I had been discussing hunting blacktails for years with friends. I had drawn a buck tag for Zone A for Columbia Blacktail deer and finally was going to try and close another chapter in my hunting book in an effort gain more know-how that I could hopefully use on my next “to do” adventure.
I should briefly touch on the major distinctions between Rocky Mnt Mule deer and Columbia Blacktail deer and what I was hoping to hold out for. A trophy Columbia Blacktail will have more then 2 points on a side, excellent mass and a spread over about 17″ inches. Blacktail bodyweights will close in on 175-200 pounds on a mature buck and the coloration and marking are different from one sub-species to the next. This is far different from the makings of a trophy Mule deer. They are truly apple and oranges in comparability and you must spend a little time studying these guys if you want to capitalize on an opportunity at success on a nice representation of the Blacktail species. I did my homework and was going to hold out for a 3 point or better buck.
Hally and I had made plans to hunt for 3 days and then spend another 3 days driving up and down the famous Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean, making continual stops in many of the tiny ocean towns along the coast.
We flew into Los Angeles and then caught another flight into San Luis Obispo. While flying into SLO we were greeted by a massive forest fire over running 1000’s of acres. The cone of the fire was over 13,000 feet because we were flying at that elevation and it was several thousand feet above us, an imposing sight to say the least. We rented a vehicle and met a buddy of mine in Paso Robles, in the heart of magnificent blacktail and Tule elk hunting country.
We met up with Kim and he took us to his home where we met his lovely wife and were treated to a fine blacktail deer BBQ with all the fixing including locally made exquisite red wine. We were in the very center of the California wine country evident by vineyards spread out almost everywhere. As luck may have it, we had a few visitors while BBQ’ing as several blacktail does with fawns began to file into the property and feed.
The property we would be hunting was about a 40 minute drive towards the coast. It wasn’t long and we were on the vineyard grounds driving towards the cabin where Hally and I would be spending the next 3 nights. Even though she would not be hunting, she is a proficient hunter with several animals under her belt. Hally was enthusiastic and appreciated that we would be doing this hunt together. We got all our gear and luggage put away and ready to begin hunting. We knew we had about 1000 acres to ourselves and there were plenty of deer on the property along with an occasional California condor, Tule elk, Mnt lion, Rio Grande turkey, Golden eagles and bobcats.
Kim took us to a high vantage and we all started glassing. The countryside was steep and precipitous, very mountainous and densely covered with live, white and blue oak trees. Ground cover was a wild oat grass, yellow in color and acorns were under most trees. Temperatures were mild for this time of year, we were expecting and prepared for 100+ degree days and we were sitting mid 80’s so most of the wildlife was pretty content and on the move. Evidence of the nearby forest fire were on the ranch as well, not only by smell but by sight as most of the valleys had a low smoke canopy making checking every nook and cranny a little problematic.
We saw numerous blacktails on our first night, more does then I would like to count and 8 bucks. All where within shooting distance but were blossoming fork horns and spikes. One I had at about 10 yards waiting for him to pass by as he bobbed his head up and down trying to investigate what I was.
Kim arrived at 4:00am the next morning and we were off. The strategy for the day was to get to a high rim on the other side of the ranch, get dug in and start glassing at the suns first appearance in hopes of finding a good buck working in to a bedding area and get a good stalk from there. The neighboring fires had brought more smoke into the area then the day before making it troublesome to see even to the next ridge but we just keep concentrated on our task at hand and inspecting deer on most of the hillsides. We came to the conclusion that the deer did not want to bed this morning due to the smoke. It made them apprehensive and with restricted eyesight in these conditions they just appeared to be stayed up grazing on the isolated ridges surrounding us. Wind directions changed and the smoke quietly worked its way out of the country and we were starting to see deer in every direction. Tucked in the wild oat grass, we spent the morning picking apart distant deer in hopes of finding antlers with our spotting scopes and my swarovski’s.
We spotted our first trophy buck by mid morning, I had picked apart about 20 different bucks all morning but he was noticeably bigger. He was about 1 mile, as the crow flies, and 2 ridges over. He was bedded in the wide open in the wild oats near the peak of the ridge. Kim and I spent about 30 minutes watching him thru the glass. It was determined he was a very large 4×3 buck carrying a rack held high above his head, great mass and bone outside his ears. I knew that most blacktails will never go outside their ears and I could plainly see he was several inches over this mark. There were 3 additional bucks with him; one was a shooter as well. We made a plan on how to get there while keeping the wind in our favor and to get above him as he rested in the clearing. Off we went, straight off the hillside to the valley and we cut the next ridge low and were now at the base of the ridge of where the bucks should be bedded. Starting up along a game trail we kept running into deer. We had to be wary to stay way to the inside of everything to keep from pushing them towards our buck. We were situated on a ridge just over where the bucks should be laying. The crawl began in tarantula infested poison oak country to close the last 20yards. I set my bipod up and readied myself if they were still in their earlier location. I slowly worked along the length of the ridge and was careful to not expose myself when I realized one of the worse things that can happen to a hunter. I felt the wind on my perspiring neck blowing straight thru the oat grass and down the ridge. I knew this was not good, we had just been busted. I stood and looked and could see 2 does and an immature buck looking towards us. They had eluded us and won the first round.
Blacktails are aggressive deer and are contentious towards a home range. Kim felt they will not go far and once settled down he would stay in the area. We backed out and ate a mid morning lunch on the crest while glassing ridges that could be seen from this vantage. Even at 9am there were still deer out and about feeding on the wild oats. We stayed put most of the morning then decided to drive to the coast for a pre-hunt late lunch. We made plans to meet Kim back at the ranch at about 4:30pm.
We were minutes from the famed Highway 1 of coastal California and you would be challenged to find a more picturesque drive anywhere in the country. We drove up the pacific coast bee bopping from small town to small town. There was plenty of shopping, dining, and beaches and piers where we could take a romantic walk. Before long we were heading back to the ranch. We changed back into our camo and headed for the high country hidden within the ranch.
Tonight it was a bit cooler and the deer had recognized this. Does, fawns and immature bucks were beginning to appear feeding along the hillsides. We continued to glass all around us and decided to change locations. The deer appeared to be moving early giving us a little more time to choose our spot for the night. We traveled about another mile in the pickup to a spot where several ridges all ran together into a funnel.
Hally, Kim and I were glassing all around us carefully checking each open pocket in the trees for an ear or tail to move, perhaps to find a buck bedded beneath an oak tree taking his afternoon nap or filing thru a clearing to get to a cool drink of water. Finally, Hally interrupted my daydreaming by saying “Is that a buck?” my only reply I could assemble as I scanned out to the side of me was “where”. She proceeded to point out the set of antlers poking out of the high oat grass about 150 yards directly above us. As we looked him over, it was evident he was mature, wide and heavy but from this vantage he may have only been a really big fork horn. I set up the bipod and readied myself while trying to find the deer in the scope. Once located, I was talking to both Kim and Hally who were giving me the play by play. Hally said he was a real nice 3point and he may have a little kicker off the back of his antler. Kim instructed me that we can hold off on him but he was a nice mature deer and was indeed a 3 point on one side with little stickers off of the other side. The more he looked at him the more he thought we had located our deer. Kim made the comment, he is not as big as that one from this morning but he had a load of character and was a real good buck. Now if he would just stand up.
We had been watching him and waiting for him to stand and he just would turn his head and continued to stay bedded. We decided to whistle at him but Kim told me to be ready as he will not wait around nor look back if he thinks we are here. Kim whistled and nothing happened, he whistled again and the deer stood straight up. He looked quickly over towards us and began to move away to his right. I did not even have time to look at the horns. I found my spot in the scope and sent the100 grain copper bullet towards my target as he was trotting off. I saw him drop in the scope. Handshakes, high fives and hugs were exchanged but from Hally and Kim’s position they did not see the deer go down but trusted that I had saw him fall. It sure seemed a lot more then 150 yards hiking straight up on that hill in hopes of finally putting my hands upon a blacktail deer. Once we got to his location, we found him lying on his side not 5 yards from where he was bedded. We had a nice Blacktail down.
Finally getting the opportunity to look at this sub-species of mule deer up close and personal there are some noticeable differences to there Eastern and Southern cousins. The obvious was the body size, even though this was a large bodied Blacktail according to Kim, he was roughly the size of a 3 year old mule deer. He had very little white on his body except for a small white rump patch. His tail was brown about half way down and then turned to a coal black. This is a recognized physical indicator of a Columbia Blacktail deer versus being a Rocky or Desert Mule deer. For you SCI hunters make sure to take a photo of the rear side of the deer to clearly show that what you have harvested is a Columbia Blacktail.
We took some memorable photos and field dressed the deer and the deer was taken to Kim’s property where it was caped and frozen. A California big game law is the tag has to be signed or witnessed by a public servant meaning a policeman, Deputy or Fireman to ensure the animal was harvested legally. This was also taken care of at Kim’s.
The next morning, Hally and I headed back to the coast we had reservations in Avila beach for the next few days for sun and relaxation. We visited many of the unique towns such as Cambria, San Simeon, Morrow Bay and Pismo Beach. We visited attractions like the Elephant seal wildlife preserve, Hearst Castle, Pismo Pier, Morrow Rock, Moonstone beach. We ate at some of the finest restaurants California had to offer one being the Olde Port Inn located in Avila beach. I would recommend this restaurant for anyone traveling near this area the food was absolutely incredible.
This hunt closes another chapter for me. I have completed the Grand Slam for North American Deer for Safari Club International; a Rocky Mountain mule deer out of Wyoming, whitetail deer in Grimshaw Alberta Canada, Desert mule deer in Southeast New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountain range and now a Columbia blacktail deer near Adelaide California.
Thank you to everyone who contributed in motivating me to do this hunt and assisted in any way towards my success in any hunt that I hold dear to my heart.