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Deer drive brings back wonderful memories: Tom Shank's Woods and Waters

Posted 2/27/19

When I was quite young, I remember my father and his friends from the Highspire Camp in northern Lycoming County putting on deer drives. Their hope was to push the deer from their comfort zone, …

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Deer drive brings back wonderful memories: Tom Shank's Woods and Waters

Tom Shank, right, and his nephew Daniel pose with Daniel’s deer drive trophy of 2018.
Tom Shank, right, and his nephew Daniel pose with Daniel’s deer drive trophy of 2018.
Submitted photo
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When I was quite young, I remember my father and his friends from the Highspire Camp in northern Lycoming County putting on deer drives. Their hope was to push the deer from their comfort zone, toward awaiting standers. This was a preferred method of deer hunting after several days of stationary watches.

My first deer drive had me positioned on a trail. I wasn’t able to hunt yet, but I still participated in the camp deer drive. I was given a pot with a wooden spoon and was told to walk slowly, never getting off the trail, and to pound the pot making as much noise as I could. I was the noise guide, which allowed several pushers to line up in a straight line many yards apart and to walk toward another line of stationary hunters.

The drive had flankers on either side of the moving hunters in case deer would break out toward the sides. The whole idea was to make noise by the drivers as they walked, stumbled and picked their way through heavy dense cover to get deer on their feet and direct them toward waiting standers. More times than not, the deer broke in every direction you didn’t want them to go and avoided both the standers and the drivers. Deer are very elusive animals and as they are spooked by the drivers, they run very fast to avoid the threat.

That would be a typical deer drive back in the 1960s and 1970s — gangs of hunters participating in well-organized deer drives. Things have changed and many of the so-called large deer drives are no longer performed. Camps just don’t have the number of hunters willing to put on deer drives. So many hunters just play the waiting game and sit it out on solo stands, hoping a deer will pass their way.

Hunting camps that had no vacancies and were packed solid with hunters now are vacant after the second day. Folks have changed their hunting methods and will hunt the mountainous regions a short time, then head south, leaving the north-central counties void of hunting pressure.

My camp is located smack in the middle of north-central Pennsylvania. Hunting the big woods is a challenge. The deer herd isn’t what it used to be, but nothing is. Camps are vacant during deer season, and the hunting pressure is light.

My two-week deer season that concluded in December supports the recent trend in deer hunting.

I didn’t see or come across a hunter during my time in the woods. I saw deer, but no buck. The deer just didn’t move, and with no hunters moving around, deer were on a different schedule.

My trail cameras proved that bucks and doe were active during the rifle season, but during early morning hours or at dusk. I just couldn’t figure them out the first week. So when my nephew Daniel and his two friends came to camp, a different game plan was put into effect.

These three, being much younger than me, were willing to walk and push.

We decided if the deer didn’t want to move on their own, we were going to move them by deer driving — not the traditional way of making as much noise as you can, but the soft approach, quiet and slow, moving toward the position of a stander, letting the wind and the natural noise you make while walking in the forest, alerting the deer to a threat and getting them moving.

We knew the areas and where to place a stander to be in a position to observe escaping deer. Our deer drives were small in area. They were picked to take in consideration the dense cover and escape routes and used natural and man-made pinch points to funnel the deer past a lone stander.

We did about 10 drives during a two-day period. It brought back memories to me when I drove for deer in the woods with my father and the gang from camp. Instead of an army pushing deer, it was just four hunters working together, attempting to move deer the old traditional way, with some minor changes. Portable climbing tree stands proved invaluable, allowing a stander to get up in the air and see all around. A stealth approach with limited noise was the norm to nudge the deer along, instead of stampeding them in high gear. A wheeled deer cart made taking out harvested deer much easier then dragging.

We ended our deer drives with three deer. They were doe, and to the four of us were fine trophies as a result of teamwork in the “Big Woods.” As we hung our deer on the meat pole, it again brought back the fond memories of deer driving — the camp fellowship and a positive result of working together to get the deer moving when stationary hunting wasn’t cutting it.

Tom Shank has been writing the Woods and Waters column for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through more than 50 years hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.