Mule Deer

Idaho Fish & Game Photo Credit

(Odocoileus hemionus)

Physical Characteristics: 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 feet long, 35-41 inches tall, averages 200 lbs., with a tail length of between 4-8 inches. They possess large mule-like ears, with white rump patch that is divided by a short, black-tipped tail. The throat area and insides of the legs are white year-round. A buck has fairly heavy, up-swept antlers that are equally branched into forked tines.

Diet: Forbs and grasses form most of the summer diet. In fall, mule deer consume both the grasses and twigs of shrubs. In winter, they depend more on twigs and woody vegetation.

Habitat: Summer habitat varies from dry brushland to alpine tundra. Bucks tend to move to the tundra edge at higher elevations, where they form small bands, while does and fawns remain at lower elevations. In drier regions, both sexes are often found in riparian areas. Mule deer thrive in the early succession stages of forests, and are often found where fire recently occurred.

Range: Mule deer are widely distributed through western North America, ranging from southern Yukon southeast to Minnesota, and south through western Texas into northern Mexico. They can be found throughout the Clearwater Basin.

Reproduction: Gestation time is approximately 6 ½ – 7 months. Does give birth to 1-3 fawns in May or June. Birth weight is 7 ¾ – 8 ½ pounds. The fawn is born with light dorsal spots, which it carries until the fall molt in August. The fawn is weaned when it is four to five months old. It becomes sexually mature mature at 1 ½ years.

Threats: Wildland fire suppression creates areas or habitat that mule deer do not thrive under. Natural gas wells, which there are none in the Clearwater, threatens mule deer habitat, among other species.

Miscellaneous: Although mule deer are usually silent, they can snort, grunt, cough, roar and whistle! A fawn will sometimes bleat.

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