Blacktail Rutting Action!

A mature buck pushes a doe past one of my cameras on 10/17/09
The following sequence of photos illustrates the alure of hunting blacktail deer during the final week of October.  Typically, this is a magical time in the blacktail woods, where bucks feel the primal urge to perpetuate their species.

Washington’s archery season dates fall outside of this timeframe so I elect to purchase a modern rifle deer tag to coincide with this hightened pre-rut activity.  Hunting with a bow is legal during rifle season provided you have purchased a rifle tag and follow the appropriate regulations.

Last Saturday morning I called in two bucks with a soft doe bleat.  The first buck, a fork-horn, showed up quickly and paced around my location.  Once he caught wind of my James Valley Lethal Weapon scent drag, he became very intent on finding me.  He approached to a distance of around four feet.  I was wearing two layers of Scent Blocker clothing, head to toe and was crouched in front of a brushy tangle of snowberry and salal.  He circled my location several times and never winded me.
This rub appeared overnight, as many
blacktail rubs do.
Within minutes I spotted another fork-horn buck coming down a different trail.  He was grunting softly the whole time and when he got within 15 yards he started to snort-wheeze.  This was the first time I’ve ever witnessed this vocaliztion from a blacktail buck.  The first buck moved toward him with an aggressive posture and his hide bristled.  I had an arrow nocked but was not interested in shooting either of these bucks.

As the second buck got within 8-10 feet of the first buck, he let out two more snort-wheezes as they squared off in a stiff-legged two-step!  They lowered their heads and side-stepped around each other slowly, then began to spar.  What a treat!  I was only a few yards away with a front row seat to a great learning opportunity.  Anytime I can observe bucks in a natural state, sign me up!  They pushed and shoved for a bit and at one point I could have literally poked an arrow into the hind leg of one of the bucks as they moved toward my location.  They simply never knew I was there.  Eventually, with their differences settled and deciding they make better buddies than enemies, they left together without further incident.

I have determined that the bulk of blacktail does are bred around November 12th, plus or minus a couple days.  My data to support this has to do with trailcam photos, observed deer behavior, and counting backwards about 205 days from the first fawn sightings in the spring.

Blacktails do grunt but based on my observations over the years, they don’t grunt loudly or with the tenacity of whitetails.  Most bucks will grunt when on the scent trail of a doe or even when trolling for hot does.  It’s soft and difficult to hear from any distance.  If you are working a grunt call, scale it back unless you are fighting loud windy conditions.  Less is more with blacktails.

Fawn bleats and doe bleats are excellent calls to use anytime from October through December.  The blacktail rut timing and rut phases shift slightly from year to year but these sounds are acceptable under most any condition. 

I discovered an interesting behavior back in Iowa in 1993 while filming the Wilderness Sound Productions video, Wily Whitetails.  I was filming my friend Rich Thompson during a daylight-to-dark stint in treestands.  We had two fawns come in bleating loudly.  The doe had been pulled away by a buck and they were left alone.  Their bawls and bleats carried through the hardwoods.  Moments later a hefty 9-point buck came marching onto the scene and Rich made quick work out of putting an arrow into his chest.

A couple days later, Larry D. Jones and I were on stand in another area.  After telling him of this fawn situation, we discussed the sound tonal qualities and frequency of the calls.  While on stand, mid-morning we whispered back and forth and let out several calls trying to mimic the two fawns.  We’d make adjustments to the call reed and let out a few more loud bleats.  As Larry was making a couple calls I scanned the area looking for deer.  Out of nowhere I spotted a mature buck on a dead run from a brush-lined irrigation ditch!  Larry barely had time to grab his bow as I flailed to get the camera up and on the buck before he was under our stands.  Larry sank an arrow through the P&Y brute in short order.

Two mature mid-west whitetail bucks both fell victim to loud fawn bleats during the peak breeding phase.  I’ve not had this kind of response to fawn bleating on blacktails but calling does work in the right situation.  I’ve rattled in plenty of bucks and never had a deer respond negatively to soft bleats and grunts.  Don’t be shy, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I passed up this buck last weekend after he followed a James Valley (Lethal Weapon) scent drag literally to within about 5 feet.  Here
he is intent on this doe but she won’t stop long enough for him to get too close.  These were taken on October 23rd.

You can see here he is lip-curling, or technically this is called the Flehmen response.  Bucks draw back their upper lip back when examining scents left by other animals either of the same species or of prey.  It helps expose the vomeronasal organ and draws scent molecules back toward it. This behavior allows animals to detect scents such as urine of other members of their species or clues to the presence of prey. Flehming allows the animals to determine several factors during the rut, including the presence or absence of estrus.

The doe has moved out of frame to the right and the buck continues on the exact path, scent checking as he progresses.

A buck will relentlessly follow a doe through the pre-rut phase into the breeding phase unless he is challenged by a more dominant buck. This is precisely why rattling, doe bleats, and light buck grunting during the pre-rut and into the breeding phase can be so effective.

 (c) Tom Ryle 2010

About the Author

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle's passion for bowhunting has fueled adventures spanning the United States, Canada, and South Africa. He is an official measurer for the Pope and Young Club, NMLRA, NW Big Game Inc., and Oregon Shed Hunters.