Late season blacktail on the Oregon Coast is unlike any other deer hunting I’ve ever experienced. It’s quickly become one of my favorite hunts, second only to elk hunting in my book.
In 2016, Ty and I got our first taste of how fun it can be when we met up with our friend Brandon in southern Oregon. Brandon introduced us to the art of rattling blacktail in. We had some really incredible close encounters that season, but unfortunately just couldn’t make it happen. So, when 2017 rolled around I was pretty bummed I wasn’t able to give it another go, but at this point I was 6 months pregnant and climbing hills was next to impossible. Needless to say, I had two blacktail tags to fill and I wasn’t giving up.
We gained access to a small piece of property and started running cameras in early October. A week prior to the opening of season our cameras had yet to catch any mature bucks on camera during daylight hours, but the bucks were already exhibiting rut behavior, so I knew they could show up at any time.
Opening morning the deer were moving right at first light. It was windy and rainy and the first couple of does that came in were really jumpy. We expected to see deer, but we were shocked when one of the bigger bucks we’d been watching came in on a string.
I drew back, centered my top pin just behind his front shoulder and pulled the trigger. As soon as I released the arrow, the deer dropped and turned before the arrow hit its mark. The arrow went in high and a little back. My heart sunk. As the deer ran over the hill I could see a small part of the white fletching sticking out. At that moment it started pouring down rain.
I was torn. Do I get out and look for sign, or should I give him more time to expire. After reviewing the video, I decided to give him at least 30 minutes because of the shot placement. It was pouring at this point and my anxiety was through the roof as I thought of my blood trail disappearing. The minutes dragged by and all the worst case scenarios were running through my head. All I could do is try to relax, say a prayer for a successful recovery and wait.
I nervously emerged from the ground blind and went to the spot where I’d shot him. There was no sign of blood. Thankfully the soggy, soft mud left well-defined deer tracks in the grass. I followed the tracks for 40 yds; still no sign of blood. If there was any, it had been washed away by the rain. I said another prayer.
I continued to follow the tracks and as I came around the corner, about 60 yds from where I shot him, I saw the buck laying in the grass. God is good!
I think this is probably the shortest hunt I’ve ever been on. We got into the blind at 5:30 a.m. and I was tagged out by 8:30 a.m.
A month later I climbed into the same blind with my final blacktail tag in my pocket. The rut was really heating up at this point and we were hopeful that one of the two big bucks we had on camera would make an appearance. We were hunting the evening this time because nothing was on camera in the morning.
At around 4 p. m. a doe appeared on the hillside. She headed straight towards the food and hot on her trail was a big 3×3 buck. He seemed to be on high alert and was acting very jumpy. As soon as he made his way to the food, I knew I wasn’t going to have much time. He could bolt at any point. I drew back, centered my pin and let my arrow fly. Thwack! A perfect shot!
The buck slowly walked over the hill and disappeared into a thicket of blackberry bushes. After 30 minutes we followed him in and it was some of the nastiest brush I’ve ever had to trail an animal through. We were crawling over and under berry briars in a maze of tangled thorns. On top of that it was getting dark and finding blood was challenging. On our hands and knees we followed each speck of blood. Just as we were losing hope and thinking we needed to call for reinforcements to help us in our search, Ty looked up and saw the buck laying next to a tree. God is so good!
2 bucks, and a baby on-board, it was one of the most incredible seasons of my life. The 2017 archery season challenged us in new ways. We had to change how we typically hunt since spot and stalk wasn’t an option at this stage of my pregnancy, but it didn’t hold us back. We gave it our all and worked together as a team to get it done. I’m grateful for all of the highs, lows and everything in-between. Mostly I can’t wait to share this story with my baby boy someday. Hunter James Hartwig was born on January 31, 2018. A perfect addition to our family.