Man on a mission in Pennsylvania’s deer woods
By mid-morning on the first Saturday of the 2018 Pennsylvania firearms deer season, the sunlight shining on the south facing slope of the mountain had warmed my resting spot just enough to add some extra weight to my eyelids.
As I sat there among a bed of leaves — content with a buck tag already filled and a “no-pressure” doe tag still in my pocket — my dozing mind snapped to full attention as I heard footsteps approaching.
In seconds, a group of does materialized, and the hefty lead doe instantly had me pegged. With her eyes locked on every movement, I was unable to successfully draw my firearm before the group ran down over the hillside to the laurel-thick flat below me — a self-inflicted consequence for sleeping on the job.
The encounter wasn’t a total failure, however, as it presented a new opportunity. I had a good feeling those deer would hold up in that laurel somewhere — and perhaps even lay down to soak up the sun, just as I had been doing when they interrupted my slumber.
So, I texted my hunting buddy Zach, who had been shivering on the north side of the mountain since daybreak: “Are you up for a little one-man deer drive? I’ll push for you.”
He responded almost immediately with one word: “Absolutely.”
I instructed Zach to follow the top ridge of the mountain west for several hundred yards to a notable cut in the tree line, then drop over the south side and take position where the flat met the rising hillside. I waited to move until he was in position — just in case he bumped something to me in the process — and then shed a few clothing layers, packed up my gear and headed east along the ridge.
Once I was confident that I had looped wide enough to adequately cover the flat, I eased down into the laurel and began zigzagging through the brush. I jumped deer about 15 minutes into the push, and shortly thereafter a lone shot rang out — exactly where I had told Zach to stand.
One-man drives can be a highly effective tactic when hunting deer with a firearm, but you need to do it right. The key is to guide the deer toward a predetermined location by forcibly “bumping” them along without causing them to flee at full speed. Knowledge of the hunting area, as well as a few other influencing factors, is very important for this strategy to work.
The first thing you’ll want to consider is wind direction. Ideally, you’ll want the stander on the downwind side of the tract you’re about to push. If the wind is at their back, it’s likely the deer will smell them and never offer a shot. However, if the wind is in their face, that means the wind is blowing from the driver who is walking towards them, and the deer will be more apt to head in the direction of the stander.
A cross wind, or quarter wind isn’t a bad thing either, as some deer will try to stay downwind as they scoot out of the cover, but the stander will have to make a slight adjustment for that when selecting a location to take post.
Lay of the land
Lay of the land is important, especially with only one stander. If you have multiple hunters able to cover a variety of escape routes, you’ll have greater odds of having one of them get a shot. But if you only have one or two hunters taking post, it is important to position them in the most likely locations a spooked deer will attempt to split the scene.
If hunting open country, pinch-points or fingers of cover are obvious places to stand as deer often will choose to follow a tree line over running across an open field. In mountainous terrain, deer often will break along the base of a hillside, and cut up over the top via a draw, saddle or dip in the rising side.
Natural funnels like these, as well as creeks, rock faces or other landscape features that divert deer movement into predictable escape routes are the places standers want to be, especially if it is downwind of the cover the driver plans to push.
Coverage, Pace and Volume
The hallmark of a successful one-man drive is to not let the deer know it’s a drive in the first place. Odds are they’ve seen organized drives before, and many deer have learned how to hold-tight and “break back” through the drive to avoid hunters.
When doing a one-man drive, you want to take it slow and quiet — more of a meandering stroll in wide, sweeping zigzags than an all-out push. If the wind is at your back, and you cover the tract well, the deer are going to get up and move.
Many times, I’ll actually see deer rise from their beds and know which direction they are heading. If they are veering off course, I’ll quickly try to cut them off and redivert. Go slow until you have to speed up, and don’t make more noise than necessary. The idea is to get the deer to your standers at a walk or slow trot, not a full out sprint.
If you do it right, the deer will show up looking over their shoulders for danger, completely unaware of the hunter waiting in ambush — just like Zach, who made good on the shot, chalking up another successful one-man drive for this man on a mission.