For most hunters, pursuing the blacktail deer can feel like searching for the Holy Grail. To hunt the elusive blacktail deer buck is typically a battle of wits, with the buck often coming out as the reigning champion. The Sitka blacktail deer often has a distinct advantage over the hunter in that it blends well in the dense cover and woods. They can be found in North America throughout Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California.
However, there is a particular time of the year when the most dominant of blacktail bucks lose the upper hand—rut season. When a rut happens, it is the hunter who has a distinct advantage over the Sitka deer.
While a few blessed big game hunters have reported being able to snag a blacktail buck in the open during the early morning period, these bucks are usually not fully matured. The ideal time to catch a mature Sitka deer is during the final 20 minutes to half hour of daylight as the deer migrates from his bedding region to get food or water.
The singular anomaly to this nocturnal pattern is during the rut, which occurs from late September and lasts until the middle of October, depending on what weather conditions are at play. During the rut, the blacktail deer faces raging hormones and go out during the daytime seeking out does.
As a result, Sitka deer are increasingly vulnerable during this period, with swollen necks and aggressive tendencies competing to breed with cycling does in certain areas. Even the most mature bucks lose their usual prowess during the rut, making this the prime time for blacktail deer hunting.
Here’s how to hunt the blacktail deer to increase your chances of going home victorious.
Trail cameras are invaluable
One of your most invaluable tools when blacktail deer hunting is a quality trail camera. When Sitka deer go nocturnal in peak hunting season, you may only be able to track their movements and habits with a trail camera. Trail cameras are efficient and dependable tools for scouting that you can use when hunting year-round.
With the details you can gather from your trail camera, you’ll be able to monitor the blacktail buck’s behavioral patterns, which heightens the likelihood that you’ll be able to catch one.
If you want to snag a mature Sitka deer, you’ll want to situate your trail camera on a game trail in high-pressure areas with plenty of rub lines and scrapes. The camera should be positioned to waist height on the tree so it won’t be triggered if a smaller game walks by.
Particularly if you decide to use the trail camera on night mode, position your camera 20 feet at the most from the area where you anticipate the deer will activate the camera. Whenever you check your trail camera for shots, consider wearing latex gloves and rubber hunting boots so your scent won’t remain on the camera and alert the Sitka blacktail deer.
Look for does
While it might seem like an obvious tactic to hunt for Sitka blacktail deer, looking for does works like a charm. If you intend to hunt pre-rut, you must look for a region with a high populace of does. When you locate the does, the bucks certainly won’t be far behind.
Look for does in regions with lower elevation where you’ve previously found does during your scouting expeditions pre-season. For the most part, does tend to stay close to the region they have chosen for their home range. So, the likelihood that you will find one or two bucks in pursuit of does in the pre-rut phase is pretty high.
Look for rubs and scrapes
Another helpful tactic when blacktail deer hunting is to look for rubs and scrapes. If you locate a region with primary rub and scrape lines, you’re very close to your target. Rubs and scrapes are clear indicators that a mature, dominant blacktail buck is very close by.
In pre-rut, the bucks are always checking their scrapes for scent, searching for potential does going into estrus. Mature bucks make rub lines by rubbing their antlers on low-hanging branches and small trees. By doing so, they stake their claim on certain territory letting other bucks and potential mates aware of their existence.
Blacktail deer features to look for
Here are several key features you’ll want to keep an eye out for hidden in the brush and timber when hunting for a blacktail buck.
- Tail — Blacktails have a much wider tail than other species, with significant black coloring, a white underside, and white fringe.
- Antlers — A Sitka blacktail has shorter antlers that are noticeably smaller and denser than those of a mule deer.
- Face — A blacktail’s face is dark and short, with smaller ears when compared with a mule deer.
- Metatarsal Glands — The Sitka blacktail has minute glands on the inner side of both rear legs which are much smaller than a mule deer. A blacktail’s metatarsal glands are also situated much further down on the inside of their legs.
Choose your hunting weapon wisely
As a final note, selecting the right hunting weapon when pursuing the blacktail is just as important as leveraging the right strategies. Hunting for a blacktail isn’t so much about covering a lot of ground as it is setting up your hunting blind at a certain place at the correct point in time.
You need to make sure you select a gun that won’t get caught in thick brush and that you can aim and fire swiftly if you happen upon your target. Choices like lever rifles, open-sight pump guns, and short-barreled bolt guns are some of the most popular options among seasoned Sitka blacktail hunting enthusiasts.
Your gun also needs to be able to function correctly, even if it gets wet. The gun should fire just as dependably whether it is dry as a bone or gets soaked in a downpour.
With time, patience, the right weapon, and a targeted strategy, you can use the vulnerable rut period to your advantage and could very well set your own personal record by snagging a trophy blacktail buck.