Mule Deer 

Nicholas Bouley and David Meyer
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Genus: Cervidae
Species: spp.

            Photo by Peggy and Erwin Bauer                                Photo by Michael Francis


The average weight of a mule deer ranges from an average of 130lbs at year one to an average of 250lbs later in life. The actual size and weight of each subspecies does vary with location. As with whitetail deer, the farther south in North America you go, generally the smaller the mule deer size.  When first born, fawns usually weigh five to seven pounds. The color of the mule deer’s coat changes with the seasons, from short, reddish-brown in the summer, to longer, grayish-tan in the winter months. A major defining characteristic for the mule deer is their noticeably large ears (in comparison to its cousin the whitetail deer which has relatively small ears).  Mule deer have a short, white tail with a black tip (blacktailed deer in the north-west have a larger portion of black on their tails) and white patches on their chins, throat, underbelly, and rumps. When running, mule deer tend to run more on the tips of their hooves, allowing them to run faster. Mule deer hearing, vision, and smell are all very keen although their sense of smell isn’t as keen as a wolf’s or bear’s.

Mule deer antler growth starts in the spring with warming temperatures. During the growth period the antlers are covered in a skin-like tissue called velvet. All mule deer antlers are bifurcated, which means they fork as they grow. Full growth is obtained in late summer when the velvet is shed. Mule deer rid their antlers of velvet by rubbing them on various harder objects. Once the velvet is gone what is left is hard and shiny (unlike the soft-fuzzy appearance of the velvet) Size of antlers is not a good indication of age, though age may be a factor along with genetics, nutrient availability, and parasite load. Mule deer antlers generally grow in a typical fashion, meaning the number of tines is identical on each side. Non-typicality happens however and can be attributed to genetics along with an injury to the antlers during the soft velvet growing stage. The full-grown hardened antlers are cast off, or shed, each year in late winter after mating season.

                Photo by Michael Francis                                       Photo by Michael Francis