Desert Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus crooki)

Desert mule deer | Photo credit: Ross Tsai

Desert mule deer, also known as “black-tail deer”, are found in rugged, desert regions of western North America, including the Texas Panhandle and western portions of the state. They are closely related to the Rocky Mountain subspecies, which inhabits mountainous wooded areas. Distinctive features of mule deer are a black-tipped tail, white rump patch, and erect, nine-inch-long ears. Their hide is rusty brown in the summer, and gray in winter, with white undersides year-round.

Adult mule deer are slightly larger than white-tail deer, with bucks weighing in excess of 200 pounds and standing three or more feet high; does are smaller and lighter. Bucks grow a new set of antlers each year, which they shed after the breeding season. Mature bucks have antlers that branch equally, with each antler having two main beams, and two or more tines per beam.

Classified as herbivores, mule deer browse on grasses, green plants, twigs, bark, buds, fruit, and nuts. Their lifespan is approximately ten years.

Predators such as mountain lion and coyote may feed on mule deer. One means of protection is the deer’s unique gait, known as “stotting”. Stotting involves leaping — stiff-legged — high into the air, and landing on all four hooves after each bound. Stotting allows the deer to cover significant distances with minimal effort and clear large obstacles that can impede their predators.

More curious and less skittish than their whitetail counterparts, mule deer offer excellent viewing and photographic opportunities. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers the potential for mule deer viewing. For better luck, visit Davis Mountains State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, or Big Bend National Park, each of which offers superb viewing opportunities for this species.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Doe and fawns - Photo © Justin W. Moore

Doe and fawns
Photo © Justin W. Moore

White-tailed deer are the most abundant large game species in North America. The whitetail population is largest in Texas, where an estimated three to four million of the deer reside. Their characteristic tails are held erect when fleeing to display the white underside; the rest of their body is reddish-brown in summer and grayish-brown in winter. Fawns less than six months of age have bright white spots scattered on their coats. Adult bucks can attain lengths of over six feet and weight up to three hundred pounds; adult does tend to be smaller.

Like mule deer, white-tailed bucks grow a new set of antlers every year, shedding the old ones after the rut (breeding season) is over. Whitetail antlers are comprised of one main beam per antler; in mature bucks, each beam may have three or more tines sprouting from the beam.

White-tails live primarily in wooded and brushy areas, such as the Texas Hill Country. This type of habitat offers good cover, as well as access to a wide variety of food sources, such as: woody plants, shrubs, fruit, and grass. Deer also occasionally damage landscaping and household gardens in suburban areas.

The optimal time to view whitetail deer is during the summer, after the fawns have been born and the bucks are no longer pressured by the biological drive to breed. Abundant throughout the state, whitetails can be seen at most Texas parks.

Three excellent Texas parks for whitetail viewing are the Calliham unit of Choke Canyon State Park, Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and South Llano River State Park in Junction. The deer at Choke Canyon are particularly habituated to humans, due to visitors’ habit of providing deer corn and feed.

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote at Rocky Mountain National ParkPhoto © Justin W. Moore

Coyote at Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Also known as the “prairie wolf,” the coyote is Texas’ most frequently viewed large carnivore. Characterized by a dog-like body and a long, bushy tail, the coyote weighs an average of just thirty pounds. Their thick coat is grayish in color, with reddish tinges to the legs and ears, and a lighter-colored belly and nape. Coyotes have yellow eyes which reflect as greenish-gold at night. Extremely vocal animals, the coyote’s mournful howls and yapping barks often fill the night with haunting songs.

Coyotes are extremely intelligent, curious, and adaptable creatures, inhabiting diverse habitats throughout Asia, Europe, and western North America, including Texas. In contrast to the now rare timber or gray wolf (Canis occidentalis), coyotes prefer open terrain. Classified as opportunistic carnivores, coyotes readily eat fish, rabbits, rodents, deer, and carrion, as well as birds, plants, insects, and even small domestic animals. Coyotes are extremely wary of humans, although they can become habituated to people if fed. Like the raccoon, coyotes are clever and determined scavengers; they have been known to haul full ice chests away from unsuspecting campers under the cover of darkness.

Coyote life is extremely precarious; less than one half of all juvenile coyotes live to reach adulthood. Those that do manage to survive have a life expectancy of ten to fifteen years.

One Texas location in which to view coyotes is Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. Pay specific attention to the grassy roadsides, sand dunes, and sheltered freshwater ponds. Coyotes are most active at night and in the early morning.