Western Hunting Journal, Premiere Issue whj001_premiere - Page 73

A Cascade Range monarch buck, one of the most coveted trophies in the West. in the south. While a notice- ably small area compared to other major species of deer, it is packed with diversity with a multitude of different terrain and landscapes. Thick, temper- ate rainforests occupy much of their northern range to almost arid type conditions to the south. Blacktails thrive in al- pine like conditions in the Cas- cades and the lush agriculture land characteristic of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Rising up from the valley floor, the Coast Mountain Range is a conifer- ous forest heavily laden with dense underbrush and cover, just one of the many land- scapes a blacktail calls home. The bucks that live within each region are unique unto themselves. Blacktail deer have bifurcated antlers, which means they fork as they grow whereas a w hitetail’s antlers branch from a single main beam. While there are excep- tions to this rule, often a ma- ture blacktail will have a heavy rack similar to that of a mule deer but without nearly the width or height. As someone who hunts blacktails regularly I am enam- ored with their antlers. With their heavy compact racks, they are the bulldogs of deer. Just as diverse as the terrain they live in, so are the bucks that live within each region. Coastal bucks typically won’t have near the antler growth as a buck that lives in the Cascades, or on the valley floor. A stud coastal buck may be 16 inches wide, 13 inches tall and have great mass but won’t score 120. If you were hunting in the Cascades for a trophy caliber buck this may be a buck you would possibly pass on. The farther south you go the deer change as well. As you get into southern Oregon and northern California there is more opportunity to harvest bucks that score considerably higher; bucks in the 140s and higher are not that uncom- mon. Personally, score isn’t that big of a factor for me. No matter where it comes from, it really comes down to how it looks. If it has a good frame and mass it’s most likely a mature buck, a shooter in the eyes of most blacktail hunters. No matter where you choose to hunt one thing is for cer- tain: It’s hard to find a more gorgeous deer than a blacktail buck. Since I was young I’ve al- ways been captivated with their dark rich skull cap contrasting against its snow-white muzzle and its milk chocolate hide. Throw in a single or double throat patch and you can’t find a more handsome deer. Absolutes in hunting black- tails are few, but the one abso- lute that transcends all rules is that not all ground is created equal. In Oregon and Washington more bucks are taken in log- ging cuts than anywhere else. An area that has recently been logged provides an excellent food source with cover close by. The best habitat includes clear- cuts that are surrounded by tim- ber and older cuts where deer can vanish into once disturbed. As is the case with most mature bucks, that’s before daylight. Hunt Where They Live To consistently kill good mature bucks you have to hunt where they live. I realize I just stated the obvious, but consider this: Blacktails are true homebod- ies and live within a very small home range. They spend their entire lives inside 600 acres; and more likely an area half that size. There are certain con- ditions that will play into your success. Weather is a major fac- tor, as is the moon phase, and of course, rut timing. My ideal hunting day is a cold, rainy, no- moon day in November with the rut in full swing. Combine those conditions with an area of known big bucks and I feel like I have a chance. Scout in the Summer Scouting plays an important role prior to the season and it’s often overlooked. Summer time scouting can be very valuable time spent in the field. This is a time when bucks are often together and out in the open. While in velvet their antlers are soft and growing so they avoid the thick heavy cover. Remem- ber the two bucks I hunted ev- ery day of the season? I found those bucks while scouting in the summer. It’s easy to put off scouting with the busy lives we lead, but it’s a key component in helping you kill a mature buck in the fall. During the season, the use of trail cameras play a big role in finding deer. Most of a buck’s activity takes place at night. Using a trail camera is a great way to find where a trophy buck calls home. Finding well used trail systems and/or rubs will help direct you in proper camera placement. Again, in order to kill big bucks you have to hunt where they live and the only way to know where they live is to scout them out. One other important ele- ment but often overlooked in the blacktail world is available food source. Blacktail deer have a wide variety of food sources, but the primary diet is browse — the growing tips of trees and shrubs. Personally, I like areas that have wild forms of berries growing in them such as blackberries, thimbleberries serviceberries and wild huckle- berries. Find these sources of food in a clear-cut and there’s a good chance you’ll find good numbers of deer. Find good numbers of deer and eventual- ly a good buck will show up. Hunting Re-Prod My favorite ground to hunt is a cut with several years of growth often called re-prod. After an area has been logged, it is soon replanted and the growing cy- cle starts over. While logging serves its obvious purpose, it www.westernhuntingjournal.com 71