The Grey Ghost aka blacktail deer


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Hidden in the lush temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest is one of the most elusive of all the deer species,  the Columbia Blacktail deer. Most people who are familiar with this deer are used to trying to avoid running it over at dusk as it leaves its daytime hiding spot to look for food.  Whether you are hunting or just wanting to take pictures of these beautiful animals you will have your work cut out for you. Most of the coast range involves steep and brushy hillsides that are covered in a soft cover of dead needles and leaves.  More than once I have started down a hill and ended up sliding down through salmon berry patches.

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Blacktail deer are a Diurnal animal (active most at dawn and dusk) Deer are browsers. During the winter and early spring, they feed on Douglas-fir, western red cedar, red huckleberry, salal, deer fern, and lichens growing on trees. Late spring to fall, they consume grasses, blackberries, fireweed, pearly everlasting, forbs, salmonberry, salal, and maple. The mating or ‘rutting’ season occurs during November and early December. Bucks can be observed running back and forth across the roads in the pursuit of does. After the rut, the bucks tend to hide and rest, often nursing wounds. They suffer broken antlers, and have lost weight. They drop their antlers between January and March. Antlers on the forest floor provide a source of calcium and other nutrients to other forest inhabitants. Bucks regrow their antlers beginning in April through to August. Many a person can be found in the woods from January to March “shed” hunting.  Along with Deer antlers you may run across Roosevelt elk antlers.  Many times if you find one antler from an animal you will find the second one close by. Antlers from both animals can be used for many things.  Hilts for knives, buttons, spear tips, and many other things.

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Because of the types of food that Blacktail’s eat they are often called transition species since they feed mostly in areas that have recently been cut for logging or burned in a forest fire.  With the restrictions on logging that have went into effect in the National forests over the last couple decades the prime feeding habit that is needed has been reduced.  This has made an impact on the population in the National forests, and you will see more deer in private logging lands then you will in the National forests.  This makes finding them a lot more difficult since most private logging areas are gated off and you cannot reach them by car.  Luckily most areas do not require permits to go into so if you would like an adventure park near a gate and bicycle into the area.  The lack of cars driving through makes the animals in the area less skittish and you can get some great pictures of them.

The easiest way to get pictures and learn the behavior of deer in your area is to use a motion camera.  The price of these camera’s has dropped a lot in the last couple years.  You can get one for around $50.  Don’t expect high quality on the low range cameras.  But they will give you an idea of what deer and other animals that you have wandering through at night.  I recommend getting a lock box to go with your camera.  They are easily stolen if you put them out near public lands.  Even if you walk miles in off the roads you never know who might wander through and not respect your property.

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