Thick Forest Deer Hunting in the Pacific North West

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Feb 25, 2004
Bellingham, WA
Alrighty, I've managed to find time for one more trip into the woods. The place I'm looking at, which is only about an hour from home is up a logging road in some pretty thick forest just past Gold Bar in Northwest Washington State.

I took the kids up there for a day of scouting around and didn't see a single deer sign. There must be deer in there, it looks like great habitat (as if I'd know :rolleyes: ). I think I may have seen some tracks, but can't be sure, they weren't definative. I did see this, don't know what it is, probably bear as it had some berries in it.


Also saw some hairballs on the same trail, bobcat or cougar maybe?

I'm kinda puzzled on account of I went out with PolishRifleman to his spread east of the mountains and deer sign was EVERYWHERE. Why is it in the forest on the west side you don't see any signs? Should I risk wasting my day here, or go somewhere else? Are there deer in these woods and I just need to be there early to see 'em? I don't mind staking out a good spot on a hill to glass the place at first light, but will it do any good? Is the deep forest like this different in terms of deer sign than the more open woods in the east? What gives? I did see one nice forest grouse though, I think, I'm not really sure what a forest grouse is. :eek:

Here's a pic of the area, still active logging going on.



Signs around say there's no camping, shooting or hunting EXCEPT DURING STATE HUNTING SEASON.
are you chasing blacktails, perchance?

those pics look an awful lot like the black hills of sd, where i do a little hunting. it took me several years to kill my first hills deer, but ever since that first kill, i've had a very high success rate.

some things to look for - and since you'll be going from memory unless you get time to go back and look, it will be tough... look for rubs and scrapes. bucks will always harass trees so they can get their antlers polished up. look for trees that have their bark stripped, usually knee to shoulder high. rubs aren't necessarily going to be a couple feet long, but there will be some. take a mental note of where the rub is, and continue on your way - you should find another. eventually, you'll find several more. this is a rub line, and is a telltale sign of deer activity. it will also help highlight the deer trails a bit so you can start to know what to look for to see more trails.

scrapes are patches in the dirt where the deer have been tearing it up and urinating in it, etc. territorial thing. don't spend a lot of time looking for these - they're tougher to see, and don't really stand out a lot.

realize the deer aren't going to be where you'd like them to be. i mean, i'd love it if they would dance around in the clearings for me all day, but don't waste your time babysitting that. they very well might spend a few minutes in the open areas, but you can pretty much expect they aren't going to stay there. look to the edges of the clearings, in the trees, about 10-40 yards. you should find trails the deer will use to get to the shortest crossing point of the clearing. that would be a good spot to watch. before entering a clearing, many times deer will stand at the edge, sniffing and looking, trying to be sure all is well. there's your shot... however, you have got to remain still, because they will know something is up as soon as they get to the edge. it won't register w/ them until too late, unless you are moving around, in which case you will probably never even see the deer.

there's lots more on the subject, but there's a rough start for you, and the way i would approach it. look for trails, pick an ambush spot, and watch the trails. the highly trafficked trails are likely doe trails, and you probably won't see any bucks on them until your rut starts (too early for rut now, especially here). the lighter traffic trails are probably buck trails. not fun for a new hunter to hunt buck trails because there just isn't much activity on them - but when there is, it is usually a good one to dump! btw... buck trails tend to be close to doe trails, and run nearly perfectly paralell, within 20 yards, usually. once you spend some time in the trees and start knowing what to look for, things like spot-and-stalk, still hunting, etc are far more fun...

good luck!
Instead of finding a good spot to glass a clear cut, try finding one that's a few years old and then working your way from top to bottom. Often, west-side blacktails will bed down for the day in these areas, just out of sight of a logging road (apparently, they're wise to the road hunters, too.) Check out areas that can't be seen from the road. Move slowly, and watch your step on loose logs - this is a good way to get hurt if you're not careful.

Be prepared to jump something close up - a buddy and I jumped a nice 4x4 at about 25 feet last year like this...

Forest grouse (ruffed / blue) are tasty, although I pretty much have to shoot a bag limit to get a meal out of ruffed.

If you want a long clear shot at something, head eastside - you rarely get that here.

Yup, it's bear scat.

Good Luck.
That kid looks in great shape for someone who's been eaten by a bear. :D

Yes, that's bear scat -- look for parallel scratch marks on near by trees -- bears like to leave marks that show other bears how big they are.

Bear scat tends to look a lot like human scat. Lion scat would be J-shaped.

I'd look for an area that was cut over some five years or so ago -- the thick cover and tender browse makes for ideal deer habitat.
Carnaby, Yer making me all nostaligic. I did a lot of growing up in that area. Grandpa still lives by the Sultan River near Startup.

Thanks for the great pics of home!
thanks for the help! Long clear shots not neccessary, as I'm hunting with a Winchester model 94 in .30-30 and no scope. :)
Nice choice, that's what I hunted with last year, but ended up giving it to a friend who needed it more. This year, it's the k-31 with irons - need to use it for something other than clay pigeons, and ventilating beer cans.
and yup, blacktails it is. I think :eek:

uh yeah, the regs say blacktails, which I guess are closely related to muleys. I originally thought it was mulesy. How about that :rolleyes:
Man,,, I haven't hunted that area since I was a teen. Originally from Tacoma. Further south from you- Enumclaw and the hills around Packwood lake were my favorites for Blacktail. You've got plenty of options in the western hills of the Cascades though. Since you're -shall I gander Everette/Monroe and east, I'd suggest some of the Crown Pacific land to the north but east of Highway 9. The clearcuts you're looking at probably have deer in them. They'll set on the ledges that can't be seen from the road. Often close to the edge near tall timber. Think of a Blacktail as a seasoned veteran thief Marine sniper/magician. If a good buck doesn't want to be seen. He won't be. Limit your shots with the lever action to less than 150yds. But, that truly is a brush gun, and more Blacktails will be found in the lush green Alder stands of less than 10 years old.

Be a safe hunter. Know your target. Take safety stuff, (the 10 essentials). Know your environment. Hunt in pairs. Make sure someone knows exactly where you're going. If you change plans, tell someone. I've taken more than 12 Blacktail from the western ridges in past years. Spikes to heavy four points, (we only count one side of the rack out west). I've gotten me one Bear. They are common, But they're more affraid of you than you are them. Most rookie deer hunters won't get near one so don't worry. A Mamma with cubs can be a dangerous situation, but standing tall and making noise will usually scare them off. There's never been a bear/human attack in Washington. (that I know of) Cats... You probably won't see them either.

Find a spot to watch in the morning. Somewhere you've found fresh tracks and scat. Look for feeding trails. Just sit and wait- concealed. Once 0930 rolls around, "Still hunt", -that's walking through the low land timber on feeding trails. Keep your eyes out front and up ridge. They'll see and hear you first. But they're inquisitive. They'll watch you for a while before they'll bolt, unless you've truly startled them. If you are quiet enough, you'll get lucky. The rest is up to your trigger finger. Once 1630 has rolled around, Sit again. Watch the draws coming from a low swamp or valley. Find trails coming from these areas.

Remember, a terrible day hunting is still a helluva lot better than a day at work. Starting now, before your kids are ready for the same, is a great idea. You need to be experienced before you take young'ns in the woods. I'm taking my 13yr old for his first hunt this year. He drew a doe tag for just north of Winthrop... :neener:

Be safe.

Thanks, Steve. Yeah, I won't shoot more than 100 yards, and not at all if the target is uncertain. All the advice I'm getting here is good, and I sure do enjoy the outdoors and the hunt, even if I don't bag anything.

thanks again :)
Lots of good advice given already but I'll throw a few cents worth.

The hairballs might be "owl pellets." Owls eat rodents whole and spit up the bones and fur after a little digesting. Pretty common to find them under a good perching branch/tree. If you find them out in the open I would suspect something else.

The 30/30 a good choice for Westside Blacktails. Easy to carry in the sticks, lethal on blacktails.

If there are a lot of other hunters in the area it's best to sit tight near game trails with recent sign, especially where trails converge. It's safer and chances are good they will push game to you. As others have said, be sure of your target.

If you are alone I would find an area with a lot of sign that allows you good shot. In the dense timber it's difficult to move quietly enough not to spook every deer in earshot. If you are spooking birds, you are moving too fast. I like the edges of timber/clearcuts. Deer will often stage or bed in these areas. Use your binoculars. Move a little, slowly, glass again.

Don't leave anything in your car! Unfortunately car breakins are very common in Western WA these days. I was broken into a few years back. Luckily they only got a flashlight :cuss: as I had my gear with me. I had another bud loose some tools that he had removed and hidden in the woods near his jeep. I'm not sure how they found them but they were gone when he got back along with his spare tire... My brother lost his jack...:cuss:
Carnaby, that area looks familiar ... is it off one of the USFS roads to the north or south of U.S. Hwy 2? And how far past Mt. Index? 'Cause the last time we hunted back that way (a few years back), saw only a couple small blacktails, but lots of hunters ...
"those pics look an awful lot like the black hills of sd"

Recently move out from Rapid City to the pacific NW... Hills here are slightly more rugged and much thicker. I've never seen so many bugs in my life in the summer time...
Here in Idaho the deer/elk move into those cut area fast. The National Forest did a selective cut (not clear cut) up in back of our place this year. I was in there yesterday and it was full of deer. I'd work those transition zones between heavy growth and cut areas, you should find deer there.
Hey Old Dog. Yeah, I think that is about where that area is at. Not exactly sure.

I hope the situation has improved since you were there last. I'm going out on a Tuesday and at 4am, so hopefully I'll beat the rush. That, and I'm going in the last week of the season.

We'll see...
Oh yeah,

Justsaymo, they weren't owl pellets. I thought of that at the time, and checked for the little bones, there were none. I've played with owl pellets before and they definitely looked alot more like hairballs from a cat. The hair strands were longer, for one.
Them pictures remind me of the time I was stationed in WA. We hunted an area southwest of Olympia. Capital state forest area. Lots of black bear and blacktail deer.
Well, I had my day in the woods and came up empty handed. I was there at 5:45am and found what looked like a good spot, but come daylight there were no signs of deer. I switched spots two more times and finally found a clearcut that had grown back a bit.

It was tough going, but there were lots of tracks and droppings in that area. I made my way to the edge of the cut and there were no signs at all in the woods, at least not where I was. I spent the rest of the afternoon on a hill overlooking the cut, but I had to leave at 4:30 as I wouldn't have time to get a deer to the butcher after that, and I had no place to keep a deer cool until morning Frown

Anyhow, I think that would've been the spot for the morning. I'll remember it for next year!

Don't feel bad about leavin' the woods empty handed. I got back yesterday from spending the last two weeks in the mountains just over Stevens Pass. The weather just didn't cooperate. We finally got some snow just above us around the middle of the last week which got the deer moving but not enough to bring the big bucks down. Guess I'll be buying beef this year. (or I could hit the space needle like your other post). Anyway, the good was that I had a better two weeks hiking with my rifle that I would have at work. The bad was that some "yo-yo" got into my camp and decided he needed may chainsaw, axe and hatchet more than I did. First time in over 25 years up there that I've even heard of camp crook.

Anyway, good huntin' to ya',

Guess I'll be seeing you guys for the late hunt, because other than covering a lot of ground, and getting really wet, I got blanked too. Spent the last half hour of daylight on the last day staring at three does and an antlerless through binoculars (I'm in a 2 pt minimum GMU), hoping for something to pop up...but the weather definately did not cooperate for deer season...
Sorry to hear about the theft - that's a pretty regular thing where I'm at.

At least grouse has been good this year.
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