Why Brian Lull Hates Blacktails

If you haven’t seen it, there’s a thread on Hunting Washington today entitled “I hate blacktails. Never hunting them again.”

Writes Double J, author of the post, “I hate this animal.  Give me a nice 350 yard shot across a canyon at a mulie any day.”

Responds Smokepole, “Me too.  I feel your pain, brother.  Go ahead and let it all out… You need a hug, man?”

Adds Runamuk, “… damn (things) are in my yard all night eating apples in my trees but go to the woods where they belong…nothing…….”

Later posters speak to the difficulties of patterning the deer known as the ghosts of the timber and say perseverance is needed.

Well, if anyone has persevered this year, it is Northwest Sportsman‘s Brian Lull.

Not happy with getting blanked for muleys in the Okanogan and driving 600 miles roundtrip to glass hundreds of whitetails but no shootable bucks in Whitman County, he decided to hunt a little closer to home this past weekend — albeit it in a jungle he wasn’t exactly familiar with — and see if he couldn’t lug a blacktail buck back to a Halloween party.

Or pull of the hat trick of futility with Washington’s third huntable species of deer …

Here’s Lull’s tale:

Here’s my latest sob story from Saturday’s efforts.  I hunt as hard as anyone; opening weekend I was in the Tripod Burn north of Winthrop.  Last weekend I was in the nearly vertical Snake River Breaks.  I admit I probably don’t hunt as smart as those who kill blacktail deer consistently….they are out there, both the big bucks and the hunters who have dialed them in.  We get numerous HIVIZ / Northwest Sportsman Magazine entries every month of big beautiful Washington and Oregon blacktail bucks.  The common theme from these hunters is ‘know your deer’.  These guys and gals live in deer country and spend alot of time in the brush.  They know them winter spring summer and most importantly, fall.  That’s tough for an urban based hunter, so I tend to stab in the dark hunting areas I think they will be based on cover, food and hunting pressure.  Educated guesses at best.

My 2010 blacktail hunt started at 5 PM Friday; hop the ferry three blocks from NW Sportsman’s offices to Bainbridge Island.  Just 2mi from the ferry dock I see flares, a car in the ditch with its headlights pointed in the sky and my first deer of the trip…unfortunately she’s dead having just been hit by that Cadilac in the ditch.  Stop, the driver is shaken but not injured, deer is deader than a door nail and the cops and tow trucks have been called.  Off I go.

I wake up next morning, apply face paint for the first time…..I’m going to a Halloween party tonight and I’ll be a deer attack victim.  Might as well try the face paint thing for the first time and it will make a heck of a costume.  It can’t hurt, I’ve tried everything else.

I’m in the deer woods South of Port Townsend today because that is when I’m told by the blacktail experts that this is the seeking phase of the rut and deer should be moving.  Well it’s a very bright half moon tonight and plenty of light so I”m sure they’re moving…will they be in the morning??

4:30 am comes early when you’re sleeping in the back seat of your truck beside the main hwy leading to Port Townsend.  I hike in to my spot well before the first hint of dawn and bump a deer.  This is a good sign.  Over 30yrs of hunting them I notice blacktail leave plenty of sign.  ~Signs that they were here and some places you would think all the tracks,rubs and poop were made by invisible deer. It’s maddening.  They make good use the cover of night, as if the cover of the Pacific coast jungle isn’t enough.  Then again, I ask myself “what would I do to avoid being shot?”

6:45 am light begins, I see my first hunter.  Two shots ring out 1/4 mile to the NE.  Someone got lucky.  (Or they’re a better hunter than me)

7:45 am I see two more hunters.  They must see me yet they stand and glass only 300yds away.  Why do people do this?

7:50, I hike out to my truck.  2mi walk, the sun is out, the birds are out, the deer are not.  Today’s storm looms on the Southwest flanks of the Olympic Mountains.

9:10am,I peruse my maps, figure a place I’ve never been to but looks promising on the Google Earth.  I go to said places and make several hikes and find some very ‘wolfy’ areas but no deer.

2:30 PM; I’m back in an area I have hunted previous years.

2:40PM.  I’m 400 yards back from the truck where the really thick reprod begins and I’m starting to see lots of sign…it’s mossy and dark and this is where I’d be if I was an old blacktail buck.  ~And I can see the signs, fresh poop, rubs and tracks.  Even a pile that isn’t cold.  I’m in the zone now.  I rattle, I use a deer call (very effective in Sitka).  I’m quiet..I’m cold and wet.  Damnit I’m over due for a deer.

A mental check is in order. The woods don’t owe you anything.  Yes this is true but I hunt hard and hike and pursue my deer on their terms.  Yes good on you, sure you haven’t shot a deer in a few years, but you’re not entitled to anything….you earn it.  OK Self, point taken.

But why do I see pictures of 14yr old girls with nice big bucks and stories about guys who walked into the deer woods for the first time and shoot the buck of a lifetime 10 minutes later?  Just the way the ball bounces sometimes.  Time in the woods….it could happen in the next minute or another year.  It will happen.  Time in the woods.

Speaking of time.  It’s getting dark.  I’ll hunt my way back to the truck and get going.  I have to catch the ferry in time for the Halloween party.  “Wait till they get a load of me” the Joker from Batman scene plays in my mind.

5:15PM Jeez I should have been back to the cut my truck is parked on by now.  If I keep heading East I have to run into the road.  Right?

5:45.  This can’t be right.  It’s getting thicker not thinner.  The trees are 30ft tall, the salal is up to my armpits and there’s trailing blackberry interwoven everywhere…a tangled mess.  I need to find the road and fast.  I head frantically in the direction I see light.  It’s getting dark and the rain is increasing.

6:01.  I stop.  Actually I fell.  I stop and tell myself I’m about to hurt myself and be really screwed if I break something out here. I AM LOST.  The first time in 30 years of hunting and hiking I’m lost.  I make myself admit it.  Like an alcoholic, it’s the first step to solving the problem. Stop and think.  Make a plan.  You’re just making it worse every step you take.  It’s compass time.  The compass says this way is North….the mind says this way can’t be North.  I have been heading East.  Compass says I’m heading West.  The compass never lies, I remind myself.  OK, I know the direction, but I’m seriously screwed because I can’t see any land marks, it’s dusk, it’s raining hard and I don’t know which direction to hit the road my truck is on.

6:04.  I pick a direction.  It is East because that’s the direction I’ll certainly run into a road on in this peninsula. I hope.  I finally find a stump that doesn’t crumble when I try to stand on it….I proceed to get on top of it and off in the distance a mile through the gloom is a row of tall timber…there must be a road there.  The compass reads 70 degrees magnetic.

This is not the woods.  It is a tangled nightmare of salal, ferns, alder, fir and trailing blackberry.  ~And a hidden layer of ankle twisting logging slash.  Taking a straight line course is nearly impossible.  But it’s necessary to hit the mark.  I remind myself each detour around a brush wall takes you off course.  Must stay the course If I’m to make it to the tall timber. I don’t want to spend the night out here.

7:15.  I break out of the wall of brush onto a well traveled road.  But I did not pass any tall timber on the drive in.  This isn’t the right road.  But goddamn I’m glad to be on any road at this point. I’ve solved problem 1….get myself un-lost.

7:30:  Problem 2; finding the truck is starting to look like a very big problem indeed.  I’ve been hiking West on this road for at least a mile and I’m not seeing anything that looks familiar.  Each truck that passes I stop to ask if they’ve seen a gray four door Toyota parked.  All five times the answer is no.

8:10: Complete darkness, wind is blowing rain sideways,  but I’m heading North and hear the highway a couple miles in the distance.  It’s comforting to know which way is up now, but I’m clearly on the wrong road.  It’s going to be a 5 mile hike back on the right road once I get to the highway.  There’s one more beer left in the cooler and it’s going to be the best I’ve ever drank!

9:15:  Arrive at the highway and I take the left fork of the mainline back in nearly the same direction I just came from.

9:24: A Toyota comes down the road.  They stop to ask.  (They are first truck I didn’t have to flag down).  I ask them if they’d seen my truck.  They say no but volunteer to go look.  I describe best I can the turns I took and where it should be.  Their truck has a very distinct loud exhaust.  I hear it fade off into the distance and after 5 minutes the sound completely disappears. This could be a very long night.

9:47  I hear their truck.  It’s coming my way.

10:02   Headlights.  They found it.  I hop in the back even though the passenger offers to give me his seat.

10:14.  We arrive at the truck.  I offer them beers, money, an invitation to a very swinging Halloween party with lots of drunk pretty girls.  They politely decline, just happy to help they say.  It turns out they are, in the famous words of my pal Dave Workman; “not from around here”.  The two young men are sailors stationed at Everett aboard the Louisiana.  I thank them for their service,  for saving my ass.

10:15 I fire the truck up, call my wife.  She is in full on party mode yet very grateful I’m OK.  I can hear lots of girls giggling in the background.  Did you get a deer?  (I hate that question)  More giggling. I tell her the usual answer and a little about my new found appreciation for where they live.  I tell here I love her and will be to the party by midnight if I make the ferry.  I’m very glad to be in my warm truck and headed in the correct direction for the first time in hours.

10:23.  A large blacktail doe jumps up out of the brush onto the road in front of me.  She prances one way then back, seemingly confused as to which way to go to get out of my headlights.  ~She probably knows exactly which way to go.


One Response to “Why Brian Lull Hates Blacktails”

  1. Gina Lull Says:

    I’m so releaved my husband came home that night…deer or no deer.

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