Hunt Trophy-Class Columbia Blacktails
By Gary Lewis
If there's one animal on the West Coast that frustrates hunters more than any other, it is the Columbian blacktail deer. A big blacktail buck may be one of North America's toughest antlered trophies. Here's a late-season rut hunt in one of Oregon's top blacktail units that offers an opportunity to look at a lot of bucks.
In 1846, Lindsay Applegate, Jesse Applegate and 13 other settlers established the South Emigrant Trail between Fort Hall, Idaho, and the Willamette Valley. The route, which came to be called the Applegate Trail, was safer than the Columbia River passage.
Today, the Applegate name is attached to a town, a river, and a special muzzleloader blacktail season, which is fitting because blacktail deer were a staple for the early settlers and prospectors that hunted them in the valleys and on the mountains of southern Oregon.
Rather than go guided, I opted to hunt on my own, based out of Applegate River Lodge in the town of Applegate. I waited till day 8 of the 23-day season to begin the hunt. I saw two record-class bucks and a button buck the first day. An hour after daybreak the second day, I rattled in a deer, but never saw it. Late in the morning, I spotted two deer in a canyon – a buck chasing a doe. When the smoke cleared, I walked down through the trees. The buck was a tall 4x3, 16-1/2 inches wide, a 120-class (SCI) blacktail.
The next morning, I went back out to take pictures and saw two more mature bucks, a three-point and a four-point.
The three-year herd composition average places the Applegate Unit at 30 bucks per 100 does, well above the benchmark of 20. Harvest success ran to 42 percent in 2008. For a three-year average, 22 percent of the bucks taken were four-point (Western count) or better. The average hunter spends 5.9 days in the field.
To keep trophy opportunity high, ODFW limits tag numbers in the Applegate muzzleloader (128M) hunt. In 2009, 909 hunters applied for 324 tags. It takes about six years for a nonresident to draw the tag. Outfitter tags are available.
There are several outfitters that operate in this late season.
"I think it is honestly the best deer hunt in the state," John McCollum said. McCollum is the owner of Eden Ridge Outfitters, based in Myrtle Point. McCollum's hunters went two for three in 2009. The first two bagged four-points in the 120- to 130-inch class. The third hunter passed on several three-year-old bucks and went home without squeezing the trigger. "We saw a couple of bucks that would go in the upper 150s and lower 160s, but with a muzzleloader you have to be within 100 yards."
For inclusion in the record book, SCI minimum score is 105 inches. The Oregon Big Game Record Book minimum for blackpowder is 95 B&C. The Longhunter Society minimum is 95 B&C.
Eden Ridge Outfitters hunts on leased private land and public land. Cost is $5500 all inclusive, for a six-day hunt. Accommodations are in McCollum's camp trailer or in a hotel. Camp dinners are conducted with a barbecue according to the taste of the client. McCollum Has Oregon-legal muzzleloaders available to rent.
Made up of 57 percent public land, the Applegate Unit begins at Grants Pass, bounded by Interstate 5 and US Highway 199 to the California border.
For 2010, the season runs November 13 through December 5, which places this hunt in the peak of the blacktail rut. Most hunters use spot and stalk tactics, but rattling and calling can bring in a buck. Because this is a rut hunt, the normally wary blacktails can be less wary, making this an excellent trophy opportunity. Bag limit is one deer.
Oregon's muzzleloader hunts are restricted by a strict guideline that limits the blackpowder hunter to sidelocks and inlines with No. 11 or musket cap ignition and all-lead bullets. Pelletized powder and sabots are not allowed. A hunter must use open sights, but fiber optics and fluorescent paint are permitted.
The application deadline is May 15, with drawing results mailed the end of June. Non-resident hunters must buy a license ($140.50) when applying for the tag (application fee - $8.00). If successful in the drawing, hunters must purchase the tag ($375.50) before the season opener. Visit the ODFW site at www.dfw.state.or.us. License and tags may be purchased online.
Southwest Oregon is served by air through the Medford Airport.
Richard and Joanna Davis,
Applegate River Lodge, 15100 Highway 238,
Applegate, OR 97530.