Whether you hunt with bow, rifle, or handgun, a big blacktail buck will give you fits. Many well known outdoor writers and hunters say they are harder to bag than a wily whitetail or a wise old mule deer. My goal, through these articles, is to give you some tips for hunting these beautiful animals.
There is a big population of Blacktail deer in Western Oregon. These are the Columbian Blacktails. Your best chance for harvesting one of these animals is in the early season or the late season (especially for archery hunters). I say early season because then some of the deer haven’t wised up to the fact yet that they are being hunted. But I think the late season is the best time of all. There’s a late archery season at the end of November and this is generally the peak of the rut when the bucks get crazed with searching for does and they lose some of their cautions.
In Oregon, the early bow season generally opens up around the last weekend of August while the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October is for the rifle. There is a late bow season that generally begins around the third week of November, about two weeks after the rifle season ends. But in Melrose, Evans Creek, Rouge, and Sixes areas the late bow season opens about one week earlier. The bag limit for Blacktail deer is one deer in Western Oregon.
Well, where do you begin? How do you locate these creatures that love to lay low in heavy cover? One of the best prospects for finding Blacktail deer occurs in 3 to 4-year-old clear cuts. Look in these areas for sign such as trails, droppings, tracks, or scrapes. Another good spot to begin your search is in an alder tree canyon or a bench. You may also want to check out power line right-of-ways, Re- prod areas (a place where a bunch of fir trees have been planted and they are 6-8′ tall and really thick) because this is where they really love to lay up. Also look at lowlands because they often harbor some big bucks.
Some of the same techniques that you use for Whitetail or Mule deer hunting can be used on Blacktails. Tree stand hunting takes its share of big blacktails every year, but to me, it seems very much like a hit and miss way to hunt because blacktails love to move at night rather than in the daytime. If you are hunting from a tree stand try placing it at apple orchards, a funnel strip of cover between two clearings where they are moving, or a rub line. The key to success is to learn the habits of the deer in your tree stand area.
You can also do a “spot and stalk” hunt where you may see a good buck in a clearing and try to pull a sneak. But since cover is very thick this makes for a difficult way to hunt.
One of my favorite techniques is “still hunting.” The biggest mistake most still hunters make is moving too fast. Take only two steps and then stop, look, and listen. Blacktail deer are famous for holding tight and letting you walk right past them. Every so often stutter step (a couple of quick steps). This will often break the bucks nerves and he’ll move, giving up his location. Remember to move as slowly as possible and then cut that speed in half. Keep looking in all directions, especially behind you. I’ve seen bucks sneaking across my back trail crawling with their bellies on the ground. Hunt from a top of a ridge down in the morning and hunt back up the ridges in the evening. This will help keep the wind in your face as the thermals move your scent up and down the hills.
Another very successful way to hunt Blacktails, even with a bow, is “drives.” This technique works well when you have two or more hunting partners. May sure you plan your drives carefully so safety is uppermost in your minds. On a drive one person skirts around the bottom of a hill while a second may take the middle and the third takes the top of the hill. All three of the hunters go around the hill moving very slowly as you would in still hunting. You don’t want to panic the bucks, just slowly move them hoping to give a shot at a sneaking buck to one of the other hunters. This technique probably works the best for those big bucks that lie up all day and only want to move after dark.
How about calls? These can sometimes work well although Blacktails are not very vocal. The doe bleat or fawn distress calls seem to work best while grunt tubes will occasionally work just before or during the early part of the rut.
Rattling can also work but my success rattling has been very spotty at best. But I’ve seen it work occasionally with great success so you many want to try it as just another tool of your trade.
Well, how to you begin to narrow down your search for a good hunting area. Your first step should be to write to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. You can write to them at 17330 S.E. Evelyn Street in Clackamas, Oregon 97015 or call them at (503) 657-2000. Ask them to send you the biologist’s reports for buck to doe ratios in given units. Drive through the areas with the highest buck to doe ratio looking for logging company gates or public access. A lot of logging companies allow hunting by permission. Other logging companies will just open their gates during deer season and let anyone in. If you can find a logger who spends some time in the woods who will tell you where he has seen deer moving you have a quick leg up. Some will talk others won’t give out any information on their favorite spots. Some logging companies will even draw you a map where heavy deer damage is occurring on their land and they want deer thinned out. In Blacktail hunting like anything else you will find out your best information talking to everyone you meet who may know something about the deer habits.
The best weather for hunting Blacktail is in a light fog or a light drizzle. The deer seem to stand around more in these conditions rather then bedding up. And often they will head for more open areas then. If you’re not seeing any Blacktails, wait until it starts raining. Then get out into the field quick. The deer seem to come out of the woodwork then.