2010 Washington Blacktail

I’ll keep this post brief.  I was fortunate to have filled my blacktail tag during the final hours of the short Washington late rifle season*, November 18-21 (Thursday-Sunday).

Rubs lines like this in October
are one of the best indicators
of a dominant buck in the area.
I hunted a few hours during three of the four days.  In total I called in and had shot opportunities inside 20-25 yards on six bucks during the last week in October and the recent four-day late season.  Soft doe bleats were more effective than rattling for me this year but I was into rutting action on every hunt as a direct result of active calling and the use of scents.  I encountered only two bucks that got my heart rate up this fall.  Neither presented shots, both were still-hunting spot and stalk, and both about 110″ class 4×4 bucks on public land.

The first good buck I encountered was on October 23rd and he briefly entered my life as a result of careful still-hunting, maybe a bit too careful.  I literally walked up on him in the rain to about 10 feet behind some brush.  I stepped out into a small opening and dang – there’s a shooter blacktail feeding 10 feet away.  His head was down so I quickly took a step back.  Sheilded from the buck by a wall of blackberries, I quickly nocked an arrow and drew my bow.  But at that range he heard my movements.  As I leaned forward at full draw, I was face to face with a hefty buck strung taut as my bow and ready to bolt.  End of that deal.  I had to laugh at my fumble on a gimme P&Y buck.

The next big deer was encountered on Saturday, November 20th in a different area.  After letting a couple rigs roll on past my located, I called him into about 30 yards after stalking to an initial 60 yards.  Expecting to see a doe, he hung up.  As he turned to move away I quickly slipped up on him taking full advantage of the wet, soft ground.  I got to full draw at 22 yards and evaluated every option to thread an arrow into his chest.  Unfortunately there were just too many small limbs that I felt would deflect my shot.  I won’t take risky shots on game so I let down and tried to pull him back.  He knew better.  There wasn’t a doe anywhere in sight so he just moved further down slope into the thick stuff.  I quietly backed out hoping to find him on Sunday morning.

The next morning I got into the area before daylight and set up for some calling at daybreak. I started with a few soft doe bleats, then followed with an abrupt ground-pounding rattling sequence.  I wanted to shock the still, crisp morning with some action!  And it worked.  Immediately, a doe came barreling into my location looking for the source of the ruckus.  She was pacing all around me rubber-necking high and low while I crouched in some blackberries.  A few moments later I heard another deer approaching and got ready.  My buck came right in on a fast walk and admittedly, even at full draw I scanned the area for a larger buck.  But, the clock was ticking and I wasn’t about to pass this buck given there was only a couple hours left for the season.  He’ll eat well.
Given the choice, I’d fill all my blacktail tags on the last day of the season. This maximizes learning opportunity throughout one of the most active times of the year for the mysterious blacktail buck.  I tagged this buck around 4:00 PM on 11-21-10.
I witnessed some incredible action including snort-wheezing for the first time and sparring bucks just 3 yards in front me – on the ground!  Both forkies but a great learning experience to see how my calling turned a quiet morning into two bucks sparring at point blank range within about 10 minutes. I love creating action from thin air. For me, this is what makes bowhunting so special – getting into the minds of the animals I hunt.
Ironically, I had a run in with a really nice 100″-class 3×3 nosing the ground on a fast trot coming straight to me on a trail as I was dragging out my buck.  He was intent on following my scent trail from 6:00 in that morning, which by 3PM was covered in snow.  He busted me dragging that buck and turned inside out trying to put air between us.  Instinct took over and I grunted loudly with my voice and locked him up at 20 yards. Two more soft bleats and he took a few steps to take a better look while moving slightly away toward a brushline.  I pretended to draw my bow to see if I’d have had a shot and sure enough, it was a 25 yards broadside slam dunk.  He just stood there looking at me and he didn’t move again until I picked up my buck’s antlers and started dragging him again.  He just couldn’t resist taking another look and it would have cost him had I not already tagged out.  He was much bigger than my buck and I just had to laugh. Maybe next year…

In the coming days I’ll be back to explore the details of my deer calling sequences, and the careful use of scents to tip the odds in your favor.

Stay tuned!

* I was bowhunting with a rifle tag, during the rifle seasons, which is legal in Washington state provided you follow the rifle season dates and appropriate regulations.  I took my required orange off for the photo because I don’t like my bowhunting success photos filled with orange.

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.