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How To Hunt Blacktail Deer

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By Mike Burchett

Many of my favorite memories as a child involve stumbling through the mud and brush trying to keep up with my grandpa walking through the woods. I prepared all year just waiting for fall. I could see my trusty wool pants and jacket hanging in the closet and couldn’t wait for opening weekend. We didn’t have the best clothing and we didn’t have the best boots. Living in Western Washington we always got wet from the rain. Our only goal was to find a buck to take home.

I grew up learning about navigation using a compass and map and basic survival skills from my Dad, former Drill Sergeant in the Army, and Grandpa. I also learned some of the habits of the local deer population. I wish I could say we had the giant Mule Deer or big antlered White Tailed Deer but nope, we have the giant dog sized Black Tailed Deer. You know, the guys who sleep a good portion of the day and are up all night eating and chasing the does during the time we are not allowed to hunt, all be it for good reason.

A yearling black tail fawn in thick brush. (photo by Mike Burchett)

Black Tailed Deer are beautiful creatures, lean and strong yet incredibly evasive. I’ve observed and participated in multiple tactics while hunting. Local residents use methods like stalking, glassing, hunting from blinds and even road hunting.

Being a rifle hunter all the methods and views are based on my experience while participating in a Modern Firearms season. I don’t have experience with either Muzzle Loading or Archery so please, remain sensitive to this fact. I also know that many views exist as to what is best and how to do each best. So again I ask, keep an open mind to the views of others.


This method involves walking through the brush/forest. We’ve used this method the most, and it’s been the most fruitful for our family. We will typically begin just after daylight by spreading through a section of Jack Fir. Jack Fir are small trees, 5-8 feet tall, providing cover and food for the deer. There are still piles of downed tree scraps from the logging effort to stumble on. If that wasn’t hard enough, don’t forget to add the briers and vines of the summer growth to tangle your feet in. Being quiet is difficult making slow movements a requirement. We will typically take our time by walking about 20 paces and standing and watching for several minutes. We will move independently from each other keeping everyone in view. Our movements are observed by everyone else in an attempt to have one person’s movement push an animal from its bed.


Glassing can be very successful. It requires a great deal of patience and good attention to detail. Imagine pulling off the road with a hillside in front of you. This hillside has the same 5-8 foot tall trees. These trees again provide cover from the elements and predators. Using either a spotting scope or a good pair of binoculars, the hunter will scan the hillside. While scanning the hillside one must make special attention to the base of trees and logs. You may simply see a flicker of an ear or an antler sticking up over a log. You are simply looking for shapes in this method. I can remember using this method one time in particular. We’d just finished a stalk and were on our way to find another place to hunt. We pulled off for a quick snack and cup of coffee. We use each opportunity to at least take a look. When we got out of the truck I loaded up two rounds “just in case.” We stepped off the turn out and my uncle, who’d already tagged out, peered over the edge with his Bushnell binoculars. He scanned and all of a sudden he says: “Look down there. It’s too perfect to be sticks but too big to be a deer.”


I immediately found a stump to take a rest on and asked for directions to what he saw. I followed his words: “See that big orange tree in the bottom? Just below it is a long log headed up the hill, follow it up and there is a stump. Just to the right of the stump….” Just as he said stump, I found the spot. When I focused on the spot, the biggest deer I’d ever seen stood up to stretch. I was looking down hill at about a 60 degree angle. The animal was about 250 yards out. I steadied my Winchester model 70 in .308 Winchester topped with a Zeiss Conquest 3-9×40 scope and flicked off the safety. I took a deep breath and squeezed. BOOMMM!!!! Nothing happened. The rifle went off but he was still standing. I was aiming just behind the shoulder to hit lungs and heart. I flashed back to my studies and remembered shooting at sticks in the slough behind my parents home with my bb gun. Shooting down at such an angle would always cause me to shoot high.

I pulled down slightly lower and let loose another shot. Still nothing. The deer just looked around. I ejected the empty case and slammed the bolt forward again. I sighted at the base of the sternum and squeezed again. This time I heard the loudest sound ever. Click…. Remembering I only put two rounds in the rifle when we got out. I scrambled grabbing another round from my pocket as the deer walked into the thicket at the bottom of the hill. Now I said all this not to show my great marksmanship or hunting ability, but rather to point out how glassing the right place at the right time can have some great pay off.

Hunting From A Blind

Now, I’ve often thought about using a blind to hunt deer. Using a blind or tree stand is common in archery hunting but not so much in modern firearm hunting. I’ve considered placing a pop up blind in a clearing and sitting all day. But then I remember my inability to sit still that long. It has got to take a special something to stay still and quiet enough to blend into the scenery. I’ve only seen this used once locally. I came across a man confined to a wheelchair inside a blind at the intersection of two roads in the edge of a clear cut and timber. Great location and props to the guy for continuing his passion of hunting.


Road Hunting

Road hunting seems to be the most popular of all methods around this area. There is a very pronounced industry of paper making in my area and many tree farms associated with these mills are accessible. With the abundance of tree farms and active logging, many roads are cut into the landscape. This gives many people who may not otherwise be able to hunt an avenue to pursue game. As a brush hunter this is both a blessing and a curse. You see, we are easily able to coordinate our hunt based on a patch surrounded by roads. We can park a truck at the bottom of a hill so we don’t have to walk back up. Dry cloths and a good hot cup of coffee are waiting at the bottom after hours of being pounded by the autumn rain. This also has lead to us being watched many times. It’s frustrating to be making a drive through a clear cut only to realize someone is watching from their truck with their binoculars. And even worse is the feeling of seeing them with their rifle aimed in your direction because they lack an important piece of equipment like binoculars.


Road hunting has proven successful on many occasions for us. When we are trying to evade the rain and wind or just traveling from one area to the next, we’ve been able to harvest many animals. I can remember as a kid about 8 or 9 riding in the back of a 67 International Scout and my dad slamming on the brakes while exiting the truck. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a deer standing in the road. Now as a I look back I think the deer was 400 yards out as it was just a dark spec but as I’ve grown and had many revelations to my childhood I can honestly say it was less than 100 yards away. It seemed to just stand there forever. My dad and uncle looked and looked and kept saying: “It’s just a toe head. Let him go til next year.” I’ve also had many a long discussion with my kids while road hunting. Talks about safety and playing the “What If” game. We often discuss the ethics of what is right and how to respect both the land and animals.

Deer hunting can be fun and it can also be a labor of love. Seeing the spark of excitement in a kids eyes as they watch a doe and fawn in a clearing or just getting out off the couch away from their video games for a weekend can make the difference in someone’s life. Many times I’ve heard the comment: “I wouldn’t have seen that sitting on the couch. Thanks dad.”

If you ever have the opportunity to get out to Washington State and it happens to be during Deer season, look me up and I will point you in the right direction and maybe even share a few stories around the fire at Deer and Elk Camp with you. Be safe and keep that rifle well oiled, you’re gonna need it around here.

Image two, three and thumb and four courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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