In Pursuit of Trophy Blacktails

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Last Updated: Feb 5, 2010 – 5:39:39 PM
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In Pursuit of Trophy Blacktails

By Scott Haugen

Nov 10, 2005 – 12:38:00 AM

Another Hunting Tip From  BowTech

           
It was my 11th
straight day of hunting, and though sign was everywhere, I had yet to see a
buck.  I was confident it was only a
matter of time before a shooting opportunity presented itself, and when it
comes to hunting the Columbian blacktail, that?s often all you get; one chance.

            On the following
day, things changed.  For the first time,
does milled about throughout the day, and lesser bucks began chasing them.  That evening a lone doe worked her way up a
draw, soon attracting a love-stricken buck. 
The rack stood out in stark contrast against the lush timber from where
he’d emerged.  It was a nontypical Columbia blacktail, the
kind of buck you dream of.

            He pushed hard,
turning her off the trail that would have seen them both cross beneath my
stand.  When I saw the magnitude of the
buck, changing my strategy to spot-and-stalk was an easy decision.

            Hustling up the
backside of a ridge, I worked my way a couple hundred yards ahead of the
deer.  Within minutes the doe appeared
and the rangefinder registered 25 yards. 
Coming to full-draw, I waited for the trailing buck to show.  His head was first to be framed in my
white-rimmed, Spot-Hogg sights as he broke through a line of young cedars.  Fixated on his rack, it was tough letting my
sight pin slip behind his shoulder.

            At the shot, the
130-class buck didn’t twitch a muscle and the 100 grain Rocky Mountain Razor
Lite
sliced through his vitals.  Soon I
stood in admiration of a gorgeous 6×6 with nubby eye guards.

            Having spent a
lifetime pursuing these awesome forest dwellers of the Pacific Northwest, I was
elated to have just scored on my largest Columbia
blacktail ever.  Had I not sacrificed one
strategy for another, I may not have filled my tag that day.

            Late season
blacktail deer hunts offer perhaps the best opportunity for archers to score on
a truly magnificent buck.  I?ve been
blessed to hunt big game in many parts of the world and throughout North
America, and can honestly say that consistently attaining a trophy class Columbia blacktail is
among the most challenging of all.  These
hunts overlap with the primary rut, and often a second rut, meaning bucks are
active during the day.  In addition, hill
country occupied by high-ranging deer can often be hunted with surprising
success along migration routes.  But the
first step to success lies in knowing how these secretive deer behave late in
the year, then planning your approach to fit the situation.

Understanding Behavior

            It’s imperative
to understand the ways of the blacktail deer before hunting them.  These are secretive, highly nocturnal deer,
and this especially holds true for mature bucks.  Given a high percentage of Columbia blacktail bucks typically live and
die within one square mile of real estate, it’s a wonder they’re not seen more
frequently.  After all, there are a
surprising number of big bucks around.

            Finding sign of
these bucks is usually not a problem; finding the actual deer is.  Rub lines, trails and feeding areas are all
fairly easy to locate.  But because wise
bucks move under cover of darkness, few people ever see them.  Their bedding areas are typically in places
so dense in foliage, getting close to them is all but impossible.  Instead, hunters find all the sign they can,
then put the pieces of the puzzle together in hopes of catching a buck in the
open during legal shooting hours.

            The rut is
obviously the best time to catch these wiley old bucks out and about.  At this time, does are in heat and bucks
sacrifice food and sleep to service all the females they can.  Big bucks will run themselves ragged during
the course of the breeding season, which can last three weeks or more.  Dominant bucks can cover a great deal of
land, every bit of a square mile at least once a day.

            Late one season,
about 10:00 a.m., I observed a good 5×5 chasing does amid young fir trees.  Six hours later I saw him over a mile away,
chasing a single doe in heat.  It goes to
show how far these bucks will travel in broad daylight during the rut.

            In their lower
elevation ranges, bucks will emerge from thick cover to seek does in heat.  A high number of bucks move horizontally
along ridges in their search, while a few good trophies will migrate down to
the valley floor and heavily wooded river bottoms.

            If targeting big
bucks on the fringes of the Cascade Range of Washington, Oregon or northern California, seasonal
migration is another factor late season archers can use to their
advantage.  These movements are driven
primarily by bad weather and deep snows and routinely coincide with the rut,
meaning good numbers of bucks can be seen dropping in elevation and chasing
does.

            Knowing when,
where and why bucks begin moving late in the year, hunters can employ three
techniques that will swing the odds of success in their favor.  Used commonly in the whitetail world, these
strategies can be equally effective on blacktails.

Take A Stand

            A primary reason
hunters are hesitant to hang tree stands for blacktails is because they don’t
know where to start.  Given the dense
habitat these deer live in, it can be overwhelming when looking for the perfect
setup tree.

            If you’ve
discovered a new section of hunting land, spend time during the summer months
looking for bucks in velvet as well as old sign.  Last season’s rub lines, areas that have been
browsed and primary trails are all indicators bucks are using an area.  At the same time, bucks in velvet can often
be seen in the open during the summer, foraging for food and avoiding the thick
brush because of their sensitive antlers.

            Ideally, if you
can find a place where several trails merge at the end of a ridge or in a draw,
setting up a stand within range of the junction may be all it takes.  Search for strips of standing timber or heavy
brush that link food sources to bedding areas, and even big patches of timber
with one another.  Bucks like sticking to
these covered pathways for the protection they offer.

            Search for
funnels, tree lines connecting timber and areas in which deer will
congregate.  Draws, saddles and even
fence lines can also force deer into a small area.  Look for downed fences or places where deer
cross beneath fences, for trails often converge at such sites, making them
primary places of interest for tree stand hunters.

            When you do hang
that stand 15-30 up in a tree, do so with confidence and give it a chance to
work.  If more than one area appeals to
you, it’s better to hang multiple stands than cause disruption by moving a
single stand from place to place.  It may
take several days for a stand to produce, then again, it can happen quickly.

 

Author used a BowTech Rattle Bag.

Rattling Blacktails

            The first time I
tried rattling in blacktails, a nice buck sprinted from heavy cover and my
partner whacked him at 10 yards.  Later
that afternoon, another massive buck was rattled in, but never offered me a
shot.  That was more than 20 years ago,
and rattling in wiley blacktails is still a favorite approach of mine.

            Last season I
relied on my BowTech Rattle Bag to help fill my tag.  The deer in the area I hunted were skittish,
but responsive and plentiful.  I knew
persistence would pay off and after rattling in seven bucks over the course of
a six days, a dandy buck finally gave me a shot.  He wasn?t the monster I?d brought in a few
days prior, but nonetheless, he was a good buck, and I knew I couldn?t pass him
up.

            Not always do
blacktails respond to the first challenge call or tick of antlers.  In fact, it can take several minutes to
convince a buck he needs to check out what’s going on.  When I first began rattling, often I gave up
too soon.  Now, when I set up to call and
rattle — especially if I know deer are in the area — I give them at least an
hour to respond.

            If the wind is
questionable and I don’t want to risk giving myself away by moving, I’ll stay
put up to two hours, trying to pull that deer to me.  If it’s windy and rainy, I’ll move with more
ease knowing my scent and sounds are masked.

            In the course of
my sequence, rattling dominates more than calling, for blacktails aren’t overly
vocal creatures.  The occasional tending grunt
teamed with a snort and wheeze and doe bleats are all good calls.  Rattling can be very aggressive and drawn
out.  Tearing up surrounding brush,
leaves and pounding the ground is essential.

            I like situating
myself near a blowdown, or at least several dead limbs, where they can be
snapped and cracked to draw attention. 
At the same time, I prefer having a thick stick with which to strike the
ground, simulating a deer’s pounding feet during a fight.  This sound is a deep, resonating thud that
carries a great distance in the woods.

            Calling
blacktails is an active approach. 
Because approaching bucks can dial in on the action, it’s wise to have
one person as a designated caller/rattler and one as the shooter.  Expect deer to respond, and always be on the
lookout.  Sometimes bucks sneak in so
quietly, they are within range before you even see them.

Spot-and-stalk brought this one in.


Spot-N-Stalk

            Though rattling
in a big blacktail is a rush, it’s stalking to within range that really gets my
blood pumping.  Putting the sneak on
these cagey deer in their forested domain is the ultimate in blacktail
accomplishments.

            In no other
tactical approach are the odds stacked so heavily against the hunter as in
spot-and-stalk hunting, but the payoffs can be huge.  One season I sat two full days in a stand
without seeing a deer.  I’d seen some
bucks from the stand earlier in the season, but no shooters.  Then, even the does disappeared.

            On the evening of
the third day, I decided to seek out the does, figuring they’d found food
elsewhere.  Not only did I find the does,
but in the course of 30 minutes, saw three bucks, two of which were easy book
qualifiers.  Though I was within range of
two of the three bucks, no shots were presented.  It wasn’t until the following day that I’d
finally get the shot I wanted, thanks to spot-and-stalk.

            When locating and
stealthing to within range of blacktails, cover ground slowly.  Because you’re often hunting in brushy
confines, looking for parts of deer rather than the entire animal is essential.  An ear, leg, body patch or even an antler
tine is what you’re looking for.

            The key, as with
any spot-and-stalk hunting, is to locate the animal before it sees you.  Because blacktail cover is so thick, often
times the deer are in range the first time they are seen, meaning hunters need
be ready for anything at any given moment.

            During the rut,
as bucks aren’t feeding or spending much time snoozing, hunters will want to
target does.  Given they come into estrus
only one time approximately every 28 days, and that their time in heat lasts
about 24 hours, the window in which a doe can be bred is small.

            If bucks aren’t
actively pursuing does, move on.  Late in
the season, does will typically congregate in one area.  This is why finding multiple pockets of does
is a good decision.  The more does you
can find, the better your chances of connecting on a buck when the does do come
into estrus.  You can even have good luck
intercepting bucks as they move between groups of does.

            No matter where
you find yourself on a late season blacktail hunt, consider trying new
approaches, or variations thereof.  Be
aggressive, yet secretive, just like the prey you’re after.  Only by putting into practice a well designed
game plan will the success of outwitting one of our country?s most elusive deer
be realized.

 For more on BowTech:  BowTech


 

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