The Deer Drive: Not Just For Out East

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If you hunt in the eastern United States, you have probably heard of a "deer drive." It's more likely that you have actually been apart of a drive, also called a push. I have never hunted east of Colorado's plains country... but I know a thing or two about a push. I don't usually hear this tactic brought up when the topic is western hunting methods. And to tell you the truth, I haven't used the method in a couple seasons. But I know that it can be used successfully out here in the west and I have seen it work. Given the right conditions, there is a niche for this classic tactic in mule deer and elk country.

I am primarily a spot and stalk hunter. But there are some terrains and circumstances that lend themselves to the push. Let's say the shooter has a ridge littered with openings within rifle range. If he has done his homework and knows that there is game in the area, then he probably stands a chance of one of those animals walking through one of the openings. But game animals don't always follow the script that we write in our heads. If that hunter has 3 to 5 other hunters in his group, he can really up his chances of having animals move in front of his rifle. While this hunter is set up and ready for whatever might come bursting out of cover, the other hunters should slowly push through the cover and hopefully create an opportunity for the shooter.

This very loosely describes a push that my group did for me in pinyon-juniper woodland country on my third hunt as a young hunter. I had another group member sitting with me. The push had commenced and within minutes I saw two does being pushed across the ridge. Then all of a sudden the other group member nudged me on the shoulder and said, "There he is. He is a big one!" Despite all of his efforts to point me in the right direction I could not find the deer. He said that the very wide 3x3 had crept out into an opening and stood there for about 30 seconds before once again disappearing into the junipers. About two minutes later I spotted another buck and got on him. I was adding pressure to the trigger when he bolted. I didn't end up getting a deer on that drive but I had two good bucks within range and therefore I consider the technique a success.

Let's go over some basic guidelines for an effective push:

1. Safety is the biggest concern with a push. This method should never be attempted without wearing blaze orange. The shooter needs to aware of all the pushers' locations and the pushers also need to be cognizant of each other's locations. Shots should only be taken when there is no chance for an accident to occur.

2. Drives should be done with the wind. The drivers should be walking with the wind, with the shooter located downwind. This will allow the game to detect the scent of the drivers and make it less likely that the game will detect the shooter.

3. As a rule of thumb, the shooter should be the only one taking the shots. This is because they have the best idea of where everyone is located. Shots should only be taken by the drivers if it is certain that there is no chance of the shot ending up near any of the other hunters.

4. The drivers should be walking slowly. The goal isn't to spook the game all over the place. The goal is to move the game within range of the hunter, creating an opportunity for a standing or slowly moving shot. Neither is created if the animals are moving at full speed because they were pushed too hard.

Although it is rarely used in the west, the drive can be a great method for harvesting game. I have heard of mule deer, elk and even bear being taken in Colorado with this method. It is not for everyone or every situation but I wouldn't overlook it as a potential tactic. Just remember, safety first!


arrowflipper's picture

old memories

That sure brings back some old memories.  When I first started hunting fifty some years ago in Idaho, I really didn't have a clue on how to do anything.  My dad wasn't a hunter and I didn't have a mentor.  All I had was a huge desire to hunt and be successful.  I walked my butt off and most times (read that almost always) came home empty handed.  I often saw deer exit out in front of me, with no more than a wave of their white tail.

So I decided that if they were leaving in front of me, I'd get someone to walk through the draw and I'd sit at the other end and harvest deer.  Great plan..... lousy result.  I found that almost every time, those deer would just leave over the side of the draw and not run down it like a funnel.  I sat at the end of the funnel and saw nothing.  Another thing we did was have the person or persons walking, make lots of noise.  We thought that would chase the animals out in front of them.  It often did, but at mach speed.  As you said, we learned to walk slowly and as quietly as possible.  It's way better to have the deer try to sneak out in front of you.

I don't know that I've ever executed a drive where the animals did as I wanted or even expected them to do.  The most predictable thing about deer is their total unpredictability.  I have learned over the years that you can pull off a modified drive to just move the deer.  It's when they are moving that you can see them.  And rather than place standers (shooters) at the end of a draw, we put them high on the sides to watch for whatever comes out of the bottom and over the edge.

Yes, safety is the key in any drive.  We always try to put our shooters in a position that they can not shoot straight up or down the draw, only across it.  We don't want the risk of someone getting shot.  And I can tell you that when that big old buck comes sneaking down the draw, the last thing most shooters have on their mind is looking to see if anyone is around.  Safety is paramount.

Though not always successful, we've had a lot of fun thinking that we can push deer where we want them to go.  And elk are a whole lot worse at cooperating.  I guess that's what makes hunting "hunting" rather than gathering.  Thanks for the good tips.

groovy mike's picture


Safety is indeed the number one concern.  When we hunt there is no designated shooter or driver.  We are simply aware of wherethe other hunters on teh propert are and we occassionally coordinate our movements.  all the while we recognize that when one hunter moves he is more likely to move deer that he never sees than he is to have a white tail buck just patiently wait for the hunter to walk up within sight ditance and shoot him.  So - those hunters who elect to sit still are most likely the shooters buit there is always the chance of someone who is moving jumping a buck and getting a shot.  Although it is just as likely that a hunter will bump a buck that he never sees and that deer may walk not only to someone sitting in ambush but perhaps also to another hunter who is quietly and cautiously moving along somewhere near the first hunter.        

As noted - the hunters MUST know where each other are for this to be done safely.  One c;lassic example is for hunters to hunt on parallel paths on the opposite sides of a ridge.  There is no sighting of each other and everyone knows that they are hunting parallel but it is highly likely that one hunter pushing a valley or draw will move deer up over, or around that ridge and in that case the second hunter has a pretty good chance of intercepting them - as would anyone on the far end of the draw on either side of the ridge.

So use caution, but don't hesitate to use driving.  It's a technique that has been demonstrated to produce good results time and again over the years!

outdoorsman121's picture

Great Tip

In NY this is one thing that the group of hunters that I hunt with love to use. We drive swamps, thick brushy areas, and hardwoods, and for the most part we usually push out a deer. Sure we have those days  where nothing comes out but that usually because its rainy or the winds blowing to hard and in order to move the deer you have to step right on them or make a lot of noise. This type of hunting technique works wonder, but the drivers and watchers have to be safe where orange and be 100% sure of what they are shooting at and the direction in which they are shooting. In many cases when we drive we usually are able to harvest those deer that we wouldn’t necessarily see, such as those bucks that are nocturnal and bed in the heavy stuff during the day and come out at night when the environment is safe!

Critter done's picture

Great Tip

We use them quite a bit in our area only at the end of the season though. We just don't want to run everything to our neighbors.

Great Tip!!!!

jaybe's picture

A Great Tactic Anywhere

Thanks for the tip.

This is a tactic that can work virtually anywhere and almost any animal - as you stated.

The key to real success is no different out west than back east - knowing the lay of the land. The better it is understood where animals like to travel - especially when pushed - the better are the odds that the shooter(s) will be positioned where they can get a good shot.