Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
Venado cola prieta de Columbia (Sp), Kolumbia Schwarzwedelhirsch (G), Cerf à queue noire de Columbia (F).
DESCRIPTION A mature black-tail buck from Washington or Oregon will stand 38-40 inches (97-102 cm) at the shoulder and weigh 150-200 pounds (68-90 kg), sometimes even more. Bucks from Vancouver Island are lighter, weighing 110-160 pounds (50-73 kg), and those from chaparral areas of California are lighter yet at 100-145 pounds (45-66 kg). Females are considerably smaller than males.
A black-tailed deer can be distinguished from a mule deer by its tail, metatarsal glands, overall coloration, face and antlers. A black-tail's tail is nearly as long as a mule deer's but is much wider, which makes it larger in comparison to the body. It is solid black on top except for a slight white fringe near the bottom, and the underside is white. (By comparison, a mule deer tail is narrow at the middle, tapering wider at top and bottom, and normally is white with a black tip, though sometimes the upper part will be brown). The underside tail hairs are not erectile, and the tail is not used for signaling. Preorbital, tarsal, metatarsal and interdigital glands are present. The metatarsal glands on a black-tail are 2-1/2 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) in length and are located about halfway between hock and hoof. (On a mule deer, these glands are five inches [12.7 cm] long and closer to the hock.) The summer coat is similar to that of a mule deer, but the winter coat is redder-a cedar brown. The black-tail's face is noticeably shorter and darker than a mule deer's, and the ears are smaller. The antlers are small, compact and relatively stout for their length, as befits a deer living in thick forest. Black-tails from drier, more open California habitat tend to have longer, wider antlers. It is not unusual for black-tails to have the T-3 tine missing-that is, to have a single point in place of the rear fork. It is also common for the T-3 tine to be stronger than T-2, which is the reverse of normal configuration.
BEHAVIOR Habits are similar to those of a mule deer. Black-tails living in low-lying forests without much snow will remain in one small area year-round. In mountain areas, they migrate the same as mule deer, spending summers in the high meadows and winters in sheltered valleys. Black-tails sometimes mingle with mule deer in summer range, but in fall will descend the western slopes while the mule deer descend the eastern slopes. Black-tails are browsers that eat very little grass. Sense of smell is paramount, although hearing is excellent and vision is good. When disturbed, black-tails tend to lie low or sneak away quietly instead of bounding off like a mule deer. Main predator is the coyote, with the cougar next.
HABITAT Dense coastal forest and westward-facing mountain forest, but also found in grassland, oak and chaparral.
DISTRIBUTION The Pacific Coast region of North America from Bella Bella and Bella Coola, British Columbia, in the north, including Vancouver Island and other offshore islands, to Ragged Point, Monterey County, California, in the south. Has been introduced on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.
For record-keeping purposes, the following boundaries are used to separate Columbia black-tailed deer to the west from mule deer to the east.
British Columbia: From Bella Bella near the mouth of Dean Channel eastward to Bella Coola on North Bentinck Arm, then along the crest of the Coast Range (including Mts. Monarch, Waddington and Dalgleish) to Alta Lake, then across Garibaldi Provincial Park to Harrison Lake, then down Harrison Lake to Harrison Hot Springs, then eastward along the crest between the Chilliwack and Skagit rivers to the Washington border.
Washington: From the British Columbia border, south along the western boundary of North Cascades National Park to the township line between R10E and R11E near Marblemount, then south along the township line to the northern boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park, then west, south and east along the park boundary to its intersection with the township line between R9E and R10E, then south along the township line to the Columbia River near Cook.
Oregon: From Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River, south along the western boundaries of Mt. Hood, Willamette and Umpqua national forests to Tiller (Douglas County), then along Highway 227 to Trail, Hwy 62 to Medford, and Interstate 5 to the California border.
California: From the Oregon border, south along I-5 to Santa Clarita then west along Hwy-126 to the coast (Ventura). The western block is black-tailed deer range.
Hybrid areas: The problem of properly defining the boundary between the large antlered mule deer and its smaller relative, the Columbia black-tailed deer has been difficult from the beginning of record keeping. The two interbreed. The intent of the Record Book Committee in drawing this conservative boundary area is to exclude all intergrades (hybrids). Deer taken outside the black-tailed deer area can be submitted to the record book as a black-tailed deer, but must have at least one photo taken from the rear of the deer that includes the tail and the head (turned 180 degrees from the camera). Without this verification, deer taken outside the above described block will be entered as Rocky Mountain mule deer.
REMARKS The Columbia black-tail in its wet forest habitat in British Columbia, Washington and northern Oregon is a demanding game animal, and success is low on trophy bucks. It is wary, the terrain is difficult, the weather is likely to be unpleasant, and in many places seasons are short and hunting pressure high. Stalking in the thick cover is beyond the ability of many hunters, although in some years early snows are a help. Good methods are to wait on stands and to glass logging slashes. Shots are often long, so accurate, flat-shooting rifles with top quality, fog-proof scopes are needed. Blacktails are easiest to hunt in the more open country of California and southern Oregon, especially on private land.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Columbia black-tailed deer will interbreed with mule deer where they come in contact, and fertile offspring that have intermediate characteristics are produced. Hybrids can be identified by the tail, as there will be a black stripe running full length on top. Interestingly, some biologists believe the black-tailed deer is in the process of evolving into a separate species.
STATUS Seton estimated there were 3,000,000 Columbia black-tails when Europeans arrived in North America, but this is probably high. There are 1,500,000 now, and they are expanding their range.