Muzzleloader season for deer arrives early in many states. Usually after the first day or two of the season, the bucks know where the hunters are moving and the areas where there’s hunting pressure they need to avoid. Most often they’ll move into thick cover where hunters can’t see them. Two friends of mine in Mississippi have developed one of the best strategies I’ve ever seen for taking these early-season bucks in thick cover. However, they use this strategy successfully throughout the year and have been very effective at harvesting bucks with big antlers and heavy body weights. Jodie and Donald Spence of Monticello, Mississippi, are probably two of the best deer hunters I’ve ever met. Their two-man strategy consistently has paid big-buck dividends for them on both public and private lands. They don’t start hunting until about 8:30 or 9:00 am, and before they begin their hunt, they identify thick-cover areas where no other hunters hunt. Most of these regions are smaller than a half of a city block. They approach the area from downwind, and either Jodie or Donald put up a tree stand on the downwind side of that thick cover as quietly as possible.
Once Jodie’s in the stand, Donald then circles that thick-cover area and gets upwind of the thicket. “I start off by walking all the way across the upwind side of the thicket,” Donald Spence explains. “Jodie and I don’t use any type of odor killer when we’re hunting this way. I want my human odor to go all the way through that thicket. Next I’ll walk a zigzag pattern back and forth through the thicket trying to move as slowly and quietly as I can. Occasionally, I’ll pick-up a dry stick and break it. After I break the stick, I don’t move again for another 30 seconds to a minute. Then I continue to move as quietly and slowly as possible. If there’s a buck holding in that thicket, I want him to know I’m there, but I don’t want him to know exactly where I am. He can smell me, but because I’m moving slowly and quietly, he only may hear me when I stop to break a stick.
“As I get closer to the buck, because he doesn’t know where I am, he usually will get up, start sneaking through the thicket and possibly sneak out at the ends or the sides of the thicket. Using this type of thick-cover man drive, either Jodie or I will get a shot at the buck, because he’s usually walking and looking back instead of running out of the thicket. I’m convinced that most hunters don’t use their human odor to their advantage to move deer. Jodie and I trade-off being the stander and the driver. Most of our drives won’t take 20 to 45 minutes to put on, because we’re hunting small thickets and not large ones. Using this technique, we often can hunt six to eight different thickets during a day of hunting. We’ve found that this is the most-productive way that two hunters who work together have the greatest chance to take an older-age-class buck that most other hunters never see.
“Another advantage to using this one-man drive tactic is when we push a buck out of thick cover and don’t get a shot at him, we can go right back to that same thick-cover place the following week, put a stander where we’ve seen the buck come out of cover and repeat that same kind of drive. The second time we hunt that thicket we’ll most often be able to harvest the buck we haven’t gotten the first time we’ve hunted it.” During muzzleloading deer season, consider a man drive to take bucks. This tactic has and does work.
By John E. Phillips, outdoor writer and avid deer hunter the past 50 years.