Hunting Blacktail Deer: The Ultimate Guide

Blacktail deer are very mysterious. You never learn where they went since they are there one minute and gone the next.

Blacktail deer have a great defense strategy: their home. When faced with any hunting pressure, they vanish into the thick coniferous rainforests in their coastal habitats. These tiny deer are protected by the seemingly impenetrable vegetation, copious amounts of rain, and fog blanks that can last for days.

Hunters often call deer the ghosts of the forest because they are hard to see. They come out only in the last moments of light and return to hiding soon after daybreak. But blacktail deer are not entirely safe. It is simpler to locate them because they have resided in the same spot their entire lives. When you know where a blacktail buck is, hunting for him should be a quiet and careful pursuit; there is no need to emphasize this anymore.

Seeing a buck up close as it moves through the ferns, moss, and tall trees is a special privilege. If you are lucky enough to kill it, you will be thankful to have some steaks and roasts from it that will remind you of this experience.

There are two types of blacktail deer, the Columbia blacktail and the Sitka blacktail. The boundary between the two is in British Columbia. Both are considered to be a type of mule deer, but blacktail deer is older than mule deer. Mule deer were created as a mix between blacktail deer and whitetail deer on the Rocky Mountain front.

Hunting Blacktail Deer: The Ultimate Guide

Bar Room Banter

Blacktail deer need old-growth forests to survive. These forests have a canopy that traps snow and stops it from burying the deer’s food. The forest also has enough sunlight to let edible plants grow.

The lack of sunlight in the forest hurts the growth of plants underneath. It makes it hard for deer to find food. They might become malnourished and more likely to be caught by predators. There is a connection between malnourishment and predation, as starving animals are easier for predators to see. But another factor is also at play. Former clear cuts encourage higher than average concentrations of black bears, a primary predator of blacktail fawns.

Physical Characteristics

The color of blacktail deer changes depending on the season. In summer, they are reddish-brown. In winter, they are grayish brown. They have less white on their rumps than mule deer and more black on their tails. Their ears are also shorter than mule deer’s ears. There are physical differences between Columbia blacktail deer and Sitka blacktail deer. Blacktail deer in Columbia, for instance, are bigger than those in Sitka. A Sitka blacktail buck rarely grows as large as a giant Columbia blacktail buck, weighing well over 150 pounds.

Another difference between Sitka blacktails and Columbia blacktails is their physical appearance. Sitka blacktails look more like whitetail deer, while Columbia blacktails look more like mule deer. The tines of Columbia blacktail deer’ antlers fork rather than develop singly from a central beam because they are bifurcated. With unforked tines extending from the main shaft, Sitka blacktail bucks have antler growth comparable to whitetail bucks.


Blacktail deer eat many plants, including grasses, forbs, lichens, shrubs, and trees. Their favorite foods include salal, Western red cedar, willow, salmonberry, red alder, and poison oak.

Life and Death

The four main predators in this area are mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, and wolves. Blacktail deer rarely live past six years in the wild, where they can live up to ten years.

Breeding and Reproduction

In November and December, deer have their rut. It is when the males fight for power, and the females get ready to have their babies. The gestation period for deer is 180 to 200 days, so the babies are typically born in May or June.


Blacktails are common in coastal areas with wet, temperate climates. They like to live in areas with a lot of timber and go into meadows, clearings, and brushy slopes. Blacktail deer are different from mule deer because mule deer often travel long distances. Still, blacktail deer only move a little bit to avoid heavy snow.

Telltale Sign

The Blacktail deer sign is similar to the warnings made by whitetail deer in heavily forested habitats. Along with tracks and scat, keep an eye out for rubs, bedding, and thin, narrow paths. The beds are approximately 2′ wide and 3′ long. Occasionally, they are merely a patch of flattened ferns and mosses on finger ridges or just below the crests of primary ridges.


It is an excellent and mild big game species. It is suitable for all red meat applications.

Hunting Opportunities

In some states, blacktail deer are easy to find because not many hunters are looking for them. The deer live in wet, thick environments, making it difficult to spot them. However, in states with blacktails, you can usually get a tag quickly. Alaska is one of these states and offers some great opportunities to hunt blacktail deer. There are many areas where you can harvest more than one buck.

Hunting Methods

Hunting blacktail deer in western Washington and Oregon can be difficult because of the thick timber, underbrush, and overgrown precise cuts. It makes it hard to see the animals from a distance.

Successful hunters often use the spot and stalk method in other parts of the animal’s range, like in northern California and coastal Alaska. It involves finding deer feeding in a particular area, then getting close to them before shooting. It is most successful during late August and September when blacktail deer are more likely to gather in specific zones near 2,000 feet high. Hunters who are physically fit can reach these altitudes within a few hours by starting at sea level.

The deer’s hair is red, so it is easy to find them this time of year. There will be eating in an open area with green grass. Look for new tracks and trails when you go into the alpine.

Once you know that animals are using the area, find a good place to watch from. Ideally, you’ll look down at areas with mixed timber and alpine muskeg and the surrounding slopes with brushy avalanche slides and grassy basins. Once you find a deer that you want to watch, take your time to mark its location and draw references from the surrounding features.

It’s a good idea to go to a secondary vantage point when seeing a deer. This spot should be downwind from the deer and be in the rifle range. Once you are there, ensure you can see the area where the deer was hanging out and that it is within shooting distance.

If you are in a good spot, two things can happen. You might see the deer and shoot it, or you might not see the deer and wait. If you don’t see the deer, don’t rush. Deer will stay in one spot for a long time if they are not disturbed. It is better to come back the next day than go into the deer’s home area and scare it away. For archery hunters, you should have a secondary spot to plan your shot to get close to the deer.

Spotting and stalking deer in California is different than in other states. There are more open areas with grasslands and agricultural land. But the same principles still apply.

If you’ve found deer while scouting, it’s best to stay away from them and watch them from a distance. It is essential if you find it in an area where they feel safe. Try looking in places where deer like multiple features, feeding, and bedding.


Be especially careful to look for deer during daylight’s first and last minutes when it is light outside. It is when deer are the most active, and you are more likely to see them. During the middle of the day, use your binoculars or other optics to look at the slopes where deer sleep. During cold weather, deer will stay on slopes that get sunlight; during hot weather, they will remain on shaded slopes.

When looking for deer, look for areas with glass under every tree and into every little space. It will help you see the deer better. If you find a deer, take your time to get into position so you can shoot it without scaring it off. Remember that blacktail deer stay close to home, so take advantage of that fact; if things don’t go perfectly, back out and try again.

Still Hunting

In areas where you can’t see very far because of the vegetation, still hunting for deer is often the best strategy. Many hunters focus on still-hunting along roads that go through networks of young clear-cuts. These clear-cuts provide a lot of young plants that deer like to eat.

The disadvantage is that these animals are less likely to be seen. .because the clear path allows no snagging brush or snapping twigs that might entice them deeper into the dense forest.

When you are looking for deer, you should be careful. Look at each opening and clearcut slowly and carefully. Make sure to use your binoculars to look at everything around you before moving on. Remember that blacktail deer are masters at hiding, so you should be aware of deer that might be watching you from a distance.

In high-pressure areas near large urban centers, serious hunters ignore productive, precise cuts because there are so many other hunters in those areas. Instead, they hunt in heavily timbered areas that are hard to access because of a lack of roads, rugged terrain, or questionable property boundaries. The key is to go cautiously and discreetly along deer trails that have recently been used, especially those with new tracks and scat.

Deer hunting is best done in the early morning or late at night. They are more likely to be caught when they are moving. You are more likely to see them when they are on the move. It is also better to go when it is cloudy or raining because that is when they move the most. When hunting, act like you are stalking a deer to surprise them.

Obey the Wind

The most crucial thing is to hunt perpendicular to or with the wind; always obey the wind. Wear softer-soled shoes when you’re hunting so you can move more quietly. Minimize the use of your upper body as well. When you have to go through an area where there will be noise, do so quickly and then stay still to listen and watch before you start moving again.

You should try to find areas where you can stop and rest that also have a lot of wildlife. It will help you stay hidden while you’re sleeping. Make sure to look around carefully and listen for any clues that might give away your position.

When you are in an area that seems like prime deer feeding habitat, take a break for 10 to 15 minutes. Remember, you are not just looking for a whole deer. You are more likely to see part of a deer – an ear, an antler, a patch of hair, or a leg. Be careful and stay alert when hunting because sometimes you can hear a deer before the deer hears you. Or you might see movement from the deer before the deer sees you.

But the still-hunter will typically come across deer aware of his presence. The animal will look for any noises or odors that might indicate “humans.” The deer won’t learn about this verification until it’s too late if you’re cautious and a little lucky. And when that confirmation does occur, it ought to take the form of a precise shot.

Ambush Hunting

Ambush hunting is a strategy where you get close to the deer and look at them for a long time. People who do this hunt think it is one of the best strategies for hunting blacktail deer. The advantage is that you will likely see the deer better than just walking around.

Blacktails are best hunted by ambushing them from tree stands. Hunters in the East often target whitetail deer from tree stands in agricultural fields. Still, blacktail hunters along the West Coast typically hunt near well-used deer trails in terrain that is often brushy or heavily timbered.

The best trails for hunting deer are the ones that connect the areas where they sleep and the areas where they eat. It is because blacktail deer travel relatively short distances between their bedding and feeding areas. So, ideal ambush sites are pretty close to bedding areas – sometimes just a hundred yards away. However, the trails often branch out and grow diffusely at greater distances from bedding areas. Furthermore, due to the blacktail deer’s propensity to go nocturnal throughout the hunting season, these farther-flung sections of paths may not witness any buck activity until far after dusk.

Look for trails close to topographical features in regions where it is difficult to discern trails or where it is difficult to tell where deer are sleeping and feeding. These features might include ridges that divide different drainages, ridges that branch off from primary hills and go down into canyons or valleys, and passages between rocks or the bases of cliff faces. These simple features might be all you need to know where deer are going.

Remember where you place your stand is essential when hunting blacktail deer, primarily if you use a bow. Don’t worry about putting your stand so you can see the most land. Blacktails usually stick to their trails unless they are scared.

It is better to have a good view of a trail often used. A picture of many far-away areas might be challenging with multiple possible shooting lanes. When unfavorable wind conditions, either move your stand or hunt in an altogether different location. It’s not worth scaring off a deer and destroying a great place to spend an evening in your stand doing nothing. In other words, consider the long term rather than the immediate.


Fawn bleats can be very effective for getting blacktail deer to come to you. The calls will excite and do year-round, but during the annual breeding frenzy, they can also get bucks to go during the November rut. Typically, fawn bleat calls are used by hunters using still-hunting strategies.

Hunters will make a few calls from a likely spot and then wait for a response. If nothing happens, the hunter will quietly move to a new spot and try again. When hunters call deer, the deer will stand up. Still, even this gives the hunter an advantage because they are usually in very thick cover where it isn’t easy to see anything.

Sometimes, deer respond to calls in a surprising way. Bucks sometimes come in aggressively when they hear specific calls, like stomping and circling. It provides multiple opportunities for you to shoot the deer. Like most animal calls, blacktail fawn bleats are most effective on deer that have not yet heard artificial calls.

The calls work more effectively on Sitka blacktails than Columbia blacktails. In Southeast Alaska, hundreds of mountains and even entire islands commonly don’t have hunters. Deers in these places have never seen a human and never will.

Read more: What Are Your Thoughts About Hunting Animals?

Frequently Asked Questions About Hunting Blacktail Deer

What Is the Best Time To Hunt Blacktail?

Most regions allow blacktail deer hunting from early fall until midwinter. However, if you want to bring home a big black-tailed buck, it is best to start scouting in July and early August. Observing their pre-season habits makes you more likely to find one during the open season.

How Do You Hunt Blacktail?

There are two common ways to hunt blacktails: by searching for them in open areas using binoculars or hiking along animal trails. I prefer to stalk game trails, which means strolling on the trails until I see the deer.

Where Is the Best Blacktail Deer Hunting?

The best place to hunt for blacktail deer is in dense coastal rainforests in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. However, blacktails can also be found in more arid open oak forests and ranchlands in California. Hunters can use glassing and spot-and-stalk hunting techniques to catch them during rifle season.

What Do Blacktail Deer Do During the Day?

Deer with black tails are most active around twilight and dawn. During the day, they relax in heavily forested areas near running water. During the winter, they travel to lower elevations, where it is warmer. These ungulates are browsers, which means they eat leaves and other items from trees and bushes. You can see them browsing around forests on the roadside.

How Do You Call a Blacktail Deer?

It is best to call a deer with someone else. Most of the time, the deer will come right to you. But if you are 25-50 yards downwind from where the deer will be, the shooter can often get a shot while the buck is still looking at where he heard the call.

Where Can I Find Big Blacktail Bucks?

Hunting blacktails from tree stands is the best way to ambush them. It is different than hunting whitetail deer in the East, where hunters typically hunt in agricultural fields. In the West, blacktail hunters usually hunt near deer trails that go through brushy or heavily timbered areas.