In many ways, whitetail hunting is a solitary game. At least, that’s the way we make it these days.
Sure, deer camp with people who matter to us is an important part of the gun hunting experience. But how much do we really share? Certainly, the joys of camp life. As for the hunt, our collective experience often comes down to wishing each other good luck as we head to our separate stands in the morning and comparing stories at the end of a long day.
As for the hunting, there we wait — all alone, all day. But what if you really shared the hunt with someone — actually hunted together and teamed up to take your whitetail? It’s a special feeling to partner-up. It’s effective, success is sweeter and gun season is the perfect time to do it.
Here are five approaches for partnering up to put venison in the freezer, antlers on the wall and fine hunting memories in your mind forever.
Double-Up Stand Hunting
Who says stand hunting has to be solitary? There are aesthetic and functional reasons to hunt together.
On the aesthetic side of things, I’ve always identified being together with family or friends as a main reason for hunting. So, why not hunt together? No, it’s sometimes not quite as efficient as watching different food plots, feeding fields, travel funnels or trail crossings. But sometimes success is measured by more than efficiency.
At my stage of life, an afternoon on stand or in a blind with one of my high school- or college-age kids is worth more than any other aspect of the hunt. The fact that they’re interested in being with me is icing on the deer hunting cake. Don’t pass up opportunities like this, no matter who the potential partner is.
Partnering-up also is important when you’re mentoring a new or young hunter. You can provide invaluable advice, explanation and instruction. This becomes especially important when game is in sight and a shot opportunity is approaching. I still cherish the idea and memory of coaching each of my kids when they shot their first whitetails.
There are functional reasons to pair up and hunt together, too, even if you’re both experienced. Four eyes are better than two. Two people can watch more directions and spot more game at a distance. You stay more awake and alert when somebody’s with you. And an extra set of eyes is important for calling the shot, watching for a hit and tracking game.
Sneak and Nudge
One of whitetail hunting’s most satisfying pursuits is the little push, or “nudge,” as I like to call it. The idea is simple. One hunter gets into position and posts up at a good deer crossing or on a known white- tail escape route. The other hunter sneaks around a block of cover and still-hunts slowly through it, trying to get whitetails up and moving past the posted hunter.
Some whitetail hunters might call this tactic a mini-drive, or even a push. But I’ve never yet known of a whitetail that would allow itself to be driven or pushed where it doesn’t want to go. Yet you can encourage that deer to get up and moving.
You really must know your area’s deer — their favored bedding areas and their preferred escape routes — to successfully move a deer out of its bed and into your partner’s sights. Sneaking and nudging is at its most effective in areas where blocks of cover are small and broken up. Woodlots and farms are ideal, as are isolated blocks of cover (think cattail sloughs and abandoned homesteads) in wide open places like the prairie states.
Sometimes it takes several years of doing the same nudge, during similar conditions, to get an idea of where the whitetails will attempt their escape act. But when you have them figured out, these routes can serve generations of whitetails.
WATCH: How to Beat Changing Conditions
You also can work together to get deer moving into each others’ sights in larger blocks of cover. The challenge here, though, is getting white- tails moving where you want them to go, or even getting them to follow a certain route for any distance or length of time. That’s where the circle push comes in. It works like this.
One hunter posts at a likely spot — along a deer trail, at a crossing of a couple of game trails, on a slight rise where visibility is improved, or near the edge of a thicket or glade that could funnel deer. This poster faces into any breeze but keeps his head on a slow swivel to the sides and occasionally downwind. The other hunter walks directly away, downwind, for 50 to 75 yards, maybe 100 in more open woods. The exact distance depends on the thickness of the cover, but generally the pusher needs to work out of sight of the poster. The pusher slowly still-hunts a circle around the poster.
The pusher tries to shoot a deer on his own, while keeping the poster’s location in mind for safety’s sake. A more likely scenario is this: Whitetails will get up and sneak away, into the sights of the stationary and silent poster.
Wind is always a consideration, but in this situation, white- tails sometimes don’t know which hunter they’re smelling. Deer might head into the wind or cross it, but bucks often like to travel with the wind at their backs so they can smell what’s behind and see what’s ahead. That’s why the poster needs to wait with the utmost stealth and monitor all directions, but especially to the sides.
After a circuit is complete, move on to another section of cover and repeat the process. Trade posting and pushing duties. Some hunters prefer posting, some pushing. I’m a fan of the latter, relishing the rare chance to be on-the-move hunting whitetails, and thrilling to the crack of a partner’s rifle, slug gun or muzzleloader when he shoots a deer that I moved into his sights.
You can also circle drill in expansive wetlands or marshes, or sprawl- ing grasslands. In grasslands, the hunt circle’s diameter expands far beyond the 100 to 150 yards it might be in forested cover or dense wetlands. The circle drill works everywhere in whitetail country.
If you hunt in hill or ridge country, the flanker maneuver can work to put a whitetail in front of you or your partner’s slug gun, rifle or muzzle- loader. Here’s how to partner-up on this still-hunting proposition.
One hunter starts out working into the wind on one side of a ridge. The idea is to still-hunt along, slowly but surely, and combing the cover. This hunter might hunt up a deer for himself. It’s more likely, though, that whitetails will make a stealth move to get away.
That’s where the flanker comes in. The flanker hunts along in a similar, quiet, still-hunting fashion, but on the other side of the ridge. It’s amazing how whitetails will avoid going the direction a hunter is walk- ing. Instead, they like to sneak out the side or through a back door. Popping over a hill puts terrain between you and them … right into the flanking hunter’s sights.
This partner-up tactic is a variation of the flanking maneuver, but it’s made for flat or gently rolling cover, where the safety net of escaping over a ridge isn’t available to whitetails. The idea here is similar: Take advantage of the whitetails’ tendency to sneak around a hunter and exit behind him.
The lead hunter starts out, still hunting into good, thick deer cover. This hunter works hard, going slowly and carefully, trying to still-hunt a whitetail. But there’s a twist: You have a trailing partner to surprise those sneaky whitetails that try to use the back door (it happens to all of us, and we usually don’t even know it).
The trailing hunter still hunts too — behind the lead hunter. The distance of separation depends on the cover’s thickness, but in general the very limit of vision is best. For example: Assuming you’re both wearing some blaze orange, this means the trailing hunters gets the occasional glimpse of orange up ahead. Think as much as 100 yards in open woodlands, as few as 30 or 40 yards in thick, brushy cover.
The trailing hunter’s job is simple: Keep an eye off to the sides for those sneaking, skulking whitetails that are evading the lead hunter. It works, because whitetails use their back door escape maneuver all the time — but this time there’s a wild card waiting.
At some point, we’re all hunting for some solitude and alone time in the woods. There’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes you want to spend some time with a partner and live the hunt together. Try teaming up for a fun hunt this fall, and find sweet, shared success.