The ultimate guide to deer hair part 3

Different deer used in fly tying

Here I would like to familiarize you with the different deer used in fly tying, the location of the hair on the animal, sex, age, colour, length and applications.


This deer like Antelope or Pronghorn antelope as it also known is neither antelope, deer or goat, but the last surviving member of an ancient family of animals dating back over 20 million years. It is also the only animal with branched horns, not antlers!  They can be found  throughout all four deserts of the American southwest from Saskatchewan, Canada south to Mexico. Their natural habitat of dry rough, rocky desert scrubland, takes its toll on the coat and the hair tips are often broken and un-even when killed. This is not entirely a processing problem as many believe. The hair has had a reputation of being brittle and hence, problematic to work with, but if you can get hold of good quality antelope that hasn’t been damaged in the tanning and dying process, its one of the best spinning and packing hairs available! The natural hair is extremely dense but coarse. The natural colour is a warm light grey at the base shading up to a brownish golden tan at the tips. This is also one of the most buoyant “hollow” hairs, but has little, if no other application for the fly tyer other than for spinning. 3- 6 cm in length.


A light grey / tan hair (snow white on the belly) that is spongy and packs well, but can be brittle. Excellent for smaller spun patterns (eg. G&H sedge, irresistible…) This short somewhat brittle hair is too delicate for larger flies that are larger than about a size 10.

Elk (Wapiti)

The elk is found in the mountainous regions of western North America, but can also be found as far away as New Zealand where it was introduced for hunting in 1870 and here they can grow to an enormous size. They are the second largest living deer next to the moose. Elk hair provides us with one of the broadest ranges of deer hair to meet nearly every deer hair tying situation. It is sold in the following categories. Stimulator fly

Bull elk:

Medium textured hair with long pale golden tips making it excellent winging material for stimulator type wings. 3-8 cm in length

Cow elk:

Coarse textured hair with steeply tapering tips. Excellent spinning and packing properties. More durable than deer hair. 4-8 cm in length

Elk hock:

Medium stiff hair from the upper and lower part of the leg from both elk bull and cow. A stiff short hair perfect for caddis flies wings and deer hair tails. The ideal hair for bleaching. 1- 4 cm in length. See Elk Hair Caddis

Elk mane:

Fine hair from the neck of both the elk bull and cow. A long fine tapered hair with a larger diametre that can be up to 15 cm in length with a natural colour of light tan to dark brown. Doesn’t flare well but is good for tails, especially divided ones.

Yearling elk:

Medium coarse hair from a one year old immature animal. Coloured naturally soft grey to tan it has a uniform thickness to the tip allowing very small comparadun’s to be tied down to size 22. The hair compresses and conforms to thread pressure very close to the tip and it does not roll. Yearling elk is also used for spun deer hair bodies on dry flies and muddler heads. Its approximately half the diameter of cow elk hair. Ideal for the shell back on Humpy style patterns. 

Moose (Elk)

The name of the largest remaining member of the deer family has been the source of some confusion, as, in the UK and Europe it is also known as elk and in my home country of Norway elg, In north America an elk is a wapiti, which is more comparable to the European red deer and not a moose at all. I hope that has made it clearer for you!  All the moose sub species can be found right across the boreal and subarctic areas of the entire northern hemisphere. The north American species being much larger than the northern European. In my humble opinion, this is the most under rated of the deer hairs, when it should be at up there with the best! The moose can provide us with a huge amount of interesting and useful material, it’s rather like the ring neck pheasant skin of the deer world.  Moose hair fly pattern

Moose body

The dark brown to jet black body hair, which can be spun if an open clipped body is required, but it requires extreme thread pressure. This hair is stiff and very coarse, with a large diameter at the base that tapers slowly to a fine tip. It is extremely buoyant and between 2″-5″ in length. It has many uses such as tails and wings of dry flies, as in the Wulff series. It can also be put to use as extremely realistic legs and feelers on nymphs and terrestrials. 

Moose mane

Moose mane is the longest hair, especially from an adult bull. This is located on the back of the neck of the animal and not from the bell as many fly tyers believe. The mane hair can range from 3″ too a huge 9″ in length, but is not suitable for spinning. The natural colour is a wonderful salt and pepper mix of white, grey, brown and jet black hairs, that have long been used for wrapping quill bodies on dry flies and nymphs. I find the best moose mane hair for tying quill bodies is un-treated, that will say, not washed or tanned. The washing and tanning process removes the natural waxy fats from the hair which in turn reduce the suppleness, making it more difficult to wrap. Being fortunate enough to hunt moose myself this is always available for me, but for most tyers, shop bought processed hair is the next best alternative.  Tying in a combination of colours, one dark, one medium and one light in colour by the tips and wrapping them together creates beautiful, segmented bodies. If you tie regular or even double Humpy’s, this long hair is much more durable than deer hair and is perfect for the wing cases.

Mule Deer

Second only to the whitetail. It is excellent for most deer-hair tying, but a little coarser and shorter than white-tail hair. Mule deer have white undersides and black, white and gray-barred sides and back. The hair dyes well.

Coastal Deer

Medium texture hair used for comparaduns (wings and tails) with very well defined tips. The hair carries no micro growth so stacking is easy and with its small diameter its excellent for smaller deer hair patterns in sizes 18-20. 1-3 cm in length.

Blacktail Deer

The black tail deer is one of nine sub species of the Mule deer.  The only deer that can properly be called a blacktail is the Pacific coastal black-tail, which, as its name suggests, occupies a narrow strip of coastal forest along with a few offshore islands, extending from the northern half of California to southern Alaska.  Less available than white-tailed or mule deer,  but plentiful on the west coast of America. This fine textured hair is good for deer hair winged patterns in smaller sizes The natural colour is a pale brown with many shades of tan. 3-5 cm in length.


Also known as the barking deer because of their dog like call, is also Europe’s smallest deer (40-50 cm) that was introduced to England from Southern Asia in the 1920s. They are now possibly the most common deer in the UK. The hair is short, shiny and sleek, allowing the animal easy passage through dense thorn brush foliage. The coat vary’s from a deep foxy red in the summer to a dark almost black brown during the winter. Muntjac tails are also of an interest to the fly tyer being short and broad with a white underside making them ideal for dyeing. The dark brown winter hair is extremely fine and soft but retains a good deal of stiffness with a dark grey base and brown and black barred tips. This hair has minimal flaring and makes beautiful caddis fly wings. 1-3 cm in length.

European Roe Deer

The winter coat of the European roe deer is highly buoyant and an excellent hair for spinning smaller patterns and stacking for wings. The summer coat is equally good for winging the smallest comparaduns and micro caddis. Excellent for tails and split wings on traditional dries. The coat varies greatly in colour from a light brown / red summer to a thick grey brown winter coat. The pure white rump of the roe in winter will provide the tyer with a patch 30 x 30 cm of excellent hair for dying. 3-6 cm in length.

Whitetail Deer

This is the most common deer in North America and probably the one most widely sold as ‘deer hair’ to the fly tyer. The hair from the White-tail is available to the fly tyer, from all three seasons, early, mid and late, jointly the hair from these three seasons can be used for most deer hair applications and techniques. Excellent tip markings for stacking. Varying in colour from natural white on the tail, caudal patch, belly and throat to tan, brown and grey in the winter. These natural white areas are ideal for dying.  The tail from the white tail (Buck and doe) is what you normally get when purchasing buck tails. 2-5 cm in length.


The klipspringer is a small antelope that is found in eastern and Southern Africa. The hair is stiff and spiky and ranges in colour from a yellowish grey to a reddish brown with extremely variegated tips. Like the pronghorn it has a thick and coarse coat with extremely buoyant hollow hair that again is rather brittle. A very interesting hair if you can get it!

The ultimate guide to deer hair part 1.

The ultimate guide to deer hair part 2

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