Published on February 7, 2013 by Amy
Mule Deer have large ears that move constantly and independently, from whence they get their name, “Mule” or “Burro Deer.” They do not run as other deer, but have a peculiar and distinctive bounding leap (stotting) over distances up to 8 yards, with all 4 feet coming down together. In this fashion, they can reach a speed of 45 m.p.h. for short periods.
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A male fawn develops hair-covered bumps at the front of his skull as he grows during the year. These bumps or buttons are the beginning of antler growth, and further development starts the following spring, when the buttons enlarge with a velvety covering of skin. The antlers grow with this skin covering, called velvet, until August when a hormonal change stops the process and the antlers harden to a bone-like consistency. The velvet drys and the buck removes it through vigorous rubbing on small trees and shrubs, which also hardens the antlers.
A yearling buck usually has two points on each antler in he form of a “Y”, while the adult buck has an additional “Y” at each point, which makes four points on each typical antler.
Antlers remain hard and polished until they are shed in late winter. The remarkable process of antler growth is renewed in the spring and the cycle continues throughout the adult buck’s life. The buck produces its largest set of antlers when it is about six years old.
By early November a male fawn weighs about 81 pounds and a female fawn about 73 pounds. Yearling bucks average 140 pounds while does weigh about 15 percent less. Older bucks, with good nutrition, can weigh as much as 250 pounds or more.
Mule deer (including the blacktails) are distributed throughout North America from the coastal islands of Alaska to the Mexican state of Zacatecas. With this wide latitudinal range, comes a great diversity of different climatic regimes and vegetation associations. Mule deer are very adaptable in their ability to make a living in coastal rain forests (200 inches of rain per year), icy mountains, prairie grasslands, and hot southwest deserts (4 inches of rain per year). With this range of habitats, comes an incredibly diverse diet that defies generalization.
Habitat and home:
Unlike whitetails that thrive in areas of dense cover with good concealment, mule deer are more apt to be found in association with more open upland habitats. The classic mule deer habitat is rough, steep canyons sparsely vegetated with brushy pockets that carve their way down through open grasslands. Mule deer often bed in plum thickets or other shrubby areas.
Although a mule deer is less likely to use mature timber along stream courses, it may frequent timbered areas along the upper reaches of small streams and creeks.
Mule deer are also fond of wheat country, clover and sunflower patches, and small grain and alfalfa crops within their occupied range.
Mule deer are most active during dawn and dusk, when they venture from protective cover when it is time to feed. In the spring each doe moves off by herself to select a fawning area, and a buck becomes solitary or joins a small group of bachelors as his antlers develop. Most fawns are born in early summer. The fawn’s survival strategy is based on its protective coloration, its ability to remain motionless as danger approaches, and its small amount of scent which makes finding it difficult for predators. The doe leaves her fawn unattended while she feeds, but stays in the vicinity, returning only to nurse the fawn. This behavior leads some well-intentioned people to think a bedded fawn has been abandoned, when in reality the doe is close by and probably watching. The best thing to do if you encounter a fawn is to leave the area and allow the doe to return and move her fawn to a safe location.
Mating occurs in the fall, with bucks setting up territories based on dominance, and busily trying to locate does. In the fall the buck’s antlers are hardened and polished, and he uses them to defend his territory and protect his does. Most mating is concluded by the time winter sets in. If the winter is severe with low temperatures and deep snows, the deer “yard up”, or gather together, in areas that provide for most of their needs. Many deer in a group are able to break trails in deep snow more efficiently than a single deer can, which allows each individual to conserve needed energy to fight off the cold.
Mule deer are ruminants and digest their food in much the same way as a cow. This digestive process allows them to utilize a wide range of vegetative food stuffs in their diet.
The mule deer’s breeding season begins in October and ends in early February, with the peak occurring in mid to late November. This is also referred to as the “rut”, a time when the buck’s neck swells and he fights other bucks for dominance. A single buck is capable of breeding several does.
Does are in heat for about 24 hours, and cycle every 28 days if they are not bred. Fawns are born after a 202 day gestation period, with about half of the young being born between late May and late June.
The mule deer’s reproductive rate of 94 fawns per 100 does is low compared to the whitetail’s 140 fawns for every 100 does. Sexual maturity is slow in mule deer and only seven percent of the does breed when they are fawns and only 68 percent of yearling does become pregnant. About 65 percent of pregnant mule deer does carry twins compared to 82 percent of whitetail does having multiple births.
The mule deer is a symbol of our western heritage. A native of the prairie, it remains conspicuous among wildlife residents. Locals and visitors alike appreciate its graceful beauty and its adaptability to harsh environments. Hunters spend thousands of hours in their pursuit each year, and in doing so contribute monetarily to local economies.
Unfortunately, the mule deer’s fondness for agricultural crops can lead to problems where deer populations are high. Winter concentrations can cause substantial damage to stored crops, although protective measures such as location selection, fencing, and repellents can reduce these losses. Legal harvest, through hunting seasons, continues to be the major tool employed by wildlife managers to reduce deer populations to minimize problems suffered by landowners.