The tradition dates back decades. Eliot Strommen and his sons and a few friends gather for an early Thanksgiving breakfast at his 1800s ranch house hard on the shores of the Milk River in northeastern Montana. They eat, laugh and bond until the sun comes up, glistening on the omnipresent late-November snow. Once the deer have settled back into their beds in the willows down by the river, the hunters move out with their longbows and recurves to “nudge” some deer and shoot some does-and just maybe a good buck.
I’ve shared a few of these hunts with the Strommen clan over the years. They are a blast, and I have come to the conclusion that there is no better way to do a holiday deer hunt with family and friends. You’ll enjoy the fun and camaraderie of the season, out in the woods and the fresh air. And rather than sitting alone on stand for hours, your group sets a plan, splits up into pushers and shooters, makes a nudge and then re-groups an hour later to talk, laugh and do it again.
“First off, we never walk from one end of a cover to the next like most guys do, spooking deer and watching them run all over the place,” Eliot says. “We don’t drive the deer. Two of three of us just walk the timber and try to nudge deer from one small cover to the next cover or the next.”
Put two or three shooters-bow or gun—in a strip or block of timber a half-mile or even farther from where the pushers will start. Make sure the shooters watch a trail or funnel in the cover. If the pushers nudge deer that way, they will pick up a trail or funnel and walk or trot past within shooting range.
If your group is gun hunting, which most will do around Thanksgiving or Christmas, make sure everybody wears orange and aims and shoots safely. Safety first!
The better you know your woods and the habits of the local deer, the better this technique will work. Strommen has lived and hunted along the Milk River all his life. He’s spent countless hours glassing whitetails in the wheat and alfalfa fields. He’s watched deer weave into and out of the cottonwoods and brush, and cross the gray river a million times. He’s learned their patterns.
“If we move a group of does with a buck or two, we know where they’ll go,” Eliot says. “If they don’t stop in the next cover, I know the third or fourth one they’ll go to. We set our shooters up there.”
So before your holiday nudge, glass and pattern deer as best you can. Scout like a wild man, keying into food sources, bedding areas and the escape routes that link them.
A couple more tricks. Always work a farm or woodland from the outside in. You don’t want to drive a monster buck off your property at the end of the season and into the sights of other holiday hunters on nearby properties. Push the outer thickets first, and move toward the center of your hunting area where your shooters are posted.
Don’t worry too much about the wind. Have the drivers walk nonchalantly through a thicket or patch of brushy timber where deer bed. Walk out in the open and hope deer see you, smell you and hop up. Of course the shooters should set up downwind or cross-wind of where they expect to see a buck coming.
The minute the pushers jump a good buck, slow down, way down. Once a big deer gets up, he’ll move to a secondary cover, but if he’s not too rattled, it might take him 20 minutes or longer to get there. Don’t push him. Wait for him to walk past one of your shooters for a good shot.
After a long day of walking and hunting, Strommen and crew gather on Thanksgiving night to celebrate and skin a few does-and sometimes a great buck too. Like the gnarly monster in the picture here. Eliot nailed the 8-year-old buck with a wooden arrow at 10 yards on a holiday nudge 5 years ago. It was his best buck ever and “sharing the day with my sons and friends make it all the more special.”
For more big-buck stories and tips, go to www.mikehanback.com