In the Driver’s Seat

Most of deer hunting has become a sit-and-wait game, but drives allow hunters to go on the offensive as the season winds down.

The woods north of my stand resounded with noise, and it was moving closer and closer.

Whoops, yells and thrashing of bushes became progressively louder as a handful of hunters moved through The Narrow Strip.

The sliver of woods nestled between a black-top road and an open field was my favorite haunt, and was home to a big buck I had seen only once in several years of hunting. But I knew it was in the thickets somewhere.

So I waited, hoping that the noise would round up the deer.

I was just beginning to see snatches of blaze-orange vests through the surrounding brush when I heard a noise behind me.

A quick turn revealed the tail end of a deer slipping through the woods. It wasn’t exactly running, but it wasn’t wasting time, either.

In a flash, the deer was gone as if absorbed into the very fibers of the thicket.

Moments later, the walking hunters were passing my stand, continuing their efforts to push deer out of the tangled bottom.

As they melted away, a gunshot rang through the draw, giving renewed life to the efforts of the drivers.

And then it was over. We were called out of the stands, and we converged on the deer that had been shot.

It was a spike: Nothing to hang on the wall, but we made a big deal out of it anyway. The buck was dragged to the road, loaded into a truck for the run back to the camp.

Cason Creek Hunting Club members filled the back of the truck or jumped into others, and the party moved to the skinning shed, where the deer was cleaned and stories of the season’s hunts were shared.

You see, it was the last weekend of the season, and we had all taken part in the killing of one of the season’s last deer.

Cason Creek no longer conducts such hunts, with members settling for the more sedate practice of still hunting until the very last hour of the very last day of the season.

But such drives once were common in Louisiana woods.

“We used to make drives all season long,” Lafayette’s Kenny Begneaud said of his hunts in the Mississippi Delta in the 1980s. “We would make drives in the early bow season.”

Begneaud said it was a deadly effective technique when he participated in such drives until the early ’80s.

“I guarantee you on one drive I saw 500 deer,” he said.

And there are still a few clubs out there that continue to come together in communal efforts to kill deer.

Now, obviously, not every club is going to push hundreds of deer in a day (Begneaud said the reason for that incredible drive involved rising river water), but drives will make deer move after months of hunting pressure have them locked down.

Lake Arthur’s Sampson “Poncho” LeJeune said he and his buddies still prove that on a regular basis, making drives through their hunting area throughout the season.

The key, LeJeune said, to putting meat on the ground is to understand how deer travel on your property.

“You have to push the deer where the deer want to go,” he said. “If you’ve got a stretch of woods that sticks out into an open field, and on the other end of that stretch is big woods, you’re not going to push the deer out into the open field.

“They’ll double back and go into the big woods. You’ve got to push deer where they want to escape.”

So LeJeune makes it his business to know where bucks’ possible escape routes are, and that’s where standers are concentrated.

This 44-year-old hunter believes so strongly in the benefits of knowing possible escape routes that he’ll even ignore the wind conditions when considering how to approach the drive.

“It’s more important to push them the right way,” LeJeune said.

Marksville native Brandon Scott, who killed his first deer in the fifth grade and has been participating in drives almost since that time, believes otherwise.

“We like to have the wind blowing from the drivers to the deer,” the 20-year-old LSU student said. “That way, they smell us coming and want to get out of there.”

But Begneaud said he would rather the wind be favorable for the standers than the drivers.

In fact, his years of participating in drives proved how far deer will go to elude hunters if they get wind of what is waiting.

“I had a huge 10-point belly crawl around me once,” he said.

It seems that a stander down the line saw the big buck easing toward Begneaud, and then the deer dropped to its belly and began to crawl as it neared the standers’ line.

A shot couldn’t be taken because Begneaud was too close, so the hunter just watched in frustration.

“He said at one point, the buck was as close as 10 to 15 yards from me,” Begneaud said.

The buck simply eased by the hunter, who was clueless.

“He crawled around me, and got up and walked away,” Begneaud laughed. “I never knew it was there.”

Sometimes, however, mature bucks simply stay put, or circle back in attempts to evade detection.

“Most of the deer we push are does,” Scott said. “But sometimes bucks will get up with them.

“A lot of the bucks, though, will try to slip out the back.”

Begneaud said his hunting crew would generally ensure there were hunters trailing the main party of drivers.

“People would stay in the backdoor because a lot of these bucks would try to sneak out that backdoor,” Begneaud said.

Begneaud also said it helps to concentrate drives on small chunks of property that limit where deer can hide or escape.

“There were a lot of strips of woods in those bean fields,” he said.

Hunters lined up along one end of a forested strip and began slowly walking through the woods. Waiting on the other end would be hunters spaced out so deer could be ambushed as they tried to slip by.

“The deer have their escape routes, and when you push them, they’re coming out in the same places,” Begneaud said.

What the drivers often did differently than those on Cason Creek was they kept their mouths shut.

“A lot of times, they were silent drives,” Begneaud said.

And there was a reason for that.

“My theory is that when you’re hooping and hollering, you’re just telling the deer where you are,” Begneaud said.

That allows a big buck the luxury of sitting tight and letting the vocal hunters walk right by.

Hunters walking quietly through the woods, on the other hand, make deer nervous.

LeJeune agreed.

“We’ve found that (making noise) doesn’t help,” he said. “We (the drivers) usually hunt. We walk slow. We don’t make any noise.”

And that drives the deer on LeJeune’s property absolutely nuts.

“No matter how quiet you are, deer hear you,” he said. “You don’t have to have a bunch of noise to push them out of the woods.

“If you’re on that escape route, be ready because he’s coming.”

To heighten the animals’ anxiety, drivers on Begneaud’s lease would walk in erratic paths.

“We’d zig-zag to cover more area,” Begneaud said.

Sometimes deer jumped up and high-tailed it just in front of the drivers, but often deer would slip out of their hidey-holes and move just out of sight of the walking hunters.

Scott’s hunting buddies don’t have the benefit of open fields and isolated woods, so they utilize natural funnels in the swampy Avoyelles Parish woods to force deer to move past standers.

“We like to get between two lakes and push deer through there,” he said.

There are generally ridges between these isolated lakes, and the Scott clan carefully picks which ridges are best.

“We try to find the smaller ridges, not the bigger ones,” Scott said. “We like the ones that might be 200 to 250 yards wide.”

That allows the hunters to effectively cover the escape routes.

While any such ridge will do, Scott said his family often looks for those that deadend in deep water.

“We drive them into the lakes, where they don’t have anywhere to go,” Scott said.

Of course, high points surrounded by water mean deer become less predictable in their attempts to escape. While some might move the entire length of a ridge before bailing off into the water, others will try and slip off the sides of the ridge into the refuge of the water.

The hunters take precautions to prevent that from happening undetected.

“We line the edges of the ridges so nothing can slip by,” Scott said.

He also said drivers are sent into the edges of the lakes to ensure no deer are hiding there.

“The lakes will have flooded trees before opening up, and deer will move out into those trees,” Scott said. “You want to push that until you get to open water.”

That means that hip boots or, better yet, waders are a must.

“That’s how we pick drivers,” Scott laughed. “If you’ve got waders, you’re going to be driving.”

But LeJeune said he’s found that funnels aren’t as productive in the marshy environs he hunts because mature bucks are often wise enough to smell an ambush, particularly if they are being pushed upwind into a set of standers.

Bucks that grow suspicious will often simply hit the ground and hold tight in hopes that the hunting party will move past.

“You’d be surprised how many deer will be laying there … when it gets too narrow,” he said. “A buck will lay down with its head on the ground: All you’ll see are the ears moving.”

And LeJeune said he’s killed bucks that never moved.

“They know there are too many hunters coming and that you’ll see them if they double back,” he said. “So they just try to hide.”

The drives Scott and his family organize are like Begneaud’s in bygone years — social affairs involving a dozen or so hunters.

And that’s the allure to clubs like that in which the Scotts are members.

“When you kill one, it’s like a group kill,” Scott said. “Everybody had a part in it.”

But LeJeune said he’s found that the size of the hunting party really isn’t all that important.

“We’ve had just as much success with one driver and one stander as with a bunch of drivers,” he said.

Proof of LeJeune’s contention can be found in a recent hunt, when he and his brother decided to make a push through an area.

“My brother went and got on his stand, and I went to where I thought an escape route was,” he said. “When I was set, my brother got off his stand, and not 30 seconds later that deer ran out of the woods.”

LeJeune put the nice 8-point out of its misery.

While LeJeune prefers to have a driver walk toward the sole stander, a pair of hunters also can alternate between stander and driver.

Hunters should enter the woods together spaced out but within sight of each other.

Once in the thick of things, one of the hunters stops and carefully watches the surrounding woods while the other hunter continues easing along.

Just before the walking hunter gets out of sight, he stops and become the stander as the first hunter eases through the woods past him.

That hunter will then stop just before losing sight of his partner and become the stander.

In this way, the hunters leap-frog through the woods, pushing deer as they go.

And because the standers will alternately be in front of and behind the driver, deer can be ambushed no matter which way they try to escape.

It’s certainly more difficult than a large-scale organized drive, but it can produce dividends if the hunters watch carefully.

However, hunters utilizing this tactic should never lose sight of one another. This was brought home several years ago while hunting a lease with my longtime hunting buddy Darren Cooper.

We were slipping through an oak bottom, with each of us pushing along the sides of the the depression.

As I stood scanning the woods, waiting as Darren moved along the far side of the bottom, movement caught my eye.

I snapped my rifle to my shoulder, and my eye bored through the scope. A couple of deer were walking about 20 yards in front of Darren.

It was doe day, and I had a clear shot of the largest deer’s vitals (even though I wasn’t sure of its sex).

Just as I pushed the safety forward in preparation for a shot, I opened my left eye to check Darren’s position.

I took a deep breath, put the safety back to the “on” position and lowered my rifle — Darren had zig-zagged lower into the bottom but I would still have shot right over his head because of the angle of my shot.

Darren never knew the deer were there until we completed the drive, but he was thankful that I hadn’t take the shot. Even though he wasn’t technically in the line of fire, he would have been looking for hearing aids if I had yanked the trigger on my 7 mm Mag.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.