Picking up the phone and hearing the words Gully Drive meant one thing and one thing only – action! The famous scheme was born a quarter-century ago in my hometown of Cream Ridge, N.J., and to this day, those two words accelerate my pulse more than any others.
Though the caller would state the words in a questionable tone – “Gully Drive?” – it was assumed each member of our group would show up unless a key limb happened to be severed or something of that sort. However, I’m getting ahead of myself.
As teenagers, patience was a tool not often found in our bowhunting repertoire. We were famous for getting to our morning stands exceptionally early and deserting them well before 9 a.m. This left our group with an extensive amount of time before any whitetail would even think about replenishing its growling stomach and venturing from its bed again. However, sitting on our behinds was something we failed miserably at!
Now, I must mention, success did not come without failures or hard-earned lessons. And to give you an example, smearing a Granny Smith apple on an oak tree in the middle of a forest and waiting for a trophy buck to show up and lick it, 10 miles from the nearest apple tree, is one of those for which I might someday seek therapy. Nonetheless, even a blind buck stumbles upon an acorn once in a while!
One of our better farms had a strip of mature beech, poplar and oak, which offered little undergrowth and cover. No matter which way we approached, bedded whitetails would detect our presence and hightail it for the next county. It was frustrating to hunt the other wooded areas and leave empty-handed, only to find our quarry safely feeding in the adjacent hayfield next to the strip of woods each evening.
‘Operation Gully Drive’
Consequently, after huddling up at our meeting point one evening, we devised a plan.
Though it is embarrassing to think we spoke in such terms, our plan was dubbed “Operation Gully Drive.” It was to commence the following afternoon.
The strip of hardwoods was nearly a faultless rectangle with a width of 150 yards and a length of 500 yards. The “drive,” so to speak, would begin at the northern end and culminate at the gully on the southern side. One of us would be the pusher and two others would strategically stand behind any one of the enormous beech trees that lined the rim of the gully just before the hay field.
With any luck, whitetails bumped early in the push would filter down the strip and across the 80-yard gully. A few old-timers and our own reconnaissance told us many of these whitetails paused for a moment at the rim before scurrying across the hayfield to a neighboring swamp. The shooters were to position themselves along any one of the many pronounced trails and connect when the deer paused before crossing the field. Drawn up in the dirt with a stick, it looked like a slam-dunk.
Dawn broke the following day to reveal a panoply of autumn colors Mother Nature was surely saving for a special occasion. However, the action was sluggish and soon we found ourselves sipping hot coffee on the edge of the frost-covered field (I told you we couldn’t sit still!). From the tailgate, we ironed out the last-minute particulars before taking our posts. It was Go Time!
My good friends Scott Davies and Jamey Bohonyi drew the long straws and were awarded the opportunity to take a stand on our initial run. I was to wait at the north end for a pre-determined amount of time and “ease” my way back to their positions.
As I worked my way through the hardwoods, I kept alert for movement ahead. The generous spacing between the trees gave me an ample view for detecting flickering tails and any fleeing deer. It wasn’t long before I spotted a few whitetails heading toward my friends. The plan seemed to be working like a charm, and the last one in the bunch happened to be sporting headgear (an added bonus for us at the time).
I fought the urge to hasten my pace and find out what the end result would be. Because my companions were armed with archery gear, I did not want the deer to approach them hurriedly and offer little chance for a shot. Therefore, I continued to ease along in a zigzag fashion while focusing well ahead. With my slow pace, I figured to be at the finish within 25 minutes.
Method to the Madness
It is vital to understand the intricacies of this unique type of hunt. Having been part of organized deer drives during gun seasons in the past, we knew our tactics needed to be tweaked a bit if we were to be successful with our compounds. First and foremost, the person who acts as a driver needs to back it down a few gears and just ease along. Deer busting through the woods at breakneck speed offer little chance for an ethical shot. The goal should be to make them just uncomfortable enough to vacate the area in an orderly fashion. Rushing through the woods and hollering is better left for the gun-toting hunters.
Lucky souls who are chosen to post at the exit route need to position themselves for shots at multiple angles and directions. These skittish deer often glance over their shoulders and focus their senses on the annoyance behind them instead of keeping to their daily runs and trails. Shooters choosing large trees and brush to conceal themselves are rewarded with the rare opportunity to move suddenly and change positions, a luxury not often afforded during a traditional treestand hunt. Shots should be taken when deer are stationary or, at the very least, walking slowly. As an added bonus, this ground level shooting often culminates with a double-lung hit due to the flat trajectory of most shots.
Target sessions should include regular practice from peculiar positions. We often take our 3-D targets into the woods for simulated scenarios. Something I like to practice during the off-season is to press my back up against a tree while peeking around its edge. Then, I quickly drawing my bow and get the shot off in a timely manner.
Anticipating an approaching buck on the left side of a tree and having him turn at the la
st second and skirt to the right is a frequent circumstance. We often have our bow drawn while turning to see where the other has secretly placed the target. Never is it set at an outrageous angle; however, we do mix it up to keep things interesting. Scenes play out much quicker when easing deer, so being prepared is a must.
Experience, chatting with the farmer and good scouting should give you the nod as to where these whitetails end up when irritated. Unlike our gun-toting counterparts, we need our quarry in a more relaxed state if we are to place a broadhead in the boiler room. You should determine where these deer like to be 200-300 yards after being bumped. By then, most have calmed down and suppressed their adrenaline.
Bowhunters should be cautious about employing this technique too often in a single area.
In our case, we have a unique area where the traditional treestand setup is not a great option. The acreage happens to be a piece of ground where we can make use of midday downtime. It is a rare occasion to find us traipsing around our prime areas.
A Plan Comes Together
Surprisingly, when I came to the edge of the gully, I did not see Jamey or Scott where they were supposed to be. Nevertheless, a quick glimpse into the bottom by the creek revealed the fruits of our labor. Jamey arrowed his first buck, and Scott drilled a hefty doe. I made my way down the steep side and greeted each with a hearty handshake. Both deer were arrowed within seconds of each other, and our frequent target sessions during the sweltering summer months paid big dividends.
As the two of them field dressed their trophies, each recounted the moments leading up to their shots. They told me half a dozen deer came slinking along well ahead of me. They nervously made their way down the opposite hillside and then slowly up to the field’s edge within single-digit yards of their positions behind large beech trees. Both came to full draw a few seconds before the small group hit the brakes to check on my whereabouts. But with sight pins securely anchored behind front legs, the jig was up.
I drive past that farm at least once a week these days. Blistering summers spent bucking hay bales always come to mind as I gaze across the beautifully manicured horse pastures.
They have replaced the soybean and timothy fields that once harbored my quarry.
However, when I approach the far southwest corner where the ancient hardwoods drop into the gully, I can’t help but reminisce.
Three good friends drew up a plan in the dirt with nothing but a stick and a theory. The technique that resulted has filled my freezer and livened midday lulls for over two decades. I can’t count the number of times we scored using this method, and my pulse continues to quicken each time we try it. We didn’t sit on our laurels as teens, and we don’t do it now.
When your eyelids become heavy around midday, try “easing” a few deer yourself. As far as I know, trophy bucks are never taken from the couch.