How the First Americans Used Deer-Drives for Taking Deer

How the First Americans Used Deer-Drives for Taking Deer

J. Wayne Fears
J. Wayne Fears

Pottstown PA –-( Driving deer is a popular method of hunting, especially in the late season. That’s why I’ve included how to put on successful man-drives in my “How to Hunt Clear Cuts Successfully” and my “Deer Reference Guide” books, available at .

Although the early Europeans drove deer, I’ve often been asked how deer drives started in America. Much of what we use today in our tactical strategies to drive deer we have learned from the first Americans.

Native Americans designed their mass deer drives and tribal hunts around the terrain they were hunting. Most deer drives involved some kind of huge corral that enabled hunters to force the deer unsuspectingly down a gradually-narrowing passageway where other hunters awaited them.

For instance, the Menomini tribe prepared for a deer drive by felling numerous trees to form a giant V, which ran for several miles through the woods. The men dropped the trees, so the trunks remained attached to the stumps but lay close to the ground, all extending in the same direction. When the drive began, a band of hunters concealed themselves at the apex of the V. Other hunters and sometimes the women and children gathered at the wide end of the V. Walking slowly and noisily forward, the hunters moved toward the bottleneck. The deer fled before them, but the drive had to be well-paced. If the hunters moved too fast, the deer became panicky and leapt over the fallen logs and out of the V. But when the hunters proceeded cautiously, the deer followed the line of least resistance inside the barricade and finally found themselves trapped.

eight point buck
An Eight Point Buck hears the approach of deer hunters.

The Iroquois tribe usually made their barricades with a brush fence 2- to 3-miles long. They started the drive by setting fire to the woods at the wide end of the corral. Parties of braves patrolled the sides of the V to prevent most of the deer from leaping over it. The deer were eventually driven to the apex, where other hunters took them.

Some western tribes did not use the long-corral system, however, but took advantage of the deer’s fear of the smell of scorched buffalo hides. The day before such a drive, each member of the hunting party brought to the chief a piece of buffalo hide and a sharp stick on which to carry it. The chief scorched the skins. The next morning, he took the skins to a suitable spot about 5-miles windward (upwind) of the hunters’ starting point. There he stuck each stick with its hide into the earth, in a line parallel to approaching braves before whom the deer were retreating. The chief, well-hidden from the deer, watched the deer come toward him. As the deer scented the scorched skins and turned to run away from them, the chief gave a signal and advanced. The hunters lay down, while the chief moved ahead, yelling and waving his arms. The frightened deer fled even more swiftly from this new danger, straight toward the hidden hunters, who raised to their knees and shot the deer with their bows and arrows as the deer came within range.

In some deer drives, the Native American hunters were fortunate enough to have a natural corral in their territory, such as a narrow gorge, into which they could drive the deer. If an area had a cliff with a projecting ledge a few feet below the brink of the cliff, a few braves wearing deerskins would stand on the end of the cliff, as other hunters drove the deer toward them. The fleeing deer, seeing what they thought were others of their kind in a safe place, raced for the cliff. The disguised hunters leapt to the ledge below, and the main body of deer charged toward the hunters dressed in deer skins, causing many of them to plunge over the cliff to their deaths.

Today we can’t chop down large numbers of trees to create funnels and can’t drive deer off cliffs or even want to do that. But I think our knowing how this hunting technique of man-drives has evolved is important. It’s another part of the rich history of the sport of deer hunting.