Late Season'¦ Last Minute!
November 17, 2010
Spend the last of the deer season in the Oregon deer woods and notch that unused tag. Blacktails are on the move this month, becoming more focused on migration, breeding and storing energy for winter.
A clear-cut holding a stand of young fir trees provided a clear shot for the author's father, Terry Rodakowski of Junction City, Oregon, during a 2009 late-season deer hunt. Blacktails will move through small meadows and clear-cuts to feed on broadleaf vegetation, grasses and herbs that sprout in the openings. Photo by Troy Rodakowski.
As I peered through the window, I observed the rain pounding down like a sledgehammer on an anvil. I looked to the thermometer. It read 36.2 degrees. The barometer was well below 30 inches and continuing to fall.
"Perfect blacktail hunting," I thought to myself.
It was early November, one of the last few days of the 2009 rifle season. I knew the woods would not only be cold and wet. I also expected solitude and prime hunting conditions out there for harvesting a late-season blacktail.
As I settled into my stand I realized that I should have had one more layer beneath my rain gear. The windchill made it feel well below freezing. This was a mistake I should have calculated. The weather forecast the previous evening predicted wind gusts to 15 miles per hour.
Just 45 minutes before dark, deer began to appear all around me, a few not more than 10 yards from my perch. Does were bleating back and forth to fawns as they continued to emerge from the regenerating Douglas fir forest. But, where was the buck? With as many as 15 deer in view, there was no buck to be found on this cold rainy evening. Or, did I miss him? Did he slip past? Most likely he was there, ghosting about, obscured from my view.
Two days later, I did see a nice 5X4 with heavy dark horns just long enough to realize I needed to get my scope on him as he returned to the same thick stand of fir from where he had just emerged. I can still picture him in my mind as vividly as if it were yesterday.
There is a deep sense of magic in these cold jungles of western Oregon that brings blacktail deer to the main stage, much like a David Copperfield magic act. If you have spent any time at all hunting these deer, you already know what I mean: The magic of that first cold rain of the season seemingly makes the woods spring back to life for the first time since late summer.
Here, deer change with the weather, and some of the toughest hunting conditions of the season will accompany you on your trips to the woods. Pounding rain, wind, sleet, snow, fog and frigid temperatures set the stage for some of the best deer hunting of the year. Many of the bucks that have managed to vanish since late September now feel the need to seek out does as they come into estrus. They sleuth about the woods like ghosts in a haunted house, only willing to show themselves if one is willing to pay the price of admission.
The deer begin to expand their previously limited range of summer and fall and appear more readily during daylight hours during this time of year. Therefore, a hunter must also become more focused on deer movements, especially watching for does that may be in estrus. The metabolism of deer and their hormones begin to change dramatically in November, which causes them to change their habits, become more focused on migration, breeding and storing energy for winter. Spending more time in the woods during November will surely increase one's odds to notch that unfilled tag and put some meat in the freezer.
WHERE TO LOOK
Blacktails love thick cover. However, the dense jungle-like underbrush of western Oregon does not allow enough sunlight to penetrate the forest canopy for adequate forage to grow on the forest floor.
So, deer will move through small meadows and clear-cuts to feed on grasses, herbs and broadleaf vegetation. I like to set-up on the edges of clear-cuts or small meadows with each side being of thick old growth, new growth or a combination of both. Deer like to move from cover to cover while feeding.
Thick woods in various stages of reproduction also provide excellent bedding areas for blacktail deer. They can navigate through tunnels and trails hunters dare not venture into. Many deer use this cover to move safely when breeding, as well. I have found that during midday deer will move from the new growth through openings to larger timber where they can browse until dusk.
Deer here can also move safely through creek drainages where patches of brush and trees provide low cover. Many times bucks will establish rub lines in these locations on 6- to 8-year-old saplings or bushes. The deciduous trees in these drainages have lost the majority of their leaves by mid-November, making both the game trails and the rub lines more visible to hunters. These are great places to look for moving deer.
Old growth ridgelines allow bucks to travel and pick up scent from does that are in estrus. Bucks will travel the ridges testing the wind while looking for other deer. And the old roads once used along those ridges by heavy logging equipment 15 to 25 years ago are now covered in fresh grasses, clovers and other broadleaf plants blacktails relish.
These paths also provide good travel routes for deer and quiet walking trails for hunters. In fact, trail convergences in small woodlots are great places to hang trail cameras, set a blind or use a tree stand.
Of course, glassing large clear-cuts in the early morning hours can be advantageous for spotting deer heading for cover after a long night of feeding and breeding. Between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm I also like to glass openings and benches for bedding deer. Deer often like to catch a few midday rays of sun between storms to warm their body. I have counted more than a few bucks sleeping in plain view during these hours.
Blacktailsmove safely through creek drainages where patches of brush and trees provide low cover. Many times bucks will establish rub lines in these locations. Examine these rubs closely. Rubs that are fresh will, in many cases, hold visible hair shed from the antler bases. Heavy rains will wash hair off rubs, especially on deciduous trees that contain less sap. Photo by Troy Rodakowski.
HEAVILY HUNTED LOCATIONS
No doubt, some locations -- even here, among the jungle-like woodlands of western Oregon -- are hunted by a lot of folks. However, it is best to look for places where people have not yet ventured. Locations with few tire and boot tracks are going to still have d
eer. Bottoms of cuts and openings that people have not hiked to or glassed thoroughly enough during the season still hold deer, as well.
Heavily traveled areas will also reveal deer, if hunted correctly. Deer get use to motorized vehicles and the sounds that they produce. They will move when it is quiet or change their routines to adapt to vehicular and other human traffic. I have seen excellent deer movement between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm when most people have gone home or returned to camp for lunch.
Setting up with a spotting scope or binoculars in a zone that has thick cover and bottlenecked openings will often reveal deer moving. This is especially true in locations where the road systems are opened to motorized vehicles.
Focusing your efforts during the middle of the week when many people are busy with other things can pay dividends in successful deer hunting. Deer will move more readily when human activity is very minimal. Figuring out when hunting pressure is lowest can provide a deer hunter with an excellent advantage.
Using a mountain bike or non-motorized vehicle to help conceal your approach to a location can definitely be very advantageous. With a bike you can go where motorized vehicles and ATVs cannot. And hiking into locations from where your bike has taken you will get you where deer feel the safest. Hiking trails and small roads not open to motorized transport are great places to visit in the heaviest hunted units.
TACTICS AND GEAR
Still-hunting from tree stands, ground blinds or other concealed locations often works best in Oregon's thickest deer habitat. Curious deer will sometimes work toward the thick cover if you throw in the use of a deer grunt tube or bleat can. Using rattling horns to mimic two bucks fighting can also draw curious deer into view. Rattling sequences of 20 to 30 minutes, with 2- to 3-minute intervals of calling, have worked best for me. Have one hunter call from a larger opening as the other uses optics to view edges of cover from a distance. Many times, curious deer will make a brief appearance from cover to see where a sound is coming from.
Breaking branches, limbs and slapping the ground are authentic sounds that mimic deer chasing deer and can promote further curiosity from nearby deer.
Consider using top-quality blacktail estrus scents, combined with scent-away sprays, to mask human odor and attract deer. Hang scent wicks around your stand or use aerosol sprays.
Fresh rubs and the tracks of bucks that have been following or chasing does will show you if the deer are moving in the locations that you chose to hunt. Take close looks at the rubs and tracks to determine how fresh they are. New storms that produce heavy rains will distort tracks and wash them out. Fresh tracks will be sharp in the mud without distortions. Rubs that are fresh will, in many cases, hold visible hair shed from the antler bases. Examine these rubs closely. Heavy rains will wash hair off rubs, especially on deciduous trees that contain less sap.
Dawn and dusk are still the best times to find deer, but make sure to change things up from time to time and focus on the midmorning hours and afternoons. Deer will stray from their normal patterns during this time of year. Be prepared to adapt accordingly.
TOP PROSPECTS IN THE JUNGLELANDS
The western High Cascades have some great deer for the taking. However, the populations here are less dense than the lower hill lands, southern Oregon and the western Coast Range.
Southern Lane County -- Deer here are located on the fringes of agricultural land and private property. However, focusing on the timberlands of the Bureau of Land Management (phone: 541-683-6600), Weyerhaeuser (phone: 541-461-7709) and other private timberlands in the southern portions can produce some of the best results.
Locations around Dorena Lake and the Calapooya Tree Farm (phone: 888-741-7709) are great places to start.
McKenzie, GMU 19 -- When deer hunting in the lowlands between east Springfield and Cottage Grove, focus on private timber holdings at elevations below 2,800 feet. Many of these areas hold buck-to-doe ratios that run upward of 24 bucks per 100 does.
Wildlife Biologist Brian Wolfer of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Springfield (phone: 541-726-3515), recommends hunting both the pre-rut and post-rut in November, when bucks are somewhat solitary and seeking out does.
Indigo, GMU 21 -- Hills Creek Reservoir and the drainages to the southwest in the 2100 road system hold nice deer for late-season archers and muzzleloader hunters.
In December 2009 the ODFW observed an average of 37 bucks per 100 does while conducting annual surveys on their many spotlight routes. Setting up a tree stand or ground blind in and around trail convergences works well. Find these areas in late September-October, scouting with the help of a trail camera.
Melrose, GMU 23; North Sixes, GMU 25 -- According to Wildlife Biologist Tod Lum of the ODFW in Roseburg (phone: 541-440-3353), buck-to-doe ratios in these south-central Oregon hunting units are very good, with about 15 bucks counted per 100 does. Focus on the private timber holdings near the agriculture lands, Lum suggests. Lands to the west of Sutherlin also can be a good choice for many late-season tag holders.
Rogue, GMU 30; Applegate, GMU 28 -- Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas of the ODFW in Central Point (phone: 541-826-8774) recommends hunting below 3,500 feet in elevation in the vicinity of these southernmost hunting units because the majority of deer, he says, have already migrated to lower lands. Buck-to-doe ratios have remained in the range of 20-to-100. Late-season archers and muzzleloader hunters have done very well during the past seasons.
Before your next jaunt into the jungles of the western Oregon deer woods, know where you're headed and understand the local hunting regulations.
Online resources: go to: http://www.dfw.state.or.us. Published by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, it will help keep you both safe and legal.