Mule Deer

Odocoileus hemionus

Mule Deer
Photo: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

A mule deer is easily recognized by its large ears and black-tipped tail. Although deer usually are active in early morning and evening, they can often be seen in the wild during the daytime. They are very skittish and easily frightened away. They flee with a unique feet together bounding gait, all four hooves landing and taking off at the same time. The deer will escape to the cover of the forest. They are also strong swimmers. Only bucks grow antlers, which are seldom used for defense from predators. They serve to intimidate rivals rather than harm them. They are not used in head-on clashes. The antlers have two or more basically equal branches, the size varies with age and locality. They are shed in January and grow new ones in spring. The antlers are supplied with nerves and blood vessels that provide the growing antlers with food and oxygen. They are covered with moss like skin called ‘velvet.’ As the antlers harden, the blood supply is shut off, and the velvet dried. The animals begin rubbing off velvet in autumn. Deer have few enemies other than humans. Their only regular predator is the cougar; coyote predation is limited to fawn or small adults. Wolves have mostly been eliminated from deer habitat.

A medium sized deer; reddish in summer, gray-brown in winter. The ears are dark, face grayish. The tail is black tipped, dorsal surface sometimes also black. Young fawns are spotted for three to four months.
Bucks are 3 ½ ft at the shoulder, 4 to 6 ft in length, and can weight up to 400 lbs. Average bucks weight 200 to 250 lbs; does weigh 100-150 lbs. Size and weight vary considerably depending upon habitat conditions.
Coniferous forests, desert shrub, chaparral, grasslands with shrubs. Found primarily at the forest edge–near fields, meadows, rather than in dense forest. Mule deer are migratory; in fall they move to lower elevations where food is more readily available. They may migrate 50 miles or more from summer range to lowlands when breeding begins, usually in October.
Mule deer are found throughout most western North America (except central NV); from Canada through Baja CA; they are absent from the San Joaquin Valley and southeastern deserts of CA. Home range is 90-600 acres or more.
Deer are browsers; feed on twigs, buds and leaves of shrubs and small trees; will eat grass if necessary, also acorns. Prefer bitterbush, snowbush, blackberry, huckleberry. They consume 2 lbs of food and 2 – 3 quarts of water per 100 weight daily.
Mating occurs in late summer, into fall. One or two spotted fawns are born in May or June, weighing 16 to 18 lbs. They are usually able to walk a few minutes after birth.
Fawns and does have a seldom heard bleat sound; bucks have a guttural grunt, especially during rut; both sexes snort when alarmed.
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