selecting deer hair
By Chris Helm
right hair will make your deer hair flies - Comparaduns, EHC´s,
Muddlers, bass bugs - much easier to tie.
North American Whitetail Deer
The whitetail deer
provides the fly tier with a variety of hair for many different
fly patterns for both fresh and saltwater fishing. It is easily
obtainable and relatively inexpensive in cost.
The two major species of
deer in North America are the whitetail (Odocoileus virginanus)
and the mule deer (O. hemionus). Worldwide there are 30
subspecies of whitetail of which 17 are found in North America.
Mule deer compromises of 11 subspecies of which eight live in
North America. This is important to the fly tier because some
species of whitetail have hair that is much more suitable for
fly tying than others.
Different regions of
North America have different subspecies and each of these deer
have their own hair characteristics. The subspecies which
inhabit the northern states and southern Canada generally
possess the best overall hair quality for a variety of tying
requirements. The hair which is used in tying is obtained from
the "winter coat" (blue coat) of the whitetail. The term "blue
coat" is of the roots of the hair which grow through the skin
before the hair has grown to its full length. Once the hair has
grown out completely the inside of the skin is creamy white. The
summer coat (red coat) lacks the qualities necessary to make
good tying hair. It is solid in texture, much more tapered, and
wirey in texture. The majority of the winter coat is kinky to
wavey in appearance, and is described as "hollow". This is not a
completely accurate description of the winter hair as it is not
hollow like a drink straw, but rather each hair is filled with
hundreds of tiny air pockets which serve as the insulation for
the deer in cold climatic conditions. This "hollow" quality is
also the reason the hair floats.
Don't shoot until
you see the white on the ground!
Useful hair comes from Whitetails shot during the cold season.
The whitetail goes through two
molting processes each year. The most important molting period
to the fly tier is the fall molt. This process begins in late
August or early September, depending on the latitude. The new
winter coat pushes out the summer coat in varying parts of the
body until the entire hair coat has been replaced with winter
coat. This hair is very short as it begins much like grass seed
that just begins to sprout in a new lawn. The hair grows very
rapidly and will reach about 1- 1 ¼" in 30 days. This short time
is when to obtain hair which is ideal for Comparaduns, Caddis
patterns, and Muddlers, just to name a few. In the northern
states such as Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the
ideal hair for the patterns mentioned above is best obtained
during the second and third week of October. This may vary
slightly for deer found farther south. Because this is bow
season it may be difficult to obtain any large number of hides,
but for a single tier attempting to obtain one hide, the task
shouldn't be impossible.
No two hides are the
By mid to late November
the hair length will have reached its maximum length which is 2
to 2 ¼", with some hair being slightly longer on a few deer.
When the hair has reached its maximum length, it is well suited
to spinning and stacking for use in bass bugs. Refer to the deer
hair chart to identify the various parts of the hide which
produce hair for specific tying purposes. Not two deer hides are
exactly the same in color and texture. The quality of a
particular animal's hair for tying purposes is determined by
heredity, food, age, and sex. A quality diet of corn, beans,
apples, acorns, and many other plants is reflected in a healthy
animal's hide. The age of the deer is also important, as the
average deer only survives one and one and one-half to two years.
Hair from slightly older deer - three to five years - is usually
superior in terms of the qualities sought for spinning and
stacking. It is extremely difficult to obtain hides from deer of
that age since only one-half of one percent of all whitetails
live to be five years of age.
If you have access to a
processing facility or meat market that handles deer for the
hunter you will have the opportunity to view or inspect a large
number of hides and begin to see the differences between them.
By Chris Helm
Welcome to also
read Chris article:
How to tie better deer-hair flies
Red's note: Chris Helm was
world famous fly tyer tying from Toledo Ohio, wellknown for his
knowledge of deer hair. All over the world Chris tied on several
shows and tying classes. He taught many fly tyers to tie deer
hair flies. In the mid 1990th he started fly tying shop
Whitetail Fly Tieing
Chris Helm passed away in
november 2014. Chris had been battling Cancer for some time. He
will be sadley missed but always fondley remembered in the fly