How to tying flies | THEFEATHERBENDER


Different hairs from different locations on a deer hide

In this second part of the guide to tying with deer hair I will describe the different hairs from different locations on a deer hide. Hair from each part of the hide, right from the nose to the tail, has varying length, texture, colour and coarseness. Each of these distinct qualities lend themselves to different applications and techniques.

Deer hair is often described as ‘hollow’, however this is not hollow like a drinking straw but, rather, each hair is filled with a multitude of tiny cellular air pockets rather like a honeycomb. An individual deer hair from a winter coat, has a much larger diameter than most other hairs. That in turn, provides the animal with good insolation in the most extreme winter climates, and gives our flies an exceptional cushy feel and buoyancy that is beneficial when designing naturals. Deer hair texture falls into three categories. All having different degrees of compression and flaring.

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Fine deer hair:

Dry fly. Not noted for flaring. Excellent for down wing patterns, traditional dry fly tails and wings and also parachute posts.

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Medium deer hair:

General purpose hair. Flares to around 45 degrees or more, excellent for Caddis and Comparadun patterns, extended bodies, smaller spun and clipped patterns.

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Spinning hair. Flares up to 90 degrees and is used for larger clipped bodied patterns for hair bugs and predator patterns. Generally speaking this hair is also available in the largest range of dyed colours.

Deer hair diagram where different hair comes from or is located.


The mask is the entire face and ear area of various species of deer (most commonly the white tail) As with a hares mask, which we are all familiar with, the deer mask provides us with a wide range of natural colours from light tan to speckled brown to light dun and the rest. It also furnishes us with a huge amount of hair textures from short stiff ultra fine to coarse, all varying lengths for flies from a size 6 down to the tiniest patterns. For the caddis fly specialist a deer mask is a must. Removing the mask from a deer, if done correctly, is a precise and time consuming task, so they only seem to be available every now and then from a relatively few retailers. If you know a deer hunter its well worth asking if they can obtain the head from a late season doe, if its a buck with antlers, they make it even more difficult to skin. If you do manage to get hold of a deer head and would like to try for yourself:

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Deer mask prep for fly tying video by Barry Ord Clarke

Neck, back and saddle

This is the strip that begins at the base of the head and runs central along the back to the rump, this is the sweet spot! A fine to medium textured hair that is excellent spinning most medium to smaller patterns from a size 8 and down. Although not the best spinning hair for larger hair bugs. The advantage with this hair is that its generally un-damaged, being located where it is on the animal, unlike the rest of the coat, the back of a deer never comes in contact with with the ground or much anything else for that matter. So the hair is beautifully straight and has perfect tips that can be aligned in a hair stacker to make the most elegant wings, tails and collars. It can also be spun, packed and clipped to form almost cork like bodies, even on the smallest dries. If you tie spun bodied trout patterns such as Goddard’s caddis, Irresistible’s and streaking caddis this is the bit for you.


The section each side of the deer that runs from the top of each leg from the neck to the rump and in-between the back and the belly. This is a little longer hair that ranges from medium to coarse. Not as straight and nicely marked as the hair on the neck, back and saddle, but again excellent spinning and packing hair for larger flies like bombers, muddlers, hoppers and other terrestrials.

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As the name suggests this hair is located at the rear of the animal. This is the longest and coarsest hair that is excellent spinning hair for larger bugs and stacking of wings and collars for divers. Another advantage with the rum on many deer is that the ‘caudal’ patch is naturally white in the winter and a cream colour in the summer. This makes it perfect for dying as this eliminates the bleaching process.


From the area on the upper part of all legs of the deer. This is the shortest and stiffest hair on the hide, apart from some areas of the mask. Although of little use as a spinning hair this is a good choice for small caddis fly patterns. With a hair length varying from 1/2″-5/16″ this fine hair will flare up to 45 degrees, depending on thread pressure and compression. Excellent for the wings of X caddis and various comparadun‘s. When buying patches of hock, examine them carefully, the best patches have straight uniform hair which all lie in the same direction. However, patches taken from the inside of the thigh of the deer, still regarded as hock, more times than not, have hair whorls which cause the hair to grow in different directions. This makes the hair very difficult to work with.


From the under carriage of the deer. This is very coarse dense hair that has a length from 1.5″-2 1/4″, its the most common hair for bleaching and dying. Often found in the greatest array of vivid colours for tying medium to super large spun and clipped fancy multi coloured hair bugs.

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Buck Tail

Buck tail is the generic name given to all deer tails used for fly tying but they are taken from both bucks and doe’s alike, but generally from the whitetail deer. At first impressions it seems a somewhat rigid hair, but don’t be fooled, buck tail has wonderful mobility when fished, pulsating and quivering in the most attractive lifelike fashion. Like any other natural material buck tails can vary greatly in size, colour, hair length and quality. So when purchasing buck tail look through as many in the store as possible and choose the one that best suites your needs, in the way of colour, and hair length. Also check that the tips have not been worn down by a nervous deer, who was constantly swinging the tail. The hair has a thick diameter base and a fine natural taper toward the points, many tails have also crimped tipped hair, again if this is not what your after, look for one with straight hair.

To be continued…

The ultimate guide to deer hair part 2.

The ultimate guide to deer hair part 3

Deer hair technique my video tutorial

Techniques for tying with deer hair Spinning and burning.

Spinning ultra tight bodies with deer hairMy Shove, Shave, Singe and Sand technique for the tightest deer hair bodies.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>