The following information on deer drives comes from Chapter 8 of How to Hunt Deer by Edward A. Freeman. How to Hunt Deer is also available to purchase in print.
Deer drives by large groups have always been popular and successful, but numerous objections to this method of hunting have caused the Maine Legislature to pass laws limiting the number of hunters participating in such a hunt.
The object of the deer drive is for one group of hunters to drive the deer out of a particular piece of woods, or section of country, into the range of another group waiting to shoot them. In order to be successful, there should be enough drivers so that the area to be hunted, will be covered from side to side by men who are near enough together so that there will be little chance of failure to move the deer and prevent their cutting back. The watchers should be posted so as to cover all probable escape routes which the deer might be expected to use while fleeing from the drivers. It is obvious that it would require a small army of hunters in order to make a perfect deer drive in any sizeable piece of woods. Since these large groups are illegal, knowledge must be substituted for numbers by those hunters who care to hunt in this manner.
Three men can drive quite a large piece of woods if they do not attempt to drive the deer in a direction other than they wish to travel, but try to nudge them along their natural course. Two men on watch can usually cover the most probable escape routes if the deer are not too much alarmed by their pursuers. Two more men may be added to the drivers, if they are available, and they will add to the ground that may be covered. Driving by a group of this size is legal in Maine at the present time.
Excessive noise made by these large groups was responsible for a part of the public objection to this type of hunting. The object of this noise was to panic the deer so that they would run blindly instead of using strategy to avoid the drivers. This system might be successful in driving the true wilderness deer, but deer which have lived for years in constant contact with humans are not as easily panicked and the noise of the drivers gives them ample warning of the hunters’ intentions and an accurate picture of their location. These deer might be panicked momentarily, but this initial fright would not cause them to leave any large piece of woods before they have recovered and evaluated the situation. Their accurate knowledge of the drivers’ positions will enable them to circle the outside drivers or permit them to run between these men. Sometimes they are able to pick the probable course of these drivers so that they may remain perfectly motionless in some small thicket and permit the noisy drivers to pass on each side of them.
The only real need for noise by these drivers is to keep them in line, also to keep them in touch with each other in the event a deer should try to pass between them, reducing the chance of hitting a companion while shooting at the deer. The center man on a deer drive should announce his position periodically so that others may adjust their position in relation to his location. In case one of the men jumps a deer, the entire line should shift so that the center of the line is on the deer’s course while the others are in a position to shoot or turn the deer if it should attempt to pass between them. These outside men should be quiet because nothing will turn a deer any quicker than for it to encounter an unexpected danger while it is trying to avoid a known one.
The success or failure of this type of hunting depends on the participant’s knowledge of the wood and of the probable course which the deer will take when startled.
The best way to obtain this knowledge is for the hunters to drive deer in an area until they are able to discern a definite pattern of action which may be a guide to future deer drives. This holds true in any type of hunting. The man that does not correct the mistakes which are learned from experience will never become a very successful hunter.
I know of one piece of woods which has been driven many times by large groups of hunters and I have never known of a deer being killed there by the watchers. This woods is nearly four miles long and about a mile wide at the widest point. The drivers invariably drive from the south with the watchers stationed in open territory at the north end of the woods. If the deer should leave this piece of woods it would be necessary for them to cross nearly a mile of open country in order for them to reach the safety of another wooded area. As a result of this condition, the deer turn back before reaching the north edge of the woods, preferring to risk the drivers instead of the open country. Quite a few deer have been killed by these drivers, but none by the watchers.
There is a place in the woods, about a mile from the north end, where nine out of ten deer which travel that woods pass through a grove of hemlocks where there is no underbrush and there is good visibility for a hunter. As far as I know, the organizers of these deer drives have never stationed a watcher at this place. The pattern is there, but none of the drivers seem to have noticed the possibilities of this place.
Sometimes it is almost impossible to move a deer out of a piece of woods. I remember a small wooded area which usually held a deer. This cover was about two hundred yards wide and less than a half-mile long. One day two rabbit hunters with two dogs were planning to hunt it and another fellow and I decided that it would be a good time to try to shoot any deer which might be driven out by the dogs. He entered the woods with the rabbit hunters and I went to the north end where deer could be expected to go if started. The dogs started on a rabbit trail and the men drove the woods from the south. There were no deer ahead of the men when they reached my position and we decided that there had been none in the woods at that time. We went to a place near the south end where we might have a chance to shoot the rabbit and my companion met a deer face to face killing it with a charge of rabbit shot. The deer had stayed in that piece of woods with three men and two dogs for nearly three-quarters of an hour.
This is an unusual case only because of the small size of the area hunted. On several occasions, I have entered woods which have just been hunted by drivers and have been able to start deer which evaded the drive.
When a hunter decides to get his deer by waiting for it to come to him instead of going to the deer, he is apt to be in for a long wait, unless he has a good knowledge of the deer’s usual actions in the section of the country where he is hunting.
Watching a well-traveled deer trail can be productive if there are other hunters in the woods who keep the deer on the move. Otherwise these trails are apt to be disappointing except for the possible chance that roving bucks might use them. If they are trails which are used by deer which are traveling to and from feeding and bedding areas, the hunter’s chances are good in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Before watching any trail or crossing place, he will do well to find out when and why the deer use that particular trail.
I know of one feeding area which is used by ten or twelve different family groups of deer. This is an area of fields bounded on three sides by extensive woods and is the nearest area of this type of food for the deer which utilize these woods as their range. All deer located in the area north of these fields (usually four groups) use a trail that crosses a brook, in order to get to the fields from the wooded section of their range. On their return to the woods, they separate and some of the groups use a trail which crosses the brook about three hundred yards east of the first-mentioned crossing, while the others use a trail located nearly a half-mile to the west of the same crossing. The first trail would be an ideal place to watch in the late afternoon, yet would be totally unproductive in the early morning when the deer were returning by different routes. All three of these crossings are equally obvious to an experienced hunter, but unless the man knew of the habits of these deer, he could spend considerable time in watching any one of these places at the wrong time of day.
Deer will often use a different trail when they are followed or driven than the one which they utilize while traveling unmolested. I have known of deer using all three of the above mentioned trails in both directions, when they were frightened by men or dogs.
Feeding areas are probably the most productive places for a hunter to wait for deer. Patches of beech and oak trees, apple orchards, and clover patches or similar green vegetation are usually the more productive of these feeding areas, but any place where deer are known to feed may be watched with some chance of success.
As a rule, individual groups of deer do not visit the same feeding area on successive nights, but move around their range with fair regularity, so that they return to a feeding area on every second, third or fourth night. If there are several of these groups in the area, each feeding place might be visited by different deer on each successive night.
Some of these feeding areas are visited by deer quite early in the afternoon, while others are not visited until after dark. This difference is caused to a great extent by the distance between the feeding area and the bedding area and by the nature of the cover adjacent to the feeding area. The amount of moonlight also affects the feeding time of the deer.
I know of an orchard which the deer visit almost every night during the fall and early winter. It is in sight of my former home where I had the opportunity to watch this spot from a distance. I have never seen a deer in that orchard in the daytime.
I also know of a single apple tree which stands less than a half-mile from that orchard and I have seen and shot deer under this tree before sundown.
The single tree is near the woods, which means safety, while it is necessary for deer to cross about two hundred yards of open country in order to reach the orchard. Naturally they wait for darkness before crossing this open area.
The shooting of deer from an automobile is forbidden in most states, but the practice of driving along the roads until a deer is sighted, stopping the car, stepping to the side of the road and shooting at it is a common practice in many places. Deer are not particularly afraid of automobiles and these road hunters can usually drive quite near the animals without alarming them. In some sections where hunting is heavy, the act of stopping a car will cause the deer to retreat to safety in the woods, so it is often better to chance a long shot than to risk alarming the deer by a too close approach.
Automobile hunters can cut their driving time and increase their chances of sighting a deer if they are able to recognize the places the deer are most likely to use at the time the hunter approaches them.
Places where deer trails cross roads are probably the least productive to the road hunter, because, although he might sight a deer, he will seldom have the time to stop and leave his car before the deer is out of sight in the surrounding woods.
Feeding areas are the finest spots to find deer; and if the road hunter concentrates on several of these places and visits them daily at feeding time, he is almost sure to sight a deer sooner or later. For the best results, these feeding places should be in open areas so that the deer may be seen from a moving car and should be far enough from the road so that the act of stopping the car will not be too alarming to them. It is not necessary to confine this type of hunting to the back roads, as many hunters do, for the deer will often visit a choice clover patch near a well-traveled road in preference to some less palatable food in a more secluded spot.
Road hunters are responsible for a tremendous waste of deer which are wounded but not recovered. Hunters using other methods wound deer, but the man who is on the ground and in the woods will usually know when he has wounded one and will usually make a sincere effort to find and kill the animal. On the other hand, the road hunter often shoots at a deer which is near the woods and if the deer does not drop in its tracks, he will often assume that he has missed his shot, traveling on in search of another target. This would not be so bad if these men would take the time and effort to walk to the spot where the deer was standing and make sure that they had actually missed their shot. Too many of them merely drive off without investigating.
There must be some psychological reason for this reluctance to leave the road, and the car, in order to check the effect of their marksmanship. This practice certainly shows that these men lack confidence in either their shooting ability or in their gun.
I remember two incidents that showed me the importance of checking the results of my shooting. I was not hunting from a road, but the experiences taught me that it is very easy to walk away from a dead deer.
I had not hunted long enough to have much confidence in my marksmanship when I shot at a deer which was standing by a clump of bushes near the edge of a field. When I shot, a deer jumped into the woods and I fired a second shot, thinking I had missed the first one. The deer continued on into the woods and I started to leave the place, thinking that I had done some very poor shooting. I began to wonder why I had missed so easy a shot and I finally went back with the intention of looking for the marks of my bullets on the trees in back of the place where the deer had been standing. I found a dead deer in the tall grass. This deer had been killed instantly and had abruptly dropped to the ground simultaneously with the appearance of the second deer which I had mistaken for the first.
Often a hunter is unable to see clearly at the time of the shot because of the effect of the gases from the explosion in the air around the gun’s muzzle. This combination of powder gas and air turbulence will distort, if not totally obscure, the vision at the time of the shot so that a man cannot be exactly sure of the results without checking the scene. This is probably what happened to my vision on this occasion.
In the second incident, I was trailing a deer which I sighted standing in back of a pile of pulp in a chopping. All that I could see was its head, which appeared to be sitting on the pile of wood. I shot at the head and it disappeared. Having little confidence in my marksmanship I waited for the deer to run from the cover of the pulp so that I could try another shot. Nothing happened. It would require the aid of a psychiatrist to explain what followed. The evidence should have convinced me that I had killed the deer. However, I almost convinced myself that I had not even seen a deer, that I had not shot at one, and that it would be useless even to look for one behind that pile of pulp. Common sense finally won the mental conflict and I collected my deer.
Since then I have always checked the result of every shot, even when I was sure that I had missed.
I was well concealed by a stone wall and watching a feeding deer and waiting for it to walk into the range of my gun, when a road hunter spotted the animal from his car and stopped and fired. I was sure that he had hit the deer, which ran into the woods, and I started to walk towards him with the intention of congratulating him and offering my help in recovering the animal, but he got in his car and drove off. I went to the edge of the woods, found a blood trail which I followed for about a hundred feet and found a dead deer.
Another road hunter told me about shooting at a deer and how he had missed the shot. The next day, while hunting in that locality, I found a blood trail near the place. I followed this trail for a short distance and overtook a deer which had two broken front legs. It was a simple matter for me to finish killing this deer.
I have found several dead or badly wounded deer which had been shot by hunters who never bothered to check the results of their shooting. Some of them were worth recovering, while others were too long dead to be edible and were nothing but carrion. Much of this waste could be avoided and many apparently unsuccessful hunters could fill their license by merely investigating every shot which they make. Many deer hunters are not aware of the extent of this waste, but fox hunters can tell of the large number of dead deer which are left in the woods at the end of the deer hunting season.
A large proportion of these unrecovered deer are wounded late in the afternoon after the sun has set. At this time of day, many deer will be sighted at the edge of fields and if such deer are wounded at this time, it is almost impossible to trail them into the woods because of the increasing darkness. Some could be recovered if the shooter would return to the scene the following morning. Few hunters will do this, preferring to hunt another deer in another section of the country.
In the past twenty years, I have failed to recover two badly wounded deer and in each case they were shot late in the day, and bad weather the following night made it impossible to follow their tracks the next day. I am quite sure that both of these deer were killed though I never found any trace of one of them. Fox tracks led me to the remains of the other.
The hunter should be very careful while shooting late in the day, for, although visibility may appear to be good, the diminishing light can cause slight sighting errors which may cause a serious wound instead of a clean kill. Every shot should be investigated at the time and if there is the slightest chance that a deer has been wounded, the hunter should return the following day and attempt to recover the animal. If he finds that he cannot return on the following day, he should notify a game warden or a local guide of the fact that he has wounded a deer, so that the animal may be recovered if such recovery is possible.
Before a hunter shoots from or near a road, he should check the laws of the area in which he is hunting, for in some states, shooting is prohibited within a specified distance of a road. In places where such shooting is legal, the hunter should use caution and not shoot lengthwise or across the road, even if this means passing up a chance to bag a deer. The safety of other motorists is more important than killing the best deer that travels the woods.