Hunting big blacktail bucks can be a great challenge. It doesn’t matter whether you go out with a bow, handgun, or a rifle— a blacktail hunt is going to be a trial. 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 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.
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. 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.
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 buck’s nerves and he’ll move, giving up his location. 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.
Calls 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.
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 than 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.
The most important thing to remember when hunting blacktail is to be persistent— it isn’t going to be an easy hunt, but stick with it and you’ll bag that that trophy blacktail.
Photo: Ingrid Taylar