How to Hunt the Blacktail Deer

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.

FAQs about How to Hunt Blacktail Deer

What are the best strategies for hunting blacktail deer?

The best strategies for hunting blacktail deer include scouting, using calls and lures, determining the best time of day or season to hunt, setting up a stand in the right location, and proper ammunition selection.

What methods of scouting should be used when hunting blacktail deer?

When scouting for blacktail deer, it is important to look for signs such as tracks, droppings, rubs, scrapes and any other evidence of deer activity in the area.

What types of calls and lures work best for attracting blacktail deer?

Calls and lures that mimic the sounds of a doe can be effective when attempting to attract blacktail deer during rutting season (fall). Additionally, scents like doe estrus can be used as an attractant throughout the year.

Does the time of day or season have an effect on success when hunting blacktail deer?

Generally speaking, mornings and evenings are typically more productive when hunting blacktail deer due to increased movement around these times; however this may vary depending on the time of year and local environmental conditions.

What type of ammunition is recommended for the most effective hunting of blacktail deer?

It is generally recommended that hunters use soft-nose bullets or hollow points when hunting blacktail deer so that they have enough power to penetrate through thick hide but also expand upon impact causing maximum damage internally resulting in quicker kills with less suffering for the animal involved.

About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

6 thoughts on “How to Hunt the Blacktail Deer”

  1. It is my understanding that WA state has Columbia blacktail, not Sitka blacktail. And their rutting starts end of October-beginning of November.

    • Have hunted Columbian Blacktail deer in W WA for most of 40yrs, no other animal gives me the tingles like these beautiful timber ghost. Have only killed 11 in all that time but I will always drive across the state to hunt the west side jungles for these most awesome of all God’s wild critters. Whitetail here in Spokane just don’t do it for me, to many “monster bucks” killed over food plots on private property on all the TV shows turns me off, besides that whitetail are just not that pretty to look at. I hunt State forest with everybody else who can’t get a tree farm permit, killed a decent 2 1/2 year old 2 point the last week of October this year and was more than satisfied. Stopped shooting spikes and smallish fork horns over 20 years ago, kinda wish the wdfw would make Blacktail a 2 point and better species for everybody 16 and older. Found some really good buck rubs hunting elk on the west side in November and am planning on taking vacation time to hunt the heavy timber for the big boy who made them in late October next season. Mule deer being a subspecies of Blacktail are mildly interesting to me but have never hunted them. So many good memories hunting Blacktail with family and friends, most of whom are gone now, transports me back to a better time in this life and world. Only one animal to hunt for the rest of my days? That’s an easy one, the grey ghost of the coastal rain forest.

  2. Wondering how much scrape and licking Blacktail do? I have hunted them here in Southern California for a number of years but have never seen any real scrapes etc…

    I also hunt the midwest and scrapes and licking branches are common. Just not something you see much of out here.

    • The blacktail definitely scrape and use licking branches. I have both a scrape tree and licking branch right on my property. Every year pre-rut and during rut the bucks rip this same tree up. the licking branch is visited every year by multiple bucks. Once you do find a scrape and licking branch in the bucks home range, put a trail cam on both. you’ll see many bucks hitting it Guaranteed!


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