Keep reading to learn the story about how I got my first blacktail deer.
Blacktail deer are some of the toughest deer to hunt in North America. They inhabit thick forests in western California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia where visibility is often very short and hunting season nearly always coincides with bad weather. I got a firsthand lesson in just how difficult these elusive deer are to hunt when I spent the first week of the Washington late muzzleloader season hunting blacktail deer. With a little bit of help and some endurance, it all worked out and I managed to bag my first blacktail deer.
Due to work commitments, 2014 was the first full year that I had to devote to hunting since I moved to Washington. Since I wanted to hunt during a season that was less crowded in the woods, I decided to hunt with a muzzleloader. For this reason, I purchased a CVA Wolf Northwest muzzleloader, which meets the legal requirements for use in Washington state.
Upon the advice of some other experienced hunters in the area, I booked a blacktail deer hunt with Ed Shelby of Shelby’s Trophy Guide Service. Not only was I interested in shooting a deer, but I wanted him to show me some of the finer points of how to hunt blacktail deer in Washington so I would have an idea of how to hunt blacktail deer on my own in the future.
My hunt was booked for the opening weekend of the late muzzleloader season, which started the day after Thanksgiving. During the first day of my hunt, it was raining like crazy. Ed and I did a lot of walking as we checked out several different locations to see which ones would be best for my hunt.
I was very careful to try and keep my muzzleloader under my rain gear at all times, but I was pretty worried that I would somehow get the powder wet and the gun wouldn’t go off when I needed it to. In Washington, the ignition system of a muzzleloader must be exposed to the weather, so getting the powder wet is a definite possibility in rough weather. Every night at home I would carefully unload and clean my muzzleloader to ensure that I had a fresh load for the next day.
Along with the heavy rain came heavy winds, so most of the deer were holding tight and not moving around much. We were seeing a few deer on the trail cameras at night, but not much was happening during the day. However, there wasn’t much we could do about the weather and the only thing we could do is continue to hunt hard and make sure we were in the woods when the deer finally started moving again.
On the third day of the hunt the rain turned into snow and the temperature started to drop. On days four and five the low was around 15-16°F and did not get above freezing either day. This is extremely cold weather for that part of Washington and I froze my tail off during 12 hour sits in the deer blind on those days.
The deer blinds were set up overlooking bait piles of apples, cracked corn, and ivy that Ed had set up near commonly used deer trails. By day five, one of the bait piles had not gotten any action at all (a 4×4 started hitting this one the day after I left), but a doe and a spike were starting to hit the other one. Figuring that anything was better than nothing, I decided to hunt out of the blind in this area.
After sitting out there all morning and nearly freezing to death, Ed and I went to get some lunch and warm up. When we returned and hour or so later, it was obvious that something had been eating there while we were gone. Frustrated, we hunted there for the rest of the day without seeing anything.
We returned there the next morning to try our luck again. Luckily, temperatures were starting to warm up and weather conditions were starting to return to normal, so we hoped our luck would change with the weather. However, after a couple of hours, we still hadn’t seen anything at all. Ed decided to get up and check on the other blind while I continued to hunt this one.
Not five minutes after he left I looked up and I saw the spike standing there munching away on the apples at the bait pile. I quickly realized that even though this spike was young, he wasn’t stupid. The previous day he was probably hanging out close by and was waiting to hear us leave before he came in to eat. He tried the same thing again, but unfortunately for him, only Ed left and the deer was completely unaware that I was still there.
Ever so slowly, I raised my muzzleloader and took careful aim. He was only about 25 yards away, but I did not want to blow the shot, especially considering how much I had been through to get this opportunity. The spike was facing directly towards me, so I waited for him to turn and present me with a better shot. After a few seconds, he turned and presented me with a quartering shot.
I aimed just in front of the point of his right shoulder and when he put his head down to take another bite of apples, I squeezed the trigger. To my relief, the woods echoed with the deep report of the muzzleloader and I was immediately enveloped in smoke as the wind blew the thick white smoke back towards me.
He took off after the shot and ran about 30 yards to the edge of the clearing and then stopped. He stood there for a few seconds, unsteady on his feet, then reared up on his hind legs and fell over. I had finally gotten my first blacktail deer and my first big game animal with a muzzleloader!
Even though he was just a young spike and, at 110 pounds live, he was not a giant deer by any stretch of the imagination, that is one of the toughest hunts I’ve ever been on. It seems like hunts like that, regardless of the size of the trophy at the end, are the ones that you remember the best and I’m sure that I’ll look back on this hunt fondly many years from now. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no feeling like the first time and just like another cold day in December many years ago, I took another step further into the world of big game hunting that day I got my first blacktail deer.