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.

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