole kept him from turning and circling, as he always had to keep as straight a line as possible to get the thing through the trees. The article said that he ended his trek in excellent time, and within half a mile of his destination—a pretty remarkable feat.
That article captured my imagination. I talked it over with my Dad. He agreed that, while this technique is not for someone who is a stranger to the woods, it should work. I regret that I didn’t give it a try, and I hope that anyone who reads this and tries it will get back to me about the results.
I have only been inside an inhabited beaver lodge once, but I’ve never met anyone else who has ever done it. I was out in the woods on a bright and sunny February day in 1962 or ’63, with the temperature about 25 below zero. I trekked on snowshoes toward the beaver dam beside the Ridge, with no real intent in mind. I had been out cruising deer runways in the winter yard and traveling along the creek, when I decided I wanted a closer look at that beaver lodge. It was one of the biggest I had ever seen, and I had always been curious.
I crossed the ice, and listened—nothing. I almost always carried a small hand axe with me when I walked the woods, so I lifted the axe and pounded the broad side of it against the lodge. I hit three good whacks, then waited and listened again. I’ve never heard a beaver make vocal sounds. But I could hear one after another as they hit the water somewhere inside their den. I heard nine distinct “pluksh” sounds, telling me that at least nine beavers inhabited this lodge. As I stood there imagining them sliding into the water, a crazy idea came into my head. I wanted to get in there. I wanted to see, feel, smell and understand how these animals spent their winters.
I decided to try to make a hole through the top of the lodge and have a look inside. I knew the beavers had plenty of open water where the creek came into their pond, and I was confident I could fix it well enough afterward for the beavers to repair the damage without danger to themselves.
After about two hours of back-breaking work, I was able to get a look inside, and I was amazed at how cozy and how clean it looked. I could see the slide by which the beavers entered and left the lodge, and I could see a bit of the smooth ledge around the inside. But this was still not good enough. I made the entrance bigger until I could squeeze my 190 lbs. inside.
Once inside, with hardly a scratch, I sat down and looked over my surroundings. The walls were circular and domed to the ceiling, with beaver grass embedded in the hardened clay. The floor was nice and flat and smooth, made of the same hard-packed clay, but also carpeted with a thick layer of dry beaver grass, apparently for bedding material. The slide leading into the water looked like an engineering marvel—the packed clay was so smooth and perfect that it appeared to be a man-made construction. The smell was the pleasant smell you encounter when you are close to a lake or creek through the woods—it was so clean! It smelled like cold water, but I was perfectly warm, even with the hole in the roof. There was no sign that the beaver used this place for anything but resting and socializing.
I remembered my canteen of coffee hanging from my waist, so I sat in quiet comfort, taking in the surroundings, for about an hour. I pictured the beavers coming up out of the water, getting comfortable on the warm beaver grass, grooming themselves and then snuggling down to sleep. I had to force myself to leave, by remembering that I needed to let the beavers come home to repair what I had done. Forty years later, writing this story, I remember how wonderful I felt, imagining myself telling my children, grandchildren and friends about this experience. I have never forgotten how it looked, felt, and smelled.
Once back outside, I had to find a way to close the hole I had made, and to make the house safe again for the beavers. I replaced all the sticks and materials that I could find, and intertwined everything with spruce and balsam branches. Over that, I placed some heavy log chunks that I cut with the axe. After a good and satisfactory inspection, I left for home. I went back the next day to check that all was well, and listened as nine beavers hit the water as they had done the day before.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE SEAL HUNT CONTROVERSY
I suggest that the seal hunt is not really a hunt, and the misnomer is part of the problem. Let’s stop pretending that what happens on the ice is a hunt, in the sense that the animal has a fair shake and an opportunity to elude the hunters. The seal “hunt” in reality is the harvesting of seals for their fur and meat, in the same sense that we harvest pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. It’s harvesting, just as we pull up nets to harvest fish from the sea. It is no more evil. But it does look awful when the butchering is done on snow.
I remember when people hunted seals, and they were left alone, the money was ok, and all was good. This was tough and dangerous work that had to be done because a living had to be made, and there weren’t alternatives.
That was during a time when the new living room sofa came with two ashtrays—one for each end. It was the era when the death penalty was ok with most folks, sugar gave kids extra energy, and leaded gas kept car engines running smoothly.
Times changed, attitudes changed, we learned about the evils of smoking, sugar, lead and the media created causes. The Beatles played their music, made money, became famous, and suddenly became aware of seal hunters and such.
I believe that, given time and opportunity, a slow persistent push is the best way to get results. We should never work hard to make anybody look bad, unless there is criminal intent. We must also remember that if we lose something of value, we need to replace it with something of equal value. And, oh yes, we can fix it without your help, Sir Paul McCartney.
HERE IS A LINK TO THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA SITE ABOUT MYTHS AND REALITIES OF THE SEAL HUNT