Over most of my hunting career, deer hunting has mainly been a solitary avocation for me. No one in my immediate family hunted, so I didn't actually start hunting until I was in my late teens.
But I grew up in a rural area, and seeing deer, sometimes literally in my own backyard, was a regular occurrence. As a youngster, I also spent plenty of time in the woods where I often came upon deer in their natural habitat. Most of those encounters tended to be brief glimpses of their white tails waving in the distance as the animals fled. Occasionally, however, I was lucky enough to see deer before they noticed me, which offered the chance to observe and learn about them.
Those rudimentary lessons comprised the bulk of my deer-hunting knowledge during my first few hunting seasons. To have any hope of getting a shot at a deer, I knew I would need to find a good spot to sit and then wait for the deer to come to me. On days when deer were moving well, that strategy seemed wonderful, but on slow days, watching the same five acres of woods for hours on end far exceeded my youthful threshold of boredom.
I soon became a fan of tree-stand hunting, probably in large part because I killed my first buck on the second morning I ever hunted out of one. Not only did an elevated stand give more and better visibility over a patch of woods, but deer also seemed to pay little attention to what was going on much above ground level. I erected several tree stands around my hunting ground and killed a bunch of deer out of them for years afterwards.
In spite of that success, I still found it difficult to spend long hours in the same spot and that led to an attraction to still hunting, the art of hunting deer by slowly walking and watching. At first, I spooked way more deer than those I was able to get a good look at, but with some patience and perseverance, I slowly began to master the required stalking techniques and began to take some deer while still hunting.
After that, I usually only perched myself in a tree stand for the first or last hour or two of the day when the deer are most likely to be moving on their own. The bulk of my hunting time was spent moving, looking and finding deer. Still-hunting became not only my preferred method of deer hunting but also my most productive.
My fondness for still hunting continued until a few years ago when the Game Commission's deer reduction plan took a firm hold on the area I hunt. The greatly diminished numbers of deer there also reduced my once effective still-hunting strategies to many long walks in the woods without seeing a single deer many days. Stand hunting hasn't been any better, maybe even worse in terms of seeing deer.
To inject some fun back into my deer hunting once again, I've started spending two or three days each season hunting with a group of friends who put on some old-fashioned deer drives. As a longtime solo hunter, joining forces with a dozen or more other hunters to pursue deer has proven to be a different and enjoyable part of my season. Most of the gang are veteran hunters who know the area we hunt quite well, which makes coordinating the various drives relatively simple.
Everyone also carries a two-way radio to facilitate getting each hunter into position, starting the drive in unison and regrouping once the maneuver is over.
Our first drive last Tuesday morning proved to be one of the most memorable I've been involved with. We had a total of 19 hunters for that effort, and I elected to be one of the drivers. Shortly after we started in, two small does came streaking past just a few feet in front of me.
Because I had no doe license for that WMU, I could only watch them flash by and out of sight. As we progressed, shots rang out along our line of standers at regular intervals, so I assumed we must have been pushing some deer to them.
The drive was almost finished when a volley of a dozen or more shots erupted along the right corner of the movement. That action came when three bucks broke past four or five of our hunters at that point, and all of them got away unscathed.
After everyone regrouped, our efforts had yielded just two does bagged, even though seven different bucks had been sighted or shot at during the drive. Even with lots of hunters and lots of deer, there are no guarantees of success. But I'm sure the stories that drive produced will be talked about among our group for a long time, and we did take a nice 5-point on a later drive.