Rogue River Blacktails

Posted on November 8, 2012

This bowhunter travels to the northwest coast to pursue these crafty adversaries.

Rain beat steadily on the roof of the pop-up blind. Fog periodically rolled in and out, limiting my view to 10 yards or less. I was hunting Columbian blacktail deer in the Rogue River Valley of Oregon and these conditions were not unexpected. The weather in southwestern Oregon in November is pretty predictable—wet, foggy and windy. The scenery is postcard picturesque and offers some of the best steelhead fishing in the country.

blacktail deer


Studying These Deer

If you’re like me and you have the hankering to try something different, a trip to the West Coast to pursue these wily little critters may be the ticket. For years people have wondered if the blacktail was a hybrid mule deer; however from my research I found the opposite might be the case. One study of DNA suggests that mule deer may have resulted from the breeding of blacktail bucks and whitetail does. I won’t get into any disagreements here, but will say it’s an interesting proposition.


One thing I found peculiar about the blacktail deer is how the record books have differentiated Columbian blacktails from mule deer. The geographic areas for differentiating these two animals go so far as to list highways, which draw the lines between mule deer and blacktail deer for recordkeeping purposes. So if you kill an animal on one side of a highway it is a mule deer and on the other side it’s a blacktail. I don’t believe any other species has such a stringent policy. Perhaps this is a little strange, but you have to draw the line someplace or it would require a DNA test to determine the species of each animal taken.


One thing that can’t be disputed is that Columbian blacktails love the rainy, forest-covered Western coastline of the United States and Canada. They are found in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.


Columbian blacktails as a rule are smaller than mule deer. Bucks weigh between 100 to 200 pounds while does weigh 90 to 140 pounds. The horns of blacktail tend to be smaller as well. The world record Pope & Young Club blacktail scored 172 2/8 inches and was killed in Oregon in 1969. The minimum score required by the Pope & Young Club is 95 inches. As might be expected, the tail of a blacktail is one of its distinguishing features. It is solid black on top except for a slight white fringe near the bottom, and the underside is white.


Honey Hole Spot

A couple of friends suggested I contact Steve Lee about arranging a hunt. Steve owns a small ranch which lies in the path of deer migrating from the higher lands, when snow begins to accumulate, to the lower lying river bottoms. As the does come into heat the flow of bucks through the property increases. Consequently Steve has a “honey hole.” Steve is a landowner not an outfitter, but he can assist you in locating lodging, food and help you get everything in place.


My wife, Shelby, and I drove to Oregon Thanksgiving week, praying it wouldn’t snow until we were safely at our destination. Luck was with us and we had an uneventful trip enjoying some beautiful scenery on the drive.


Of course, you can hunt blacktails in the same manner as mule deer. Spot and stalk works as does sitting in treestands or ground blinds. We chose to sit in ground blinds since we were trying to film our hunt and the blinds help to hide movement better.


By Roy K. Keefer


Photos by Chuck Bartlett

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