WDFW Staff tips & tactics: Blacktail

Getting the most out of your hunting season

Contributed by Tom Ryle

WDFW Staff Bio: Tom grew up on the shores of Puget Sound and has been bowhunting big game far and wide over 30 years. Over the years, he has honed his skills on westside blacktails and has developed a proven approach to consistently fill his tag on these elusive deer. As a blogger and freelance writer, he has covered many of his approaches in detail. In this post, Tom shares some key tactics that you can take advantage of right now!

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Tom with a buck he rattled in western Washington last fall.

Apply for and/or purchase a left-over Multi-season deer tag

Let’s face it, we’re all very busy these days. If you’ve already burned up a bunch of vacation time hunting elk or tending to the host of other priorities that compete for your time, having more available weekends to hunt deer is a huge bonus. Did you know that Washington has thousands of multi-season deer tags available each year however, many applicants who are successful in the drawing fail to purchase their tags? This results in many left-over tags.

So if you applied for a multi-season deer tag and were not selected in the draw, you are eligible to upgrade your general season tag for a multi-season tag. Yes, this new tag will cost an additional fee, but it generously extends your season, thereby increasing your opportunity. Due to busy work and family schedules, I have upgraded my archery or rifle tag several times to create more flexibility and lengthen my deer season. As a result, I have filled more tags because the longer season opens the door to other fantastic benefits. The following are several that top my list.

Hunting the rut

One of the most frequent questions I hear from deer hunters during my seminars is about timing of the breeding season, also known as the rut. While this is a complex topic far too large to cover here, just know that bucks become more focused on reproduction from mid-October through December, peaking around mid-November, which means they will be more active during legal shooting hours and focused on breeding does. You can leverage deer calling tactics such as rattling antlers (to simulate two bucks fighting over a doe), doe and/or fawn bleat calls (which can bring in a testosterone-crazed buck), and the use of scent lures to attract bucks cruising and scent-checking doe trail networks and bedding areas. These tactics have produced some incredible up-close action-packed experiences for me, which add to the excitement and joy of hunting.

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This screenshot from a game camera illustrates the competition to breed during the rut.

Bowhunt where modern rifles can’t hunt

There are many potential hunting locations that have zoning laws prohibiting the use of firearms. As such, these restrictions don’t apply to archery equipment so it’s possible to discover some fantastic hunting areas that see very little, if any, hunting pressure. And related to the rut, bucks will often sequester receptive does away from other bucks and human pressure until they can breed. These offbeat locations are attractive to bucks looking to escape.

Late season snow

As the season progresses and October gives way to November, early snows begin to coat the mountains. This triggers the annual migration of deer to lower climes where food and warmer temperatures are easier to come by. I’ve found that both deer and elk tend to hang right around the snow line, that elevation where snow varies from 1–3 inches. Now, mature bucks and bulls are a bit more stubborn and will hang in the high country as long as possible but for the most part, the bulk of the animals will drop with the snow line. There’s nothing quite as exciting as cutting a large fresh single deer track in fresh snow! You can test your tracking and stalking skills while experiencing an entirely new adventure in deer hunting.

Second rut action

In general, approximately 80–85% of does will come into estrous (heat) within the same week or so, which is referred to as the peak of the rut. This typically occurs in mid-November but can vary slightly due to several factors. Any does that were not bred in November will come back into estrous 22–29 days later, or mid-December. This is referred to as the second rut and it can produce some incredible hunting opportunities. Using doe bleat calls and rattling antlers can create opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t occur. In fact, I have rattled in over a dozen bucks in late December as competition for fewer receptive does is increased dramatically. So, when the crowds head inside for the winter, you may tip the odds in your favor by heading afield and doing some calling. Who knows, a love-sick buck might come in to investigate your calling, offering you that final chance to fill your tag.

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A young blacktail buck searching for receptive does during late Oct. Note the fresh rub at left mixed with older rubs.

How to upgrade to a multi-season deer tag

Remember, this upgrade opportunity is available only to those who applied for a multi-season deer tag for the 2019 season.

If you already have a general season deer tag

Purchasing at a dealer:

  1. Take your general season deer tag to a license dealer to surrender

2. You or the dealer will need to call WDFW headquarters between 8:00 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday to complete the general season deer tag cancellation process

3. Purchase your Multi-season deer tag

If you do not have a general season deer tag

Purchasing at a dealer:

1. Visit a license dealer

2. Purchase a deer license

3. Purchase your Multi-season Deer tag

Author’s notes

  • It is legal in Washington to hunt with a bow during muzzleloader and modern rifle seasons provided you follow all pertinent regulations.
  • Before heading afield, always refer the Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules to ensure you are following all pertinent regulations for your chosen hunting area.

And as always, good luck!

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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