Deer (Odocoileus Hemionus) can be found throughout
the entire western United States, including the deserts
of the American Southwest, Mule deer have large ears
that move constantly and independently, as do mules,
hence the name, "Mule Deer." The Greater Yellowstone
hosts a prodigious population of Mule Deer and they
are a great benefit for the economy, both as photographers
fodder and for hunting.
Mule deer can thrive nearly anywhere;
their habitats include woodland chaparral, Sonoran
desert, semi-desert, shrub woodland, Great Plains grasslands,
shrub land forest, sagebrush steppe, and boreal forest.
Mule deer are remarkably adaptable.
stocky deer has sturdy legs and is 4 to 6-1/2 feet
in length and 3 to 3-1/2 feet high at the shoulder.
Most Mule deer are brown or gray in color with a small
white rump patch and a small, black-tipped tail. Mule
deer their fawns have white spots at birth. Buck deer
have antlers that start growth in spring and are shed
around December, these antlers are high and branch
forward and reach a spread up to 4 feet in width bucks
are larger than does. The life span of a mule deer
in the wild is 10 years, but mule deer have lived for
up to 25 years in captivity. Common predators of mule
deer include mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, golden
eagles, and black bears.
Trophy Mule Deer romancing a doe during the rut
mule deer migrate seasonally from the higher elevations
of the sub-alpine forests they inhabit during summer
to lower elevations of the mountain valleys and desert
lowlands. Deer prefer rocky windswept buttes where
it is easier for them to find food during the winter
and that provide escape from predators as needed. The
mule deer of the arid southwest may migrate in response
to rainfall patterns and a mule deer’s large feet have
evolved to enable them to dig for water as much as
two feet deep. Mule deer tend to confine their daily
movements to their home ranges. Most mule deer use
the same winter and summer home ranges in consecutive
Mule deer’s social systems consist of herds of does
related by maternal descent and bucks that mix with
the does only in fall and winter. During winter and
spring, dominance hierarchies maintain the stability
of female herds and small male groups. If deer population
densities increase, play among fawns decrease and strife
and alarm behavior increases in the adults. In the
spring, the wintering group breaks up, the does go
off by themselves and give birth and nurse rear their
fawns; Bucks wander in friendly small buddy packs throughout
the summer months as their antlers grow so they can
fight one another in the fall.
Dominance of a buck is largely a function
of his size, the larger a buck’s, antlers, the better
his chances are of winning the acceptance of does and
fighting off his challengers. Genetics, nutrition and
age have much to do with antler size. During spring
and summer antlers are grow at an awesome rate, large
bucks attain growth rates of up to a quarter of an
inch per day. Mule deer breed in late fall at which
time bucks round up females and fight for their right
to keep them. Doe's begin to come into heat in November
and bucks are naturally drawn to the does at this time.
Many bucks are willing to fight to the death over breeding
rights with a doe. After the breeding season from mid-January
to about mid-April a buck sheds his antlers.
A couple of nice Jackson Hole bucks
mule deer’s diet is quite varied, muleys are browsers
and in spring and summer they feeds on grasses, weeds,
and herbs and eat a great variety of vegetable matter,
including fresh green leaves, twigs, lower branches
of trees, and grasses. As are most hoofed animals (ungulates)
mule deer are active in mornings, evenings and during
the middle of the day mule deer bed down in a secluded
and safe place. Mule deer like the cow have a multi-part
stomach, the first two chambers of which act as temporary
storage bins. Food stored in these storage bins can
be digested later when the deer chews its cud.
deer have several strategies for avoiding predators,
they specializes in detecting danger at a very long
range by means their large ears and excellent vision.
Males can quickly detect and visually track another
animal as far as 600 yards away. While unable to detect
motionless objects mule deer are extraordinarily sensitive
to moving objects. When startled, a Mule deer will
move in a series of jumps with all four feet hitting
the ground together. They do not run as other deer,
their distinctive bounding leap that can launch them
distances of up to 20 plus feet, they can reach a speed
of 45 m.p.h. for short periods doing their leaps. When
necessary, they can turn or completely reverse direction
in the course of a single leap. Their leap offers two
advantages: it enables the deer to out-distance predators
in rough terrain, and mid-leap they can see above the
A trophy buck sneaks a peak at photographer
Wildlife management agencies and hunters
recognize the need to maintain mule deer ranges and
keep them habitable and productive so most western
states have purchased critical game areas, especially
winter ranges, to help maintain healthy populations
of this valuable resource. Many wind swept slopes are
closed to access during the winter to protect mule
deer during the trying times of winter. Due to a scarcity
of funds and political opposition to government buying
privately owned lands, the government has acquired
only a small fraction of mule deer range.
Hunting Mule Deer
in America don’t appreciate hunting or hunters, they
don’t seem to be able to comprehend that hunters are
some of the biggest conservationists in the world.
Hunters work overtime protecting their resource. Hunting
conservation organizations like the Mule Deer Foundation,
Ducks Unlimited and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
pick up some of the government’s lack of ability. Although
mule deer were not the targets of all these private
conservation /hunting groups they are still beneficiaries
of these elk/duck habitat acquisitions.
Mule Deer are one the most exciting
and beautiful big game animals in the world. Large
mule deer bucks are very crafty and are a challenging
hunt. Hunting generates hundreds of millions of dollars
and maybe billions in revenue for the economy of the
west and is a valuable asset for hunting communities.
Mule deer are also an asset to the thousands of people
in cities that manufacture hunting and camping products.
A couple of bucks doing a little sparing before the rut
Southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming
are both famous for producing big mule deer bucks.
Most early hunting expeditions were by pack train to
the fabulous backcountry and today’s hunts remain quite
the same. For many this remains part of the attraction,
to saddle up the horses and load up the packhorses
and mules and setting out for hunting camp high in
the mountains. Many outfitters in the Greater Yellowstone
region hunt this old time style, with packhorses and
tent frame camps because this is still the most efficient
way to get to the remote areas where the hunting is
best. Many bighorn sheep and elk outfitters provide
hunting camps like this as well.
best hunting will probably be in the higher elevations
where rugged country limits access to all but the most
hardcore hunters and outfitters in the know. This area
has long been known for its excellent deer habitat
and herd genetics. Controlled hunts in the Upper Snake
region are coveted for the opportunity to hunt mule
deer during the rut in late November.
Deer Hunters, Bridger Teton National Forest
Why do some areas produce giant bucks,
while others do not? The answer is genetics. If you
were to check the Boone and Crockett record book, you'd
find that some areas have produced many giant bucks.
You can also find area's that have never produced a
record buck. Genetics are clearly better in some areas.
Big buck hunters are looking for bucks with 30-inch
spreads of better. If you' hunt an area like the Grey’s
River Range of Wyoming the Big Hole Mountains in Idaho
that are known for wide bucks, you'll have a better
chance of getting a shot at one.
is the most popular tactic for hunting mule deer but
tree stands and still-hunting are fruitful as well.
Stalking involves spotting deer from a distance using
binoculars or spotting scope, then stalking to within
shooting range. Upon spotting your deer, scout for
other deer and other wildlife between you and your
target; they can end a stalk prematurely. If everything
looks good plan your route, consider the wind, terrain,
and available cover, Sneak quietly like an Indian and
you can meet success stalking your prey by judging
the speed and direction of travel, circling around
and setting up an ambush.
If you aren’t going to hire a guide
the key to the success of a mule deer hunt is preseason
scouting. It’s best to do your scouting a couple of
weeks before your hunt. Glassing with binoculars or
spotting scope in the mornings and evenings can pay
off well during your hunt. Because mule deer hunters
tend to do a lot of walking in rough, steep terrain
it is helpful to go into hunting season in good physical
condition and be familiar with your weapon because
muleys often require shooting from several hundred
yards after a long hard grunt up a mountain.
Mountain Lion coming back to his kill, a young
buck mule deer