6 Tips for Taking a Late Season Blacktail

I’ve developed a real passion for blacktail hunting because I live in blacktail country and I’m a glutton for punishment. Taking a mature blacktail buck is like catching a winter steelhead on the fly. It takes a lot of work and patience but when it all comes together and you get one…oh how sweet it is!

If you haven’t taken a blacktail yet this season the best is yet to come. The latter part of the general season and the late buck hunt in November are the two best times to tag out on a blacktail. While blacktail inhabit many different habitats in Western Washington the industrial logging areas and the clear cuts they produce offer the best chance to find one of these illusive deer.

Here’s a few strategies that have helped me tag quite a few nice blacktails here in Washington:

Look for Sign

There’s a ton of great blacktail habitat in Western Washington but unfortunately they don’t use all of it. The best thing you can do is to check multiple clear cuts early in the season and see which ones have the most sign. Look for fresh rubs on small trees, tracks in the mud, and tracks crossing the roads that surround the clear cuts.

If you can’t find fresh rubs indicating that a buck is using the area it might not be the end of the world though. You do need to find the ladies though as the bucks will find them as soon as they come into heat. If you’ve located good numbers of does in your favorite clear cut the chances are good that a buck will eventually show up. The does almost act as a live decoy once the rut starts. And if you’ve found both does and fresh buck rubs in the same area I’d plan on spending quite a bit of time there once the ruth gets going.

Get Into Their Kitchen

The nice thing about blacktails is that they usually won’t run for miles after they are spooked. Where you find them is where they live, much like whitetails in the Midwest. If I’m dead certain that a clear cut is going to produce a buck (i.e. sign, rubs, etc) I’ll sit tight and glass it for a few hours, but if I’m not entirely confident in the cut I’m usually on the move to the next cut.

I’ll cruise as many as four or five clear cuts in a day of hunting and I’ll usually check the timber around them for sign as well. By doing this you may jump a deer or two, but you’re doing some great scouting in the process and you’ll possibly find yourself a sweet spot full of blacktails. If you jump a good buck chances are he’s going to be right back in the same place within a day or two. If they’ve got food, cover, and does they aren’t going to journey too far away from the goodies.

Glassing

Now that you’ve found a great clear cut with lots of sign you need to park your fanny on a stump or landing with a great view and do some glassing. I generally use my naked eye to scan the areas closest to me and then I start slowly scanning the clear cut in a grid pattern until I’ve covered every square inch out to about 400 or 500 yards. After I’ve done this I’ll take a break for a few minutes and then do it again, and again, and again.

Most good clear cuts will have quite a bit of brush to hide a blacktail, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t glass any deer right away. Blacktails will often bed down in the same clear cut they are feeding in and it could be an hour or two before they get out of their beds. When you’re glassing look for the flick of an ear, antler tips, legs, or the swish of a tail. Any small movement can be a blacktail feeding thru the undergrowth. I glassed for over two hours before the mature blacktail I took three years ago presented himself. He was bedded down in a gulley in the clear cut and finally stood up to feed.

Scent Control

I just started using the Scent Away system a few years ago and I am totally sold on it. The local Hunter’s Specialties rep asked me if I’d ever wished I had a couple of extra seconds to get a shot off at an animal. Heck yes I would! Scent control does just that, it gives you a little more time to get a shot off and allows you to move thru the blacktail woods without alerting the troops of your presence.

Two of the last three years I’ve taken nice blacktails that should have winded me. Because I used scent control, however, I was able to get shots on two great bucks that I might not have otherwise gotten. Most shots you’ll get on blacktail are less than 100 yards in fairly tight cover. It’s usually close-quarters hunting and every second counts. If you can get a buck to hold for an extra second or two you’re likely to get a shot off and tag a nice buck. After a couple of experiences like this I’m a firm believer in Scent Away.

Hunt the Rut

Most of the blacktails taken in Washington aren’t harvested on opening weekend. They are tagged either late in the general season or on the late hunt in November. Mature blacktails are extremely nocturnal and simply don’t travel around much during the daylight hours. When they go into the rut, however, the odds of seeing one of these wary critters goes up substantially. My advice is to pass up all the spikes and forkies early in the season and spend some quality time later in the season when the rut is on. That’s when you want to be out there and that’s when it gets fun!

Know Your Ground

Clear cuts that are 2 to 8 years old are generally the best place to find a blacktail. If there are draws or ravines in a clear cut chances are blacktails will use those areas as travel lanes and bedding areas. After a morning of glassing don’t be afraid to hike into these areas and do a bit of bird dogging. It’ll be tough going but often times you’ll find that all the blacktails are in the only part of the clear cut you can’t see into.

When I make a trip thru the middle or along the edge of a clear I’m making a note of the trails that lead thru the clear cut. If you can generate a mental map of these trails you can come back during the rut and access some of these difficult areas without making a bunch of noise.

Another great place to find blacktails is in timbered areas that border a clear cut especially if the timbered area is full of mature cedar and douglas fir trees. Western cedar and douglas fir are both a favorite food item of blacktail deer. We hunt the same general area every year and have gotten to know quite a few of their escape routes and “honey holes” by spending a lot of time there.

Quite often we’ll find blacktails bedded down just on the edge of a juicy clear cut near timber like this. They can see quite a ways from their bed and they have a quick escape route if something spooks them. The edges are also where the big boys are most likely to hang out. With a few steps they can quickly disappear into the jungle. Pay close attention to the sign in these areas.

If you get a nice blacktail this fall and don’t mind sharing a photo I’d love to see it. Shoot me an email at “rendsley@earthlink.net” and share your story or better yet, post it on the Outdoor Line forums. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment but I love hunting blacktails!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

10 thoughts on “6 Tips for Taking a Late Season Blacktail

  1. ive lived in western washington all my life but never hunted here. i have always gone to my dads in north dakota to do so. i want to hunt blacktail with my bow but i dont know of any places where it is legal to shoot them. im a marine stationed at bangor and i see them on base and off base all the time.i know you cant shoot them in city limits but its very tempting haha. just wondering if you have any places in mind to help me out.id really appreciate it.

    • If you’re still stationed there there are a ton of places around the Hood Canal to hunt blacktails. Lots of clear cuts around Quilcene and up towards Port Ludlow. Best of luck Levi

  2. Rob,

    Great Article. I’ve been hunting Blacktail since I was a kid and only seen a couple bucks. Wish I would of had your tips earlier in my life. Just moved to Washington. I live in Vancouver. I hunted the Wind River GMU this weekend. Seen lot’s of deer at night on my way into camp…I knew immediately it was gonna be a rough hunt, especially since we have not had much rain this season. Any GMU’s you recommend in my area?

    • There are some giants in that unit Tommy. The best time there would probably be the last few days of the general season, as I don’t think that unit is covered under the late hunt. You might try 568 Washougal or 572 Siouxon on the late hunt. Lots of area to hunt in those units during the rut.

  3. The industrial logging areas of SW Washington hold a surprising number of blacktails and some big ones too. Really anywhere that is being actively logged is a pretty good bet though. If you can get access to private land that borders some ag land that’s a great bet also. I do most of my current blacktail hunting on the east side of the Olympic Mountains. If you can find a good mix of new to old clear cuts in the same general area you’re going to find blacktails, especially if you can get off the beaten path a bit. Sorry it took me so long to respond also. New blog software and didn’t realize there were comments here. Best of luck out there!

    • Opening morning of black powder I had a 30 yard shot on a monster 5x with junk coming off but wouldn’t you know I loaded faulty pellets, took the shot just to have my cap be the only thing that went off, the buck looked up at me and shook his head then slowly walked off. I would have never seen him if it wasn’t for my jacket sleeve getting caught on a sticker bush hang over the trail I walk on to access the spot I sit on my favorite clear cut. Upon futher investigation I came to find out that he was bedded on the edge of the clear cut, in the well of a nice comfy ceder tree and you could tell he frequented this bed often, so I decided to keep going back to that clearing every day but I never could decide if I should walk through in the dark and hope I didnt spook him if he was once again bedded in that same spot, if I did I think I would hear him but then again the are very stealthy when they need to be. Which brings me to my next situation with him. So I sat in my same spot and decided to stay like 30 min after shooting light to see if I could hear him or see him under the light of the moon, sure enough he walked out from under that same tree but I did not hear him nor see him at this point but when he was about 15 yards away from me I I heard him and could see him enough to tell that it was the same deer but he made zero noise from the tree to me and I tried not spook him but he winded me, snorted and took off lol pretty cool encounter but curious if you think I should return to the same spot for the late hunt and would you recommend being silent or maybe calling with a doe bleat or rattling? Also do you think he will most likely be bedded elsewhere, depending on where hes chasing does around, would he just post up near them or go back to his favorite sleeping quarters? I have multi season deer so the 17th is when I will be back out there, and again I’m really curious about calling, rattling or using scents and any advice on any of these topics/questions would be very much appreciated! Sorry about my grammar, had to sneak this in while in a meeting at work, so its rushed, pluss i attended sumner high school lol

  4. Dangit I just saw this Matt…sorry for not getting back to you sooner! What a bummer about the misfire….NOOOOOOO! I would post up a safe distance from where you think this deer is and keep the wind in your favor. You definitely don’t want to push him. Pre rut he won’t be moving much during the day, but once the rut hits he should be moving around enough during the morning and late afternoon to give you a chance. As you mentioned he moved back to his bed just after dark. When he’s rutted up he’s more likely to make a mistake and might head to his bedding area during shooting hours. In regards to scent you could apply some blacktail Doe-In-Heat scent to a pad on your boots and definitely do everything to control your own scent, i.e. Scent Away. I probably wouldn’t call or rattle on this guy. Be stealthy and quiet and hunt as slow as you can. There’s a good chance this buck will be in the same general area next year. Go back before the season starts and look for sign of this big boy. Best of luck to you Matt and thanks for stopping by!

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