Blacktail deer hunting in California
A California blacktail in my opinion is one of the hardest animals on the planet to hunt. They are wise, not easy to pattern, have excellent hearing and smell, and are constantly on the move from hunting pressure and other predators. Not to mention the California hunting season is designed to dodge the easiest time of the year to hunt them … the rut! I have been pursuing these animals for many years and while learning some really good tactics, it hardly gets any easier. It is one of my biggest passions, second only to my wife and children. As my kids are growing we are able to show them the greatest areas on earth, along with the experiences that will last them a lifetime. My hopes are they will grow up to share the same experiences with their children. I have two tactics that have allowed me to consistently harvest bucks backpack hunting in the high sierras, and finding people that will allow me to hunt on private land. These two tactics have allowed my family to live off of some of the best meat this world has to offer, free range wild venison!
The California blacktail is a tough animal to hunt. Your best chance at seeing nice bucks in numbers is to glass during June - August. The velvet on their antlers keeps them out of the thick brush, because of the sensitive membrane that it growing underneath. It is good to pay up a little for a good set of binoculars, to reduce the strain on your eyes. They are a lot more active during the day. When it comes around to September and the rifle season opener it gets a little trickier, because after they shed their velvet the stick heavily to the thick brush. Your best chance at seeing a buck is early morning, or late afternoon as they are moving from their bedding area to feeding area or vice versa.
The tactic that has worked best for me studying a map, looking for those brush pockets near feeding areas or water. My second criteria are areas away from roads. I want a spot that is free from road hunters. Road hunters make up 90% of deer hunters in California, so the father away the better in my opinion. It’s possibly to get lucky and let the road hunters push the deer right towards you. The map app that I use is onX Hunt, it is reliable has satellite view, topo view, elevation, latitude and longitude; it allows you to set way points. It has forest roads, hiking trails deer zones, blm areas, you can save off lines maps for no service zones up in the high sierras, and the last really great feature is residence names for private property which I’ll get into later.
Once I have found a few that look promising I will take some time to thoroughly scout each area. If I find a lot of deer sign and activity I will set up game cameras. The camera that I prefer is the Bushnell 14MP Trophy Cam No Glow Trail Camera, they have treated me good for many years, and I haven’t got myself to switch. I will leave them up until two weeks before season, because I want the area to be able to settle down before I go in to hunt it.
Click on image of Camera for more info:
The two methods that have worked the best for me in the High country are glassing which takes A-L-O-T of patients, and spot and stock. When you have found a good area on the map with a good vantage point spend time glassing the tree and brush line during the prime times of the day morning and evening. It glassing doesn’t fit your style and you feel like you need to be on the move then spot and stock might be your answer, but it’s not as easy as you think. Everything must be in your favor for this tactic to work. Walk with the wind blowing in your face; nothing is going to make a buck split out of there faster than the smell of a human. Walk the brush lines and the edges of big timber, and when I say walk I mean take a couple quit steps stop and glass then a couple more. The slower the better, when you think you are going slowly, go even slower. You have to catch the buck before it catches you. The boots I wear are Rocky Silenthunter they have a really soft sole which is crucial in the hot, dry, summer California deer season. You need a quiet reliable boot because you are going to have to put miles in! Hopefully one of these tactics will land you some venison in the freezer!
Click on boot image for more information:
The second tactic I like to use is landing some good chunks of private land. While this tactic is harder to do it is still very doable. My best success has been from owners of cash crops like vineyards and apple orchards. These crops attract the deer, while the owners try to keep them out. So they are quick to allow someone to help with population control. A lot of people deal with deer going after their gardens, and would be more than happy allowing you to harvest one with a bow. I use my onx map to get name information of residence, try to meet them and be personable with them. I introduce myself, I get to know them a little bit, and ask them if they have an issue with deer. I tell them my situation that I am a bow hunter trying to harvest an animal for my family. If they sound interested I will let them know that I am a working man and would be willing to do work on their property, or if I saw a fence down or an issue while out hunting I will gladly fix it. This is a tactic that is fairly successful. It will allow you to see some bucks that have hardly any human hunting pressure, and could land you the trophy of your life.
So get out there folks, get out and bring home that buck big or small. It’s not only helping manage the herds here in California it is also allowing you to eat the healthiest, free ranged meat available, and create some of the best experiences in you and or your family’s life. Thank you for reading this and may the deer God be in your favor!