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Home / Hunting / Field Guide

HUNTING
FIELD GUIDE

Hoofed Mammals
Mule Deer
Odocoileus hemionus
Black-tailed Deer

Description

Mule deer are medium in size compared to other deer, with a solidly built body, large ears, and long, lean, sturdy legs. The coat of their upper body is reddish or yellowish brown during the summer, and grayish in color during the winter. Juveniles have spots for several months. The throat, rump, insides of ears, and insides of legs are white, while the lower parts of the body are cream to tan in color. Its tail is white above with a black tip.

A buck’s antlers are usually spread uniformly equal (typical), but there are exceptions (non-typical). Each beam forks into two or more tines, with a typical spread around four feet. In addition to the mule deer, you'll also find the "black-tailed deer" along the Pacific Coast, which earned its name due to its black or brown tail. They are also on average slightly smaller than both mule deer and whitetailed deer.

Mule deer are between 3’ to 3’ 5" tall, 3’ 10" to 7’ 6" long, with a 4 1/2" to 9" tail and 4 3/4" to 6" ears. They weigh anywhere between 110 to 475 pounds (male) or 70 to 160 pounds (female).

Breeding

Mule deer breed from October through December. One or two young are born from June through August after a gestation period of six to seven months, and they weigh approximately eight pounds.

Habitat

Mule deer habitat varies from forests, open desert, mountains, and foothills.

Range

Mule deer range from Southern Yukon and Western Northwest Territories (Mackenzie district) south through the Western U.S. to Wisconsin and Western Texas.

Additional Information

  • Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independent of each other.
  • This animal is most active in the morning, evening, and on moonlit nights. It may also be seen at midday during winter months.
  • Mule deer are good swimmers.
  • Mule deer migrate up and down through mountainous terrain to avoid heavy snows.
  • Summer forage includes herbaceous plants, blackberry, huckleberry, salal, and thimbleberry. Winter forage includes twigs of Douglas fir, cedar, yew, aspen, willow, dogwood, serviceberry, juniper, and sage. Mule deer will also eat acorns and apples.
  • Mule deer often form smaller herds of both sexes in winter.
  • Herds usually consist of a doe with her single fawn or with twin fawns and a pair of yearlings.
  • Does fight quite often during encounters, so they space themselves widely as an avoidance technique. This helps to ensure that there is a good amount of food and cover for the entire herd.
  • Bucks tend to like solitude, but may band together with other bucks before and after the rutting season.
  • The buck's range is larger than the doe. During the rutting season both buck and doe may leave their home range in search of each other.
  • The buck is polygamous and searches for does in estrus, sometimes trying to lure them into a herd. A male may breed with most does in his range, and a doe usually breeds with several bucks.
  • Bucks fight with their antlers, trying to force down each other’s head. While injuries are rare (usually the loser withdraws), both animals may die of starvation if their antlers become locked. However, displays and threats often prevent actual conflict between bucks.
  • A first-year doe produces a single fawn, while older does usually produce twins. The young are hidden away for the first month or two, and their mother visits them regularly to nurse.
  • Mule deer have glands on the hind legs above the hooves. A fawn seems able to recognize its mother by the odor from these glands, and when deer frequently sniff these glands while in herds. The long hairs around the glands usually become erect when aggressive confrontations between bucks begin.
  • Mountain lion and wolves are the main predators of mule deer, while bobcats, bears, and coyotes are also considered predators of this animal.

Track

Mule Deer Track

Foreprint and hindprint like narrow split hearts, with pointed end forward. Male prints 3 1/4" (80 mm) long, female 2 3/8" (60 mm) long; walking stride 22–24" (550–600 mm). Tracks are smaller and narrower than those of Elk or Moose, and not distinguishable from those of White-tailed Deer. Distinctive bounding gait ("stotting"), with all 4 feet coming down together, forefeet printing ahead of hindfeet.

Sign

Browse marks, buck rubs, scrapes, bed, and droppings similar to those of White-tailed Deer. Bucks often strip bark from saplings when rubbing velvet from antlers. Twigs bitten off by these deer lack the neat, clipped-off look of twigs taken by rabbits and rodents.

Bed: Often leaves beds of flattened grass where it has slept. Examination often reveals sex: Both urinate upon rising, but doe first steps to one side; buck urinates in middle of bed.

Scat: Droppings are pellets, 1" (25 mm) or less long. Consistency and shape of scat vary with the season (clumps in spring when forage is moist, cylindrical pellets when moisture content of food is low).

Credits: eNature.com

 

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