Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN MULE DEER, characterized by its large size, is heavier in build and more robust than the white-tailed deer of the western United States or the black-tailed deer of the Pacific coast. The character which gives this species its name of "mule" deer is its large ears and not the mulelike tail which is short with a black tip. (See illustration.) This mule deer has a distinct whitish rump patch and, unlike the California mule deer, the black of the tail involves only the terminal half and does not extend as a narrow stripe up to the base of the tail. The female of this species is on the average considerably smaller than the male.

Usually the antlers of the mule deer are larger and heavier than those of the white-tailed and the coast black-tailed deer. Large bucks of this species have evenly forked, massive, widespreading antlers. The largest set of antlers of the Rocky Mountain mule deer that I have examined and measured had a spread of 42-1/2 inches, with 9 points on one antler and 12 on the other. This buck weighed 320 pounds when dressed. Female mule deer sometimes are known to bear antlers. Three such antlered does have been seen in the course of my studies.

A large four-point buck that I measured in the flesh on September 24, 1924, near Happy Camp, Modoc County, California, had the following measurements: Length, 70 inches; tail, 8 inches; ear from crown, 9 inches; height at shoulder, 44 inches; spread of antlers, 28 inches; circumference of antlers at base, 6 inches; hoof of hind foot, 3-1/2 inches in length and 2-1/2 inches in width.

The Rocky Mountain mule deer has two distinct coats each year. In summer the coat is tawny to yellowish brown, while in winter it is dark gray. This winter or "blue" coat is acquired about the middle of September.

Once at Yellowstone National Park while I was watching a group of deer, a black bear ambled across the meadow a short distance away. The deer immediately pricked up their ears, snorted in alarm, and watched the bear intently. (See illustration.)


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010