As much as I like to elk hunt, I probably spend more time hunting blacktail deer, and I know I have taken more blacktail deer than I have elk. I started my deer hunting career hunting mule deer with a rifle, but when I learned that we could take black tail deer during the rut, if we hunted with our bows, I switched over to hunting blacktail deer about 15 years ago.
I took four mule deer bucks with a rifle, and I’ve taken quite a few blacktails with my bow. We are fortunate that Ryan and I are the third generation of Hays to live in Harrisburg, Oregon. Because our family always has been involved in farming, we have quite a few friends who will allow us to hunt on their private lands. We also have plenty of public land available we can hunt.
We live in the Willamette Valley, which is “The Grass Seed Capital of the World,” so there is a lot of river bottom ground close to the grass seed farms. Our portion of the state is really brushy, so the only way you can hunt those river bottoms is to get permission from the farmers who own the land. My grandfather, Bill Hay, Sr., and his wife Donna, moved here in the 1950s right after they got married. Our family has been in this community more than 60 years. I worked for many of these farmers when I was a kid. I moved irrigation pipe, sheared sheep, drove tractors, operated a combine and did all types of farm work.
In 2011, I took my best blacktail buck that was a 4x4 that scored 109 inches - a trophy blacktail. To be considered a trophy blacktail taken with a bow, a buck has to score at least 90 inches. This buck was beautiful. Because the areas we hunt are so thick, most of the time we hunt from tree stands. We especially enjoy rattling in bucks during the rut.
On this hunt, I was in my tree stand near a deer trail where we had a trail camera that had taken lots of pictures of does moving along this trail. We usually would take stands where we got the most pictures of does during the rut, because we knew that in the rut the bucks were looking for does. We generally had five or six trail cameras out each year. This particular stand had been my favorite tree stand for 10 years. I liked the stand because we saw some of the same bucks every year and could make up a hit list of the bucks to try and take during the season. This stand not only allowed us to watch bucks for several years, but occasionally we’d get pictures of bucks we never had seen before that had migrated into the area where we had this stand placed during the rut.
In Oregon, we only can take one buck per season, so we attempt to find and take the best buck we can each year. The buck I took was the no. 1 buck on our hit list that year. I usually put my stand about 20 feet high and get into my stand well before daylight. On this day, my brother Ryan was in his stand about 500 yards from my stand, and we both started rattling. We had a 4x4 buck bouncing between my stand and Ryan’s stand. Although both of us could have shot this buck, we decided to let him pass because this was opening day of deer season. We were both hoping to see some better bucks.
We usually sit in our stands all day long during the rut, but on this morning Ryan had to go home early to do something with his children. I was alone in the woods. About 4 p.m., I was getting sleepy and beginning to wonder if I would see any more deer that day. I had just started a rattling sequence using real deer antlers, which aren’t easy to put away after you rattle. I saw some movement to my left and could tell that it was a buck deer.
All of a sudden the antlers in my hands felt like each antler was the size of a Buick. As I tried to hang the two antlers on one of my tree stand pegs, they clashed together and hit the pegs. This buck was so zoned in to the sound of rattling antlers that he never even looked up. I grabbed my bow where I already had nocked an arrow. When he was 18 yards from the base of my tree, I came to a full draw and made the shot.
That time I was able to see the flight of the arrow, and where I had hit the deer. I knew I had made a really good shot. I heard him running into the brush and then heard him fall. Immediately I called my brother Ryan. I had been so zoned in on making the shot that I didn’t really look at the buck’s rack very carefully. I just knew he was a good buck, and a buck I wanted to take.
When I know I’ve made a good shot on an animal, I get so excited that I can't even talk, and I sometimes have trouble breathing. I had to stay in my tree stand for a while until I could get over that rush of adrenaline. When I finally could talk, Ryan told me he was on his way to help me find and carry my deer out.
He told me, “When you feel like you can climb down out of the tree, and you have both feet on the ground, call me. Don’t start tracking the deer until I get there.” My brother and I really enjoy blood trailing an animal and finding it together.
I knew that night was approaching, and I felt like I needed to at least get down and field dress the deer. So, once I got to the ground and started blood trailing the deer, I called Ryan.
As I got closer to the buck and saw his rack, I said, “Oh, Ryan, he is way nicer than I thought he was. He is the big 4x4.”
Ryan answered, “Are you kidding me?”
When Ryan got to me and the buck, he said, “Oh no, I can't believe you shot this buck, and you didn’t even know how big he was.”
This was the first 4x4 blacktail I had ever taken, although I have shot quite a few since then.
Part 3: The Long Hike Elk Hunt
Part 5: Blacktails on Trail Cameras