California's 30 Inch Blacktails
By Dan Gibson

Columbian Blacktails like this 30 inch 5x5 are more common than most hunters realize

I can't tell you how many times I have heard people make statements such as, " I don't know why you even bother hunting Blacktails? They’re only the size of a big dog and besides that their horns aren't even worth hanging on the wall". My response to them is, "Well, they're close by and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than going out of state mule deer hunting". What I am really thinking is, "great, that leaves more hunting opportunity for me".

The majority of hunters who make such statements have probably been done most of their hunting in the pages of magazine's, where 30 inch mulies are common, and a good Blacktail is a forked horn with a twelve inch spread. They simply don't realize they are missing out on some of the best and most challenging hunting the West Coast has to offer.

I am sure that every serious Blacktail hunter has heard similar comments from uninformed hunters. The truth is Blacktails reach sizes that would make many mule deer and Whitetail hunters get a bad case of buck fever.

Deer hunters often spend thousands of dollars on out of state hunting trips and come back empty handed, or with bucks that don't compare to a good Blacktail. A lot of these people drive through great Blacktail habitat on their way to their out of state hunting grounds, never giving Blacktail hunting a second thought. I believe one of the main reasons for this is many hunters simply don't realize how big a Columbian Blacktail can get.

Hunting magazine's help perpetuate the myth that Blacktails seldom reach respectable sizes. One hunting publication that I read recently, shows the author of a Blacktail hunting story holding up a nice buck. The buck, a very respectable 3 point, is certainly a nice trophy, but its thin, low, wide, rack is not the equivalent of a 30 inch mule deer as the article claims. These types of stories lead many readers to believe, that the buck the author took, is about as big as a Blacktail gets. When in reality this is far from the truth.

When I tell people that every year there are Blacktails taken In our area that would make a serious mule deer hunter envious, they don't believe me. One such buck was taken earlier this year near Laytonville. The big 4 x 4 horns measured 27 1/2 inches outside and 17 inches high, with long eye-guards and good mass thorough out. Many muledeer hunters will never see a buck this size while in the field. Let alone take one.

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Most Muledeer hunters would be proud to bring home either of these Columbian Blacktails. The 28 inch wide 5x6 was taken in Mendocino County in 1995. The B&C Blacktail on the right was photographed near Arcata, CA. Making both bucks undoubtedly pure Columbian Blacktails.

Even many hard-core Blacktail hunters are surprised when they look at a record book and see just how big Columbian Blacktails really get. California has numerous Blacktails in the Boone and Crockett record book with spreads approaching or exceeding 30 inches. If you don't believe me, look for yourself. Can you imagine what a 130 pound Blacktail (like the one pictured above) would look like with a 30 inch wide rack on his head? Compared to a 250 lb mulie with the same horns, he would look absolutely huge!!

California grows some extremely wide bucks. These aren't just freaks that grow low wide racks and have no height or main beam length. They are truly big in every respect. I realize there is much more to a trophy class set of horns than just width, but most deer hunters seem to place a lot of emphases on it, so that's what I am going to talk about.

California’s number one Columbian Blacktail was taken in 1949 by Peter Gerbo in Glen County. This incredible buck has an inside spread of 26 5/8 inches, with its greatest spread exceeding 30 inches. The big 5 x 5 also has extremely heavy horns, which measure 5 1/2 inches in circumference, at the smallest point between its burr and first point (eye-guard). Main bean lengths of 24 inches, and 8 1/2 inches of abnormal points. This buck would be an exceptional mule deer.

Another buck, taken in Trinity county by A.H. Hilbert measures 26 5/8 inches inside, 30 inches outside and has 23-inch main beams. In 1961 Brud Eade took a huge buck in Santa Clara county, with an outside spread of 28 6/8 inches. This massive 5 x 7 also has 10 5/8 inches of abnormal points. George Rodgers shot a buck in Mendocino county in 1977, that has a 30 inch outside spread, twenty six inch main beams and an inside spread of 25 inches, as well as 9 4/8 inches of abnormal points.

The widest Columbian Blacktail listed in the Boone and Crockett record book was also taken by A.H. Hilbert, in Trinity County. Just one year after taking the 30-inch buck mentioned above. Hilbert took an even wider one. This tremendous Columbian Blacktail has an outside spread of 35 3/8 inches, and a 28 6/8-inch inside spread. It has main beam lengths averaging 26 inches, as well as 9 6/8 inches of abnormal points. There is not a mule deer hunter out there who wouldn't be proud to take a buck of this caliber.

The bucks I have mentioned in this article are only a few of the big Columbian Blacktails listed in Boone and Crockett. The book is full of bucks from California with spreads in excess of 25 inches. Not to mention the huge bucks that have been taken that don't meet Boone and Crockett's stringent criteria for one reason or another.

Oregon and Washington also regularly produce huge Columbian Blacktails but they don't seem to have the excessive width that the California bucks do. Their genetic make-up likely cause their horns to be configured some what differently, than those of their Northern California cousins.

If you are looking for an incredible hunt with breath taking scenery try hunting California's wide-racked, high mountain Blacktails. I guarantee you, It will be an experience you will never forget.

Dan Gibson