Blacktails occupy a wide range of habitat, from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. Where you find them this time of year can depend on several factors, rain being one of them.
By Scott Haugen
It was last November and the rain had been pounding hard all day long. As I moved stealthily through big timber in search of bucks on the move, something nudged me toward an open meadow in the distance. Daylight was waning, and I knew something had to happen quickly if I was going to fill my tag.
As I scanned the meadow, three bedded blacktails popped into view of my 10x42 binoculars. One of them was a whopper. Incessant rain pelted the deer, all of which were smack in the open, not bothered in the least by the driving rain.
Minutes before legal shooting hours ended, they arose and began moving into the timber, toward an open feeding area a few hundred yards in the distance. While I moved to intercept the deer, darkness consumed the hills before I could get a shot.
Two days later I was on the same trail, but this time luck was with me. As the deer moved along their same route, the big buck paused, giving me the opportunity to slip a 100-grain broadhead into his boiler room. The 120-class buck was one of the prettiest blacktails I've taken. Were it not for the rain, I would never have known that buck was around.
"Over the years I've seen them out feeding all day long in clearcuts," shares noted blacktail hunter Cameron Hanes, author of the book, Bowhunting Trophy Blacktail. "When the wind starts blowing, these deer don't like being in the timber because there's too much stuff falling; they prefer spending time in the open on days like this."
When it comes to targeting blacktail bucks in the Cascades, the options are many. As far as rain and these high-country deer are concerned, hunters will want to search for areas that have been logged over the last decade, with the 3- to 4-year-old cuts being the most optimal for attracting deer.
For this reason, private timber company lands provide some of the best hunting opportunities in the Cascades, as deer often gravitate to clearcuts once the rains start falling and the rut approaches. But in recent years, less clearcutting has taken place, and what cutting has occurred has been in the form of thinning. This makes it harder to find deer simply due to lack of the prime habitat clearcuts offer.
At the same time, there have been some good bucks taken off Forest Service land in recent years, but even this is getting more challenging. Hunters willing to work hard and go one-on-one with these bucks in the timber have been finding good success, though this is tough, physically demanding hunting. The good thing is, a decline in prime hunting habitat and less hunting pressure has resulted in a population of solitary bucks out there.
The Cascades are loaded with easily accessed roads on Forest Service lands. This is true from Sweet Home down past the Umpqua River Valley, where trophy-class bucks are taken each season.
Author Scott Haugen poses with a late-season blacktail he shot with archery tackle. Guides and hunters in the southwestern Coast Range report seeing deer in the open more and more these days. Photo courtesy of Scott Haugen.
East of Eugene, the Cougar and Blue River reservoir regions offer a good deal of public access, and nice bucks can be found here this time of year. Be aware that hunting this rugged country takes time and requires hunters be in fit condition, especially if they plan on going in deep for wall-hanger bucks.
East of Roseburg, the Tokatee area in the Dixon Unit, as well as the Umpqua National Forest land that borders the Willamette National Forest, are all good deer hunting locales come the rainy season. In the same region, Roseburg Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser private lands hold very good bucks. No matter what private timber company land you plan to hunt, be sure to check local offices for openings and permission to hunt, if required.
Down in the Central Point region, a hotbed for trophy blacktail hunters, ODFW personnel suggest starting high and following the deer down. In this part of the state, blacktails undergo a seasonal migration, and starting above the 4,000-foot level, anywhere in the Cascades you hunt can pay dividends.
Toward the end of the season, declining photoperiods, bad weather and the rut push bucks down from the high country, so you'll want to spend time hunting below the 3,000-foot level. Many portions of the Rogue, Dixon and south Applegate units offer solid late-season hunting.
In areas such as the western fringes of the Applegate unit and the Chetco units, deer don't move, which means hunting success is dependent upon how well you know the country. When hunting these regions, take time to learn the terrain, know where draws are that deer utilize, seek the open country and be willing to set up stands where necessary. As rains - and the rut - close in on these areas, buck activity will become more noticeable, but success is dependent upon being in the field and learning the land.
COAST RANGE BLACKTAILS
Oregon's Coast Range is about as close as a hunter gets to spending time in a tropical rainforest; heavy brush, rain and limited visibility make this one of the toughest blacktail habitats to hunt, but as the season progresses, it can become a different story.
"Over the past six years we've been seeing an increasing amount of blacktail in the open," shares Jody Smith of Jody Smith's Guide Service in Elkton (541-643-6258). "There's no question cougars have a large part to play in this, forcing deer out of cover and into more open land. This is especially true in the lowlands, where deer are now gravitating to farm lands and even around houses, something we've never seen before."
Smith, a lifelong resident of the area, has seen 11 cougars the past six years, and a total of one cat up to that point, and this from a man who spends virtually every day of the year in the field, either hunting, fishing or logging. "The cats have really pushed the deer into private lands, often near houses they otherwise would not hang around, and we're finding and increasing the number of cat kills," he said.
While private lands tucked away in small valleys along the entire Oregon Coast Range should not go overlooked - especially so from the Siuslaw River area down south to the California border - there are other options. There is a great deal of BLM land mixed in with private timberlands, and one of the prime buck-producing areas is around Loon Lake. The Elliott State Forest area is rugged, but bucks will often come out from hiding, where they can be seen i
n logged units, once the rains hit.
"The heavier the rains, the better the hunting," shares Smith. "In fact, many locals don't even start hunting blacktails around here until the rains fall. Not only does this draw bucks out of timbered cover, it knocks off the remaining leaves, making it easier to see deer."
Over on the Siuslaw River drainage, the land ownership is more of a checkerboard pattern, resulting in a lot of scattered clearcutting combined with mature timber. The Siuslaw National Forest has a great deal of hunting opportunities, though the more you know the land, the higher the odds of success.
VALLEY FLOOR DEER
Private lands in the Willamette Valley have been one of the best areas in the state to attain a trophy blacktail buck; the most challenging prospect of this, however, is gaining permission to hunt. The Rogue, Willamette and Umpqua river valleys, along with smaller valleys between the Cascades and Coast Range, offer refuge, rich forage and receive minimal hunting pressure, allowing deer to reach their genetic potential.
But these flatland deer, compared to higher elevation bucks, have been hit hardest by hair loss syndrome and the adenovirus. Deer have been feeling the impact of these diseases for years, and even if it were to disappear today, the effects would be felt for several years to come.
For some of the best low-elevation hunting, seeking landowner permission is virtually a prerequisite to success. Start the process early, and be prepared to invest some time. Realize that when you do secure that piece of precious land, it may be one you hold on to for years to come, allowing you to learn the topography and agricultural fringe habitats, and to pattern blacktail movements.
(Editor's Note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen's latest books, Cooking Salmon & Steelhead, Plank Cooking and Smoking Salmon & Steelhead, log on to www.scotthaugen.com. These and other books can be ordered direct from this web site.)
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