I’ve developed a real passion for blacktail hunting because I live in blacktail country and they are so darned difficult to hunt. 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 deer yet don’t worry…be happy! The latter part of the general season and the late buck hunt are the two best times to tag out on a blacktail.
Here’s a few things that have helped me tag several very 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. You do need to find does, however, as 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. And if you’ve found both does and fresh buck rubs…I’d hang out there for a while until that mature blacktail shows up. He’ll be back and it’ll probably be soon.
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. 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. 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. A great way to find clear cuts is with Google Earth. You can tell easily tell which clear cuts are grown up and which ones are fairly new.
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, and the flicker 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 got up.
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 when I’ve seen a buck. Heck yes I would! 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 tight cover. It’s 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. My hunting experience using all of the Scent Away products has made a firm believer!!
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 act a lot like whitetails in the midwest…they are nocturnal. At least until they go into the rut and then you’ll find them just about anywhere, including in your back yard or down at the neighborhood park. Don’t get me wrong, they are still hard to get but at least now you’ve got a very good chance and getting a really good buck. My advice is to pass up all the spikes and forkies early in the season and spend some quality time later when the rut is on. That’s when you want to be out there!
Know Your Ground
Clear cuts that are two 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. 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 glass into. 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 of blacktail deer.
One of my blacktail hunting partners has been texting me photos of rubs and buck tracks quite a bit this past week. He’s been out in the torrential rain crawling around the underbrush looking for sign and he’s found plenty of it. He tells me it’s gonna be on like Donkey Kong in a few days and I believe him. Now is the time folks!
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 and share your story. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment…but I love blacktail hunting!
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