I have hunted blacktail deer for over thirty years. During that time, I have learned first hand why they are often referred to as the "Pacific Ghost." Their natural range extends all the way up from Alaska and down to Central California. The Blacktail deer is highly secretive, and can easily go unseen, unheard, through the thick brush, and timber. If you are looking to take a trophy blacktail buck, it will definitely take skill, patience, and hard work. In fact, it will take a lot of each. In California, we have the Columbia blacktail deer, and the other species of blacktail deer found in Alaska and the British Columbia coast is the Sitka Blacktail. There are also hybrid mule deer subspecies that have been created when the Columbia blacktails interbreed with Mule Deer where their ranges overlap. Blacktail deer prefer thick cover to hide in, and they are very nocturnal. In recent studies, 87 percent of blacktail bucks do most of their traveling at night, though about half that amount of does and fawns do their traveling at night. To find a mature buck you have to do your homework, and you have to put in the extra effort, to seek them out and pull them out of the heavy dense brush and vegetation that they are typically hiding in.
Planning for Success For Your Blacktail Deer Hunt
Before Deer season begins, it’s a good idea to study the area you will be hunting, and to do some pre-season scouting to locate the animals that you want to target in your hunt. The most successful hunters will spend a lot of time in their hunting grounds to take a look at their favorite spots to locate some animals, and learn their patterns throughout the different seasons of the year, so they can have a better chance at spotting the animals that they are looking for during the hunting season. The key to a successful hunt is to learn their eating habits, locate their primary food sources, and water sources. If you find a good source of food, a good source of water, the chances are that you will see game trails to and from those life sustaining nutrients and hydration, that will also lead you to where they hide during the day, and where they will hide when the hunting season starts.
To map your hunt, you will need to make use of both free online resources, and tools that you can purchase to give you the cutting edge technologies to help you with your hunt. I use google maps for a free resource with their satellite view, I purchase a good map book, I bought a nice Handheld GPS, along with the software from onX Hunting Maps. Take a look at our GPS and Hunting Maps page for more info. I like to use onX Hunt Maps For Blacktail Deer Hunting to give me the best map tools at my fingertips.
What to Hunt Blacktail Deer With
Now you know the where, it’s time to figure out the how. How do you want to target blacktail deer. The most popular type of hunting for blacktail deer is Rifle hunting, in some states this is known as the general season. Many places will let you use a shotgun, or a crossbow, during the general season as well. I prefer to use a compound bow in Archery Season, and if I am not successful during archery season I will use a rifle in the general season. Air rifles have been gaining in popularity for big game hunting, and the advancements in technology has made this possible in areas where it is allowed. I like to hunt during archery season because there are a lot less people that choose to hunt with a compound bow. Also, a bow is very quiet, so there are a lot less people in the mountains, and a lot less noise, so the deer are a lot less jumpy. There are also out and about more during the day, providing for more opportunity to see more animals. No matter what you like to hunt with, I would recommend a nice large gun safe to store you expensive gear, as well as your firearms and bows, to keep them safe and secure.
Additional Items For Your Blacktail Deer Hunt
It’s important to do a lot of spotting for animals when big game hunting, so a good pair of binoculars is critical to a successful hunt. If you like to hunt in a stand, I would recommend a good hunting blind. If you are hunting with a friend, or family member, I also like to use two way radios to be able to keep in touch with the group I am with, so we can keep an eye on where everyone is for safety, and to make sure if anyone needs any help we can meet up. For when you do get an animal, you will need a good hunting knife set to field dress, and then process the meat or get it ready for processing. To sneak up on big game and stay hidden you will need a nice set of camo clothing. Some hunters like to use game calls on their hunt. A good trail or game camera is great for learning what animals are hanging out on a game trail, and what their feeding, drinking, and bedding patterns are. Another great tool to have in your arsenal is a high quality laser rangefinder to be able to tell how far the shot is for planning your shot. Take a look at our online outdoor store for all of these products and more, for all of your hunting, fishing, camping, boating needs and more.
Now the Main Topic - Blacktail Deer Hunting
Blacktail deer are known as ghost deer by many hunters. Chances are, if you put in your time in the woods, you will see some record class blacktail bucks, but it will be brief. They are there one second, but completely gone without a trace in the next. You may just see a flash of the right color deep within the bushes, but not able to find them again. They are quick, nearly silent, and are experts at hiding from hunters and animals that prey on them. When they sense the slightest of hunting pressure as the season opens, blacktail deer will vanish into the thick vegetation, and change their movement habits to nearly full nocturnal. For hunters that do their homework, and put in the time in the woods, once they learn the tricks and a successful hunting plan of attack that works, and a good area where blacktail deer hold up, they are usually successful year after year. You will hear a lot of hunter that get burned out due to the difficulty of hunting blacktail deer in places like California, where the mismanaged forests and many years of drought have made it very difficult to be successful. However, the deer are there, they are just hard to find.
Handheld GPS Units for Blacktail Deer Hunting
•Garmin Montana 700i Handheld GPS Unit •Garmin Montana 700 Handheld GPS Unit •Garmin Montana 680t Handheld GPS Unit •Garmin Montana 610t Handheld GPS Unit
Techniques for a Successful Blacktail Deer Hunt
Number one rule - get out of the truck, and put boots on the ground. California is made up of about 75 percent road hunters. Yes, you can get lucky and stumble across a good buck driving around in the woods, but to be successful year after year, you have to get out and into the woods. Look at your maps, and satellite images, to find places where there are no roads. A good rule of thumb is that you should try to walk in to where you are atleast two to five miles from any roads. This will mean less hunters, less noise, and deer will prefer these areas especially when there is a lot of hunting pressure. Try to find private land, if you can, and work with the landowner to get permission to hunt their property. Don’t let a big blacktail buck bust you then bust out of dodge. Wear camo, don’t go out into the woods smelling like the campfire. Don’t wear your camo except for when you are hunting, so the scents of the camp don’t come out into the woods with you. Unscent yourself, they make sprays, soaps, and deoderants that are unscented, so you can blend in. If you don’t have that, some natural local scents of the forest rubbed onto your clotes will do the trick as well (dirt, pine needles, etc). Try to blend in when you hike into the woods. Take a few steps, pause, and listen. If you step on a noisemaker branch, pause a bit longer, to lower the alarm level in the forest. Keep walking slowly, quietly, with intermittent pauses. Mimic the forest animals, in how they walk. They walk, and they pause and listen, trying to detect danger. Older big bucks got that way by being smart. They notice a “change” in their environment, they notice the hunters driving in to camp, and driving around the woods as hunting season starts. They switch over to nearly full nocturnal mode and you will only see them a few minutes after sun up, and a few minutes before the sun goes down.
Blacktail Deer Range
Blacktail deer rely on mixed old growth forests for their wintering range. An old growth forest canopy traps snow that would otherwise bury their winter feed, and it also lets through just enough sunlight to grow a mix of edible plants. Blacktail deer are homebodies, and will often live their entire lives in an area no bigger than a few square miles. When you find a good sized blacktail buck, your hunting plan should be a quiet, delicate, walk and stalk pursuit.
Blacktail Deer Diet
Blacktail deer like to eat grasses, forbs, lichens, bushes and shrubs, and trees. Some of their favorites include salal, cedar, willow, salmonberry, alder, and even poison oak.
Blacktail Deer Lifespan
Blacktail deer can live up to ten years old, however they typically don’t live past six years old due to predators, harsh winters, and other natural causes. Their primary predators include black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and in some areas there are wolves. Blacktail Deer Breeding and ReproductionBlacktail deer will start their rut in November and early December. The gestation period is 180 to 200 days. The Does typically have one or two baby fawns in May or June each year.
Blacktail Deer Habitat
Blacktail deer can be found in coastal areas with wet, temperate climates. They frequent the forest edge where stands of heavy timber open up to meadows, clearings, shorelines, clearcuts, and brushy slopes. Unlike their mule deer cousins, which are prone to seasonal migrations, blacktail deer make only relatively minor shifts in elevation to avoid heavy accumulations of snow.
Blacktail Deer Sign
The best deer sign to look for is their tracks and scat, narrow game trails as well as rubs and beds. A blacktail deer bed is about 2’ wide and 3’ long, and you will find them in an area of matted ferns and mosses on finger ridges, or just below the crests of primary ridges, as well as nestled up under large full canopy trees.
Blacktail Deer Hunting Opportunities
In California, many years of drought, and disease has provided very low hunter success rates as the deer populations have dropped dramatically over the last forty years. There are still a lot of deer out there, but it just gets a little tougher to find them. Many deer zones do sell out of tags, so buy your tags early so you can ensure you will be able to hunt.
Blacktail Deer Hunting Techniques
Spot and stalk hunting is the best method for hunting blacktail deer. Find areas with thick timber, underbrush, and overgrown clearcuts. Areas that have burned in previous years, or been logged in prior years, will have increased food growth and will attract deer as well. Once you find an area that has good, recent, deer sign, find yourself a good vantage point where you can look down into areas of mixed timber, and up toward surrounding peaks and slopes with brushy mountain sides, and grassy basins. When you spot a buck you want, take your time to plan your hunt. Take your time, spot and stalk, with long pauses in between. Try to blend in to the landscape so you don’t spook the buck and bust him out of the area. Instead of charging straight toward that buck, head to a secondary vantage point that is downwind from the deer. Once there, plan and take your shot when the opportunity presents itself for a good clean kill shot. If you can’t take the shot, or you lose the deer, be patient. Sometimes it is good to back out of the spot, and plan to come back the next day. If you don’t spook the deer, blacktail deer are known to hang around an area for days on end as long as they are not disturbed. If you are hunting in open grasslands and agricultural areas, look for tight brushy draws and timbered slopes. Once you find deer, take it slow and watch for the deer from a distance rather than disturb them by walking through their habitat. Start glassing on the edge and fringe habitats, where feeding areas and bedding areas come together.
Glassing for Blacktail Deer With Binoculars
Critical glassing times are during the first and last minutes of daylight to catch deer that are heading to or from their bedding areas. During the middle of the day you can use your binoculars to pick apart the slopes used by bedding deer. When it’s freezing cold, deer will stick to slopes that get sun. When it’s warm or hut, deer will head for the shaded slopes. You will want to glass beneath every tree, and into every nook and cranny or open spots that you can see through the forest canopy. Once you find a big buck to hunt, look for shooting spots and positions that you can sneak into range without scaring the deer.
Still Hunting for Blacktail Deer
If you are in an areas where you can’t glass well, you may want to get into a good spot for still hunting. Some hunters like to still hunt along roads that have a closed gate, old logging roads, or logging skid trails. These roads and trails are relatively silent compared to the dry crackly forest floor. They are also easier to walk with less vegetation and buck brush to walk through. As you approach a nice forest opening, meadow, or clearcut, you want to give the area a good thorough once over with your binoculars before you enter it. You should also glass with your binoculars about every ten to fifteen steps to look for deer so you can see them before they see you. I am typically looking out about 100 yards, but I have had deer pop up within 20 yards of me that I didn’t see and missed my chance as they bust out of there. If you come across a deer trail with fresh sign, you should move slowly and silently along the deer trail to track down where they are headed from, or going to. Use the wind to your advantage by hunting into the wind. Wear soft soled shoes to increase your level of stealth. If you pass through an area where noise is unavoidable, do it quickly and then stop and wait, and watch before you begin moving again. Give it a few minutes for the alert to be forgotten about and then continue on. When you pass through feeding areas such as forest openings, small meadows, walk along the edges of the openings rather than heading right through the middle of them. Stop often in places where the surrounding vegetation works to mask your shape. Keep your eyes peeled, glass everything, keeping it slow and easy is key to a successful hunt. When you are glassing with your binoculars, you will typically be looking for a patch of deer color through the vegetation, or a twich of an ear or a tail, or antlers sticking out of a bush or over the edge of a log. If you find a good vantage point, pause for ten or fifteen minutes to glass it thoroughly.
Blacktail Deer Ambush Hunting
If you set up a tree stand or a hunting blind, or walk and hunt, near well used deer trails, you might be able to ambush an unsuspecting buck. The best deer trails are the ones that connect the bedding and feeding areas together. If you can’t find any deer trails, or bedding and feeding areas, try looking for trails near primary ridgelines that divide drainages, finger ridges that branch off from primary ridges and drop down into canyons or valleys. You may even find them between rock outcroppings or along the bases of cliff faces. These simple features might be all that it takes to concentrate deer traffic in a predictable way for you to get the opportunity for some ambush hunting.
Blacktail Deer Calling
Some blacktail deer hunters like to use a deer call that makes fawn bleats for calling blacktail deer. This technique will attract does year round, but during the November rut, they can be deadly against bucks as well. There are many secret tips, and techniques for blacktail deer hunting. What may work in one area, may not work in your area, but the more you learn, and the more you know, the better chance you will have at a successful blacktail deer hunt and get your deer tag punched, and your freezer full of delicious venison meat.About The Author Mike Mendenhall is the the founder of Mendenhall Outdoors. This website is an extension of the Mendenhall family’s lifestyle and passion for the great outdoors. Everything that they learn, and experience, along the way that they find may be valuable to our website visitors is on the site for you to enjoy. We highlight products and services that you might find interesting. We frequently receive free products from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. If you click a link on this page, then go on to make a purchase, we might receive a commission – at no extra cost to you, and does not impact the purchase price of any products that you may purchase. The Best Blacktail Deer Hunting Experience Awaits!