Making Lightweight Hunting Rifles Behave

By Wayne Van Zwoll

If your bullets wander about the target, and game inexplicably runs off, maybe you lack ounces.

The lure of the lightweight: comfort on the trail, speed for the shot. Note hand well ahead on for end. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

The lighter your burden, the more you enjoy walking, climbing, hunting. Many early bolt-action hunting rifles weighed over 8 pounds. In the 1950s Winchester introduced its Featherweight Model 70 at 6 ¾ pounds. Now 6-pound rifles are common. Kimber’s walnut-stocked 84M weighs 5 ¾ pounds and its Montana 5 ¼ pounds. The Adirondack and Mountain Ascent scale just 4 ¾ pounds. Yes, these last three wear carbon-fiber stocks.

Weights bump up for longer actions and barrels. But Kimbers aren’t skeletonized or stubby. They look good and balance well. In my experience, they shoot well too, if shot properly. But any rifle becomes less manageable as you pare ounces. That’s because mass reduces the bounce of your pulse and twitching muscles as you aim, the nudge of your hand and shoulder and trigger finger as you fire. Trigger resistance compounds the problem. The heavier the trigger, the more muscle you must tap, and the more movement you’ll see in the sight. Recently I fired a 6-pound rifle whose trigger broke at 6 ½ pounds. The muscle required to loose a shot was sure to move the rifle off target first! Such imbalance is woefully common in handguns.

Stiff triggers handicap lightweight rifles. Adjust so break weight is a small percentage of rifle weight. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

I’m not in the camp that insists lightweight rifles require special shooting technique. Still, from the bench some rifles perform best when left to recoil freely, while others excel with hand pressure on the forend or even down on the scope. These “preferences” seem to depend as much on bedding as on rifle weight or barrel diameter. By the way, barrel stiffness, has greater effect on group size than does its mass. A short, relatively slim barrel can be stiffer than a long heavy one. A Remington XP-100 pistol was one of the most inherently accurate guns I’ve yet fired. Very little flex in its .17 barrel!

Of course, accuracy is most closely tied to the quality of the bore.

At the bench with a lightweight rifle, I make sure the front rest contacts the forend adequately. On a hard rest, a slim, rounded forend has essentially single-point contact. I prefer a soft rest that better limits bounce. A bit of side support helps steady the rifle. Often I pull the front of the forend down into the rest while aiming. I also use a toe rest. My trigger hand grasps the rifle firmly, tugging it into my shoulder and against my cheek. Without firm support front, rear and center, a lightweight rifle will almost surely move as you press the trigger. To deliver tight groups, all rifles must be held the same way each shot, no matter your shooting style. A lightweight rifle is more sensitive to slight changes in technique.

On the bench or prone, use a toe bag. Or as here, grasp the toe to steady it. Note supporting cheek pad. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

Do lightweight barrels heat faster? Well, their reaction to heat is often quicker and more evident than that of heavier barrels. A given bullet at a given speed imposes on a given bore a measure of friction. Thick barrel walls act as heat sinks, and their stiffness resists the bending and lengthening that can change the impact points of subsequent bullets. Still, the value of a lightweight hunting rifle has little to do with the size of warm-barrel groups.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Two Hunting Products That Have Helped Me Tag Out

By Rob Endsley

Here’s a couple of outstanding products that have helped my hunting tremendously the last few years:

KUIU Binocular Harness

A few years ago I started shopping around for a new binocular harness that was durable, easy to use, lightweight, and compact. I found that with KUIU’s binocular harness. I live in Washington State and most of my hunting occurs in the west where we don’t think twice about scrambling up mountains and ridges after big game.

As advertised this bino harness fits tight to my chest and does a fairly good job of keeping the rain off my binoculars. If it’s really coming down sideways I’ll pull the rain cover over the harness. Most of the time I don’t need to do that though. If you hunt here in Washington you’ll spend quite a few days in the rain.

Here’s a quick video from Jason Hairston of KUIU that shows how the binocular harness works:

Primos Trigger Stick

I originally purchased the Primos Bi-pod Trigger Stick and had great luck with it. On a particularly windy day a few years back in the blacktail woods, however, I couldn’t hold the crosshairs steady for a standing shot at a buck around 150 yards away. The wind was howling and even with the rifle resting firmly on the bipod the crosshairs were waving all over the place. The second I returned home I jumped on the Primos website and found that they had just released a new tripod version of their Trigger Stick.

I immediately purchased the Jim Shockey Tall Tripod and it’s helped put several deer in our freezer now. Here’s a quick video that shows how it works and there are plenty more videos on YouTube for this product.

The only drawbacks I’ve found with the tripod version is that it’s a little heavier to lug around and if you’re in a stalking situation be sure to keep the rubber strap around the bottom of the legs. If they catch on the brush and then come back together quickly they make a clanging noise thats no bueno. Keeping the strap cinched tightly around the legs alleviates that problem. Because of the added weight I probably wouldn’t take it with me on extreme hunts into the backcountry when shaving pounds and even ounces off a pack is critical. It’s always along on day hunts or hunts where I’m using an ATV for transportation though.

Other than those two minor details the trigger stick has worked flawlessly for me. I’ve hunted with it in -25 below zero temperatures in Montana and driving rain in Washington and it’s worked every time. Learn how to operate this piece of equipment and I promise you it will help you make those difficult shots in the field a lot more do-able.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle 

One week, two tags!

As anyone who has hunted for big game in Washington can attest, filling your deer tag can be challenging. Notching your elk tag in Washington is even harder. Accomplishing both of these tasks in a week? That takes a pile of preparation, a realistic opportunity and to be completely honest, one whale of a lot of luck!

The first stroke of luck came in the form of the Skagit Valley Quality Bull tag that I’ve been applying for since the Bush Administration.. . Once that bit of luck was in pocket, another bolt from the blue was in store as my good friend Steve Stout who lives in the unit also was drawn for the hunt and was as fired up as I to start scouting! This hunt opened on the second weekend of October so my September which is usually spent chasing coho (but we won’t go there..) was spent on glassing, bugling and rifle range time.

Robbo has an unbelievable talent for spotting game and is putting them to use as the misty early arrival of fall envelops the north Cascades. On this day, I was given an opportunity on a magnificent bull and missed. I sincerely believe that a day will never go by for the rest of my life without me thinking of that moment.


I would hunt for nearly another week before getting another opportunity and this time there would be no miss. This tremendous 6×6  was standing among his harem of cows and fell so quickly after the shot that he simply disappeared and scared the heck out of me until I saw him lying there and WHAT A GREAT FEELING!!!


Getting that massive bull out was not all that bad thanks to the Can Am Defender Max XT1000 4-seater ATV. The built in front end winch and tilt box worked hand in hand to slide the big ol’ bull right in!


The antler mass of this elk is quite impressive and most I’ve talked to place this specimen in the 320 inch class. My second Washington State 6×6 and easily the largest of my life.


After delivering the bull to the butcher and shaking my head over the 487 pounds of hanging weight, my hunting season was already a success by any measure but, I was not done. My black lab Bailey was not-so-patiently waiting for me to finish up big-game so she could terrorize the pheasant release site roosters. So, over to Whidbey Island we go and sure enough the pheasants cooperated!


Our host on the Whidbey Island hunt was my friend Bob Maschmedt who just happened to pack a couple of slug-ready shotguns and suggested we go looking for an Island Blacktail. It was a GREAT suggestion as the first place we looked, here’s a nice 2×3 that was way more interested in his does than he was in me!


Bob Maschmedt and I are all smiles as now I’ve filled two tags in the same week and it’s back to the butchers with a fat blacktail buck!


All told, the butcher got a hefty 607 pounds of venison in the space of one week. Without question, it was the certainly a magnificent big-game season and certainly a strange feeling to be tagged out in mid October but I’m ok with it!

Now it’s back to the drawing board, starting back at “zero” on the elk-tag drawing points but as long as I can buy a tag, I’ll be putting in for WDFW Special Permit hunts and who knows? I guy can get lucky two years in a row…right?…Right???

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Blacktail Scouting With Our 2 Year Old

It kind of sounds like an oxymoron when you first read it. Scouting with a 2 year old…really???

She isn’t actually two yet, but at 20 months she’s close enough. This is our third trip into the woods now and I’ll admit the first two were a little rough.

On our first voyage we walked around two miles behind a locked gate with Ava riding in our Bob jogging stroller. I picked some chantrelle mushrooms along the way and I scoped out the edge of a clear cut before we had to go…like right now. If you’ve got little ones at home you can probably guess what happened. It was bad, really bad. Thankfully I brought a change of clothes for Ava. I wasn’t so lucky though and ended up shirtless all the way back to the truck. Wow!

Our second adventure went much more smoothly and we were able to ride in on the mountain bike this time with Ava riding shotgun in the kiddo trailer. It was her first time in the trailer and she enjoyed the ride as long as she had her favorite sippy cup, a snack cup full of Goldfish, and her favorite stuffed monkey.

We rode approximately 3 miles behind a gate to an old clear cut that’s grown up a lot the last couple of years. It holds a lot of blacktails, however, so I tossed her up onto my shoulders and we did a rather quick half hour lap around the entire clear cut looking for sign. Nada…nothing…not a damn thing!

She was getting a little fussy so we piled back onto the bike and cruised back to the truck to head home and have some Spaghetti’O’s!

Since then she’s been climbing in the kiddo bike trailer on a near-daily basis and yelling “Go!” along with some other jibberish that I can’t quite make out. She’s already turning into a little outdoor girl, so I hope.

With that encouragement from Ava I loaded up the truck this morning with the bike, trailer, kiddo snacks, stuffed animals, and a diaper bag full of necessities and we once again headed for the hills.

Upon arriving at the gate I got Ava all geared up with animal cookies, Goldfish, her sippy cup, and her monkey and off we went on another scouting mission cloaked as a bike ride. She was quite content in the trailer today so I rode as quickly as I could, getting us in about four miles behind the locked gate. It’s a fairly easy ride behind this gate and it didn’t take us long to cover the distance.

Ava ended up on my shoulders again and off we went for a lap around yet another clear cut in search of the elusive blacktail deer. We didn’t walk 25 feet before we ran into our first blacktail rub…

We poked around the area a little bit and found more rubs like this one on the backside of this small alder tree.

Here’s where the buck stopped to tickle this alder with his antlers before heading on down the trail. It’s not a huge rub, but it’s blacktail sign that you definitely can’t ignore.

The weather was absolutely perfect today and Ava sang the whole time as we walked around this big clear cut looking for sign. There were doe tracks all over the place and also a few more rubs on small saplings in the clear cut. I think we found what we were looking for!

Towards the end of our walkabout I noticed a subtle disturbance in the pine needles and dirt that turned out to be a really good blacktail buck track. It’s kind of hard to tell from the photo, but you can definitely make out the dew claws and the hooves in the pine needles. This is a dandy!

Even though Ava was happy as a lark I figured we had better get going so as not to push it too far with her today.

I’m constantly scanning for sign on these forays into the forest and on the way out I spotted this rub on a small tree. I took the picture from the road to show you how well these rubs can blend in. If you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s easy to walk right on by. It’s on the bottom of the largest branch in the photo. After checking it out I used my binoc’s to scan the tree line along the edge of the clear cut and sure ‘nuf…there were more rubs on quite a few of the alders. When the rut starts this place will be crawling with blacktails.

It takes some extra effort and obviously a lot of precautions, but it’s definitely possible to get out with your kids and get some exercise all the while scouting for deer. I chose the right weather days and always made the trip mid-morning so that we wouldn’t blow any deer out of the area. And of course I didn’t expect to stay out all day…just a few hours at best.

I’ll do my usual trip to eastern Washington for opening weekend in search of mule deer and won’t worry too much about these blacktails until they really start to rut in a couple of weeks. You simply won’t see many mature blacktails until then anyway. Towards the end of the regular season, however, I’ll be out just about every day in search of these elusive deer. After today’s clues they’ll be a lot easier to find when that time comes.

If you’re still looking for you’re first blacktail here’s a few tips that might help…6 Tips for Taking a Late Season Blacktail.

With hunting season starting this weekend I won’t make any more trips into the woods with Ava this fall. Our adventures thus far have been wonderful though and I’m looking forward to our next one…whatever it may be.

Best of luck to everyone this hunting season. This is by far my favorite time of year!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle


It’s in Your Hands, Don’t Put it in Theirs

By Jeff Lund

Wednesday I picked up my new Remington shotgun. I paid for it eleven days prior, and since the computer searched the vast nothingness that is my criminal record and found nothing, I was able to begin the latest chapter in my life as a responsible gun owner.

My parents wouldn’t even allow me to go hunting or get a gun unless I took a hunter safety course, which instilled in me the importance of understanding purpose. It is now my unwritten, assumed duty, to never treat any weapon as a toy and use it only in a lawful manner on bright orange discs, ducks, or upland game.

But it’s not so simple. I started thinking over the past week and a half about this waiting period. People believe that as long as guns, particularly handguns, are a part of a free society, there will always be violence as if before bullets, everyone got along. Following tragedies stemming from negligence or extreme malice there is usually a cry for someone to do something. That usually falls to the government and politicians with crisp suits and public relation talking points. We live in a free country, but thanks to our violence problem, our idiot problem, our gang problem and our law enforcement funding problem, we suffer.

The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,493 homicide deaths in 2009 and that number hardly covers the true impact. Then comes the debate.

The NRA likes to promote that the national murder rate is the lowest in almost half a century. News organizations and blogs like to cite a study by the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that found among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths.

The gun stats are tragic, there is absolutely no doubt, but is a more tightly gripped federal hand on a Constitutional right the answer? According to Forbes the United States sits behind Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, Norway, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates in per capita wealth. (Talk about oil and natural gas dependancy). If we compare ourselves to those countries in one statistical category, we should also look at the context and consider if the comparative alternative is better. Luxembourg is wealthy and has less violent crime, it also has a population of 517,000.

Should we be more like No. 3 Singapore where in 1994 a 19-year old American was caned as punishment. His crime? Vandalism. Can you imagine the protests if United States judges levied beatings for convicts? Recently a Qatari poet was sentenced to life in prison for criticizing his government. Probably not a lot of gun control issues in that wealthy country where freedom is sacrificed in favor of control. Those are two extreme examples, but aren’t the extreme examples what get advocates for change riled up in the first place?

Japan has almost eliminated gun-related homicides by outlawing everything except shotguns and air rifles. Maybe we should do that, forbid people to get their hands on guns, especially handguns and close down most of the 50,812 retail gun dealers (209,750 jobs) held by Americans in the firearm industry.

But this issue isn’t simple stats. It’s about the principle of freedom, and the risk-reward of making weapons available to citizens. It sounds cold and heartless to say something to the effect of needing to take the good with the bad but if we look to the government rather than to ourselves, we will continually have federal blankets that suffocate our freedoms. When we collectively favor government control over self-responsibility and self-management we lose.

A by-product of freedom, is freedom, and the results are some of the most awful, excruciatingly painful aspects of being an American. It takes a toll on all of us, especially those whom are directly impacted.

And yes, someone (individuals) must do something (be responsible) in order for liberty to survive.

You have my promise.

Jeff Lund
Teacher/Freelance Writer
Columnist – Manteca Bulletin
Manteca, California
website –

Sunglasses You Can Hide Behind

If you’re looking for a Chistmas gift for the sportsman in your life or just want some super cool shades look no further than Costa’s new lineup of polarized sunglasses in AP Realtree camo.

Costa’s camo series is available in their popular Fantail, Blackfin, Double Haul, and Zane frames and of course you can also get them with uber-schwanky 580P glass lenses for the ultimate in color enhancement and glare reduction.

Costa’s 580P glass allows maximum depth perception and light transmission in the early morning and late afternoon when animals and fish are most active and these lenses provide maximum glare reduction.

I know this firsthand because I wear them nearly every day on the ocean in Alaska and when I’m river fishing in Washington where it seems like we have “low light” conditions more often than not. Even on those rainy, drizzly days we’re famous for here in the Pacific Northwest it’s surprising how much glare is cast off the water.

Now I’m all fired up to try the new Costa Realtree camo shades in the duck blind and in the fern-choked blacktail woods of Washington. If they can give me even the slightest edge detecting an elusive blacktail buck in the early morning darkness I’m all over it.

If you haven’t done it already click on over to Costa AP Realtree Camo and snoop around. You can bet these sweet shades will be on my Christmas list!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle


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.


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 “” 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

My 2011 Washington Blacktail

I spent five days hunting whitetails and mule deer in Eastern Washington last week in what can only be described as sun bathing weather. Not exactly the type of conditions that produce great deer hunting. I saw plenty of deer, including 9 bucks, but there were no shooters in the bunch. Lots of marching, climbing, hiking, sweating, hobbling, and scratching my head with nothing to show for it except a stubborn sinus infection and sore feet.

Before I headed back to the wet side of the Cascades my final words to the guys in camp were, “No worries. I’ll be able to hunt blacktails for the rest of the season.”

Sure, I could hunt blacktails for the rest of the season and even the late season for that matter, but the “no worries” part wasn’t exactly true. Getting a quality blacktail in the Amazon-like under-scrub jungle in Western Washington isn’t easy duty. I knew exactly what I was up against.

There aren’t too very many people that know exactly where I hunt blacktails and I plan on keeping it that way. Heck, one of my very best friends and partner in the Outdoor Line doesn’t even know where I hunt deer in Eastern Washington after 20 years of asking. I can tell you what types of habitat to look for to find a blacktail, however, as there are plenty of blacktails in Western Washington and knowing what habitat to look for is a huge leg up in successfully hunting them.

Finding blacktails requires an understanding of what type of habitat they call home. The good thing is that there’s a lot of that type of habitat here in Western Washington. The down side is that not all of it is festooned with these elusive deer. Finding a good spot requires putting boots on the ground and doing some scouting.

Look for clear cuts that are anywhere from 2 to 10 years old and locate as many of these types of clear cuts as you can, so you have a few to bounce around to throughout the season. Blacktails are browse feeders and they love to munch on all the underbrush that sprouts up in these age-class of clear cuts and the cover is not yet thick enough to totally conceal deer when they’re out and about.

Are blacktails using the cut? Look for tracks on the roads that surround the clear cut from blacktails leaving the timber to feed at night. This is an obvious sign that critters are in the neighborhood. A second clue is the prescense of rubs around or in the clear cut from rutting bucks or bucks removing their summer felt.

You’ll see rubs when you’re walking around the edge of the cut and also watch for them on small trees in the middle of the clear cuts when you’re glassing. A few rubs is a good sign and a lot of fresh rubs is money in the bank.

Once you find a clear cut that’s being used by blacktails you can either sit and wait for them to move or slowly still hunt your way around the area. I like a combination of both techniques.

I’ll usually find a perch that offers a good view, which is usually a very uncomfortable splinter-filled stump, and glass for a while watching for movement in the cut. If nothing happens within an hour, or so, I’ll begin still hunting my way either around or thru the cut.

If you’re going to still hunt for blacktails you need to be uber-conscious of the wind and use scent control if you can just to be safe. Hunting blacktails in the brush usually means close quarters hunting and most shots are less than 100 yards. I’ve taken two quality Washington blacktails in the past three years and as luck would have it I had the wind at my back for both of them. If I wasn’t wearing Tek-4 clothing and persistently washing my hunting duds in Scent-A-Way I guarantee that I wouldn’t have had a chance at either of those bucks.

Image of a Washington blacktail deer taken with a Browning 30.06

For a better handle on scent control check out this blog that I wrote back in September aptly named “Ten Tips for Better Scent Control”.

Having more than one clear cut to hunt came into play yesterday. I usually mountain bike in behind locked gates and when I found a truck parked at my first spot yesterday morning I didn’t waste any time heading for another area.

I worked my way into a productive area at my second stop, glassed from an uncharacteristically comfortable stump for around 30 minutes and then began still hunting my way thru the cut. From past experience I knew there was a small trail that sliced thru the cut and I slowly worked my way down it. There were fresh deer tracks literally everywhere!

It didn’t take long to run into them feeding in a small draw in the cut. Three does and a really small 2 point were 50 yards off the trail and I watched them feed for a while before slinking off.

There were no rubs and I didn’t see one set of tracks that jumped out as being a good buck so I moved on to the next clear cut.

This clear cut was about ten years old, with reprod growing eight to 12 feet high. It was tight cover, but offered some openings and was a perfect place to do some rattling . I still hunted my way to the center of the cut and then rattled for a couple minutes to see what might pop up. After 30 minutes of waiting I moved on, only to jump two blacktail does just fourty feet from my rattling position. Still, there were no rubs in the entire cut and I felt I needed to make another move.

I drove back to the gate that I had intended on parking at in the morning and now there were two trucks parked there. Ugh!

Off to yet another cut and by now it was lunch time. I had talked to a land owner the previous evening who had a deer “problem” and my plan was to head for his place later in the day for an evening hunt. Offers like that just don’t present themselves every day and I was already imagining a pasture full of blacktails. His problem…my delight!

So, the plan was to quickly hunt this heavily-trafficked clear cut to kill some time before heading to the private land.

I left the bike in the truck and basically stomped my way into the cut figuring I would slow down and get the wind in my face towards the back of the huge cut furthest from the busy road where the deer might be hanging out. Less than a quarter mile in there were fresh tracks all over the place. Does, bucks, yearlings…tracks everywhere!

This clear cut was shaped like a big “J” and my plan was to cross the largest part of the cut and thoroughly hunt the small part of it where I’d seen deer last year. In doing so I’d lay down a phat RUN AWAY scent trail for any deer in the largest area of the cut. I’d have to put some faith in the scent control measures I’ve been pestering about.

Without knowing it I crossed the clear cut just 50 yards up-wind of this blacktail buck and he had no clue I was there. I took a hard left at the timber and worked my way to a low rise that would give me a view of a small draw in the long part of the cut and there he was. 50 yards away and looking at me. He was trying to figure out what I was.

I only had a head and neck shot and the buck even gave me time to turn my scope up to 9 power before I sent the 150 grain 30.06 Winchester XP3 where it needed to go. It was a nice clean kill and he hit the dirt immediately.

Since I was hunting solo I would now have the joy of packing this animal that weighed in excess of 190 pounds over a mile back to the truck by myself. Should I quarter it up and make two trips with the frame pack or just drag it back to the truck cave-man style? I opted for the latter.

An hour and fifteen minutes later I was whooped, but my worn-out self and this heavy-bodied blacktail were in the truck and we were headed for the butcher. It helps to be in shape for this sort of thing.

If you think it’s too late in the season to get a blacktail that’s hardly the case. Blacktails are just now coming into the rut and the latter part of the general season and the late season in November can be the best times to hunt these elusive deer. Even if you aren’t successul in finding a good blacktail this week the time you spend in the woods right now can pay off when the late hunt comes around in a few weeks. Deploy some of the tips I’ve given you here and start building up your blacktail knowledge base!

Best of luck to you this hunting season and don’t forget to post your hunting photos and questions in the Outdoor Line Hunting Forum. Thanks for stopping by!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Selecting a Trail Camera

BY NICK HARTMAN. Picking a Trail Camera is never a black and white decision.  There are dozens of trail camera manufacturers, each one with many different models to choose from.  So how do you know which camera will work for you? 

The single most important consideration is how you plan on using your new trail camera?  Is it going to simply watch a feeder?  Or will it be on a game trail, a scrape, food plot or you may even want to use it to see who is breaking into your cabin?  If you don't know the answer to that question, then you will want a camera that is versatile and can be used for all of the above.

There are three basic aspects to look for in a camera; Detection circuit, picture quality and battery life.  Once you start looking at cameras individually, you will notice there are dozen of smaller factors, but camera quality can usually be broken down into these three categories.

Detection Circuit
Detection circuits, at its most basic level, consist of Trigger Speed, Recovery Time and the Detection Zone (which is the combined detection width, detection angle and detection range).

Trigger speed is merely the time it takes a camera to take a picture of a subject when it "activates" the camera.  These times can range from 0.2 seconds to 4 or 5 seconds.  Why is trigger speed important?  Well, a slow trigger speed can mean missing a ton of animals as they walk or run by.  Just consider how far you can move in 4 to 5 seconds.  You could easily nearly walk out of the field of view in that time with just a brisk walking pace!

Recovery time is the time it takes a camera to store a picture and ready itself for the next activation.  These can range from sub-1 second, to 60 seconds.  A 60 second recovery time is no big deal if you are watching a feeder.  However, a game trail is a different story.  Think of this scenario. It is early November and the rut is in full swing.  You check your trail camera to only find pictures of does.  Where are the bucks?!  Well, if your camera has a 60 second recovery time, the chances are pretty high that the buck was trailing those does by just a few seconds.  How many times have you seen a buck chase a doe in the rut?  Almost constantly!  So, recovery time is of utmost importance for game trail surveillance.

The detection zone of a camera is merely the area in front of the camera that it is capable of "sensing."  Cuddeback cameras have a very narrow detection zone, which is fine if you are pointing at a feeder.  However, a wide detection zone covers a much larger area and is much more desirable on food plots or open fields.

The most capable and versatile (and expensive) trail cameras have quick trigger speeds, quick recovery times and large detection zones.

Bushnell Trophy Cam detection zone test,

Picture Quality
Picture quality refers to the quality of picture both during the day and at night.  Day pictures can be very subjective.  If you are like me, I merely want to know what walked in front of my camera.  I don't plan on framing it, I just want to know what it was, how big it is and when it came by.  Some folks want to blow the picture up and frame it.  There is no right or wrong way of thinking; it simply comes down to what YOU will be using the camera for.  The best way to judge picture quality is by looking at sample photos.

Infrared cameras and Incandescent cameras take drastically different night photos.  Infrared cameras are black/white and depend heavily on the individual camera for how bright and clear the picture will be.  Also, infrared cameras will produce blur with movement (the amount of blur also depends on the individual camera).  Incandescent cameras take beautiful color pictures.  However, they use more battery and they have the tendency to spook game much more so than an infrared camera.  Once again, you need to look at sample photos to see what will work for you. (Mouse over photos below) 

 Infrared trail camera flashIncandescent trail camera flash








Battery Life
Experienced trail camera enthusiasts may tell you the first thing to look for in a camera is battery life.  Why?  It can be expensive to change batteries every 2 weeks!  Many modern cameras can run for 3-4 months on a set of batteries while some still struggle to maintain a few weeks of battery life.

One thing I would always recommend, when available, is to use rechargeable batteries (I'm stepping on my soapbox – beware!).  Look, if you are reading this article, you are obviously an outdoor enthusiast.  We love the outdoors, we love wildlife and maybe more than that, we love to pass it on to the next generation.  They make high-quality rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (Nimh) batteries that can be charged up to 1,000 times.  They also get the same, if not better, battery life (especially in cold weather) than your typical alkaline battery.  Over the course of a rechargeable batteries life, think of the amount of batteries you have prevented from finding its way into a landfill.  Not convinced?  A quality charger and a set of Nimh batteries cost roughly what you would pay for two sets of alkaline batteries.  By your third charge, you are making money.  Rechargeable batteries are a no-brainer.

As you can see, so much of buying the right camera comes down to how you will use the camera.  If you are unsure, a good bet would be to buy a versatile camera that is solid in all aspects.  Another aspect is how much money you would like to spend.  It is unreasonable to expect to get the perfect camera (which doesn't exist) for under $100.  However, there are quality cameras at each price point, each one offering something a little better as you go up.  Once again, consider what you will be using it for.  You don't need a $500 camera to watch a feeder, you can easily get by with a $125 camera.  However, if you are putting a camera up in the mountains, under severe weather, knowing that something may only walk by once a day or even worse, once a week….  Can you really afford not to have the quickest, most battery efficient and most durable camera watching that spot? 

A good resource, to see the different ratings of the trail cameras, is to look over our different tests (which can be found at  This is black and white information, with no commentary attached.  Once you have narrowed it down to a few cameras that would suit your needs, read the review on your individual camera (which you can find here –  This will put all the information together and provide commentary on the in's and outs of the different cameras.

I hope this article has provided some insight in the basics of buying a trail camera.  I am always open to answering any questions (you can email me at you may have.  I greatly appreciate the Outdoor Line letting me rant on like this.  I wish everyone a safe hunting season and happy scouting!

Nick Hartman