The Driven Hunt
Whether it's in a German forest, an Asian mountain range, or a North Carolina swamp, being part of an organized drive can be one of the most exciting ways to hunt.
By Craig Boddington
In Europe a driven hunt can be a grand affair, dozens of hunters, scores of human and canine drivers, accompanied by the blaring of hunting horns. Or it can be a very casual and small-scale operation, with a couple of partners “pushing” a treeline toward their buddies. I’m primarily a Western hunter, and in the more familiar plains and mountains, spot-and-stalk tactics are far more common than either drives or hunting from stands. These last two tactics are better suited to thicker cover, where visibility is limited. Still-hunting, slowly stalking through good country, is always an option, but it’s very difficult to sneak up on keen-sensed animals—especially when the woods are covered in a carpet of noisy leaves.
Generally it’s better to get the game to come to you. This is the premise behind hunting from stands, which is essentially waiting in ambush along movement corridors or over food sources. Hunting from stands is practiced for various species all over the world, and during my lifetime has become by far the preferred technique among America’s 10 million whitetail hunters. The drive isn’t a whole lot different in concept: The shooters wait in ambush along likely movement routes, while the drivers stir up the game and create movement. “Deer drives,” still widely practiced by many Eastern hunters, were at one time the preferred technique for whitetails. I took my own first whitetail on a deer drive in the North Carolina swamps, and I’ve seen drives produce good bucks in as far-flung places as Alberta, Colorado, and Kentucky. Come to think of it, I’ve seen drives used on both mule deer and elk.
But in North America these days, drives are often last-ditch efforts, used when other tactics aren’t working. Elsewhere in the world the drive is a—sometimes the—preferred technique, and it’s been perfected over time to nearly an art form. While the drive is perhaps at its best in thick cover, I’ve seen it used effectively in big, open mountains in Asia. It is, for instance, the preferred technique for hunting Dagestan tur in Azerbaijan, where the Caucasus Mountains are incredible steep and treacherous. Over decades the guides have learned that, when gently pushed, the tur will flow through certain saddles and natural funnels. I didn’t get mine that way, but we tried.
In Pakistan’s Torghar Range, the drive is a preferred technique for moving Suleiman markhor. I didn’t get mine that way, but we tried. Also in Pakistan, in the big, open hills of Baluchistan, country that seemed wildly unsuitable for anything other than spot-and-stalk, I took a huge Sindh ibex in a drive. They set me up in a little fort of rocks while a group of “beaters”—as they are called in Asia—circled and walked through a vast piece of country. I thought they were putting me on--until the ibex started to troop past!
As unlikely as the country seems, these Sindh ibex came by the author in a drive in southern Pakistan. This kind of drive differs from the norm in that the intent is to offer a shot to one or two visiting sportsmen, rather than a group effort.
For many European hunters the drive is the favorite—and sometimes only—hunting method. The vast majority of the tens of thousands of moose harvested annually in Scandinavia are taken in drives. Although generally not the only tactic employed, throughout western Europe the driven hunt is a traditional and incredibly well-organized affair, a preferred tactic for wild boar and used as a management tool for the various deer and even mouflon. In Eastern Europe even wolves and bears are traditionally hunted by drives.
My own preferred habitat is big, open country, where game is hunted with binoculars and legs. So I would be the first to say that the driven hunt is not my preference—but it sure is exciting when you know the drivers are getting close, and something is about to happen! I’ve encountered it quite a bit over the years, but in recent months I’ve done quite a lot of it. In Estonia in November I participated in several moose drives with local hunters. In December I attended a serious drive in Germany—fifty-odd hunters, seventy-odd drivers. Just now, in January, I hunted driven boar in Tunisia. Unlike the forests of northern Europe, the rocky hills of the Atlas Mountains are seemingly wildly unsuitable for effective drives…except for two facts: Only shotguns with slugs are permitted, so you must get close; and the drive is specifically the only technique authorized by the Tunisian wildlife authorities! So we did drives, as the outfitter, Baron Erik von Eckhart, has orchestrated since 1973. His teams of beaters knew exactly what they were doing, and as unlikely as it seemed, it worked.
After a drive in Tunisia beaters and shooters head back to the truck together. Tunisia is unlikely terrain for driving, but it’s a shotgun-only country, restricting range; and organized drives are the only legal hunting method.
As I said, I’ve been somewhat immersed in the driven hunt these past few weeks, and there are some significant differences between this situation and most other hunting tactics. These seem universal, whether you’re posted on a treeline in Pennsylvania or a hochsitz in central Germany. First is the mindset, and I must tell you this is easier for Europeans, steeped in the tradition, than for Americans, who tend to hunt in more solitary situations. The whole concept behind a drive is to cover the escape routes, but exactly where the game moves is random. Not everyone can be posted in a place that looks great…but the animals will move as they will, so the most likely funnel may produce nothing, while the least likely avenue may get the action. So it’s a group effort, a team sport if you will. Again, Europeans are better at this than we are, but in most drives it’s the success of the group that matters, and the happiest hunters are those who share their fellows’ success. Sooner or later everybody gets a turn—but not on every hunt, let alone on every drive.
A good Barbary wild boar, taken on a driven hunt in Tunisia. No matter the location or the game, success on a driven hunt takes luck and fast decisions.
The second principle is there are, of necessity, more rules than with most hunting situations. The drive must be a highly disciplined situation. Safety comes first and there are many shots that cannot be taken. The shooter must be conscious of the drivers and of the location of adjacent stands…any error must be on side of caution. There are also generally very strict rules as to what game may be taken and what may not be. In much of Europe the “trophy hunting” is often done by other means, while the driven hunt is used as a harvest of surplus animals. On that hunt in Germany we were actually issued a booklet telling us, by species, what animals might be taken and what might not be.
In some areas the drive is elevated to an art form. For a moose drive organized by the Norma folks in Sweden stand locations are carefully marked and numbered, with the hunters drawing for stands.
The third difference, which can happen in any hunting situation but is almost universal to the drive, is that things happen fast. Split-second decisions are normal. They must be correct, and if there’s doubt it’s best to pass. Part of this, too, is that the shooting will normally be at moving animals and can be extremely difficult. Again, Europeans who do this all the time are often better at it than we are. Normal hunting ethics apply: You shouldn’t take a shot that you aren’t confident you can make. On the other hand, you have absolutely no control over the shot you get, so you must be ready, make your decision, and do the best you can. This is exactly the same whether it’s a whitetail bursting from a laurel-covered hillside or a sounder of wild boar launching from brooding forest. Many drives will come up empty, certainly for some of the participants—but when it happens, there are few things more exciting.
A stand or “post” for a drive may be a formal blind or elevated stand, or just a tree to hide behind. Whatever it is, it’s critical to remain still and be extremely vigilant.