Most Americans when you mention deer, they think whitetail deer. There is also the mule deer who lives in the Western US and most Montanans are very familiar with Mule Deer. Mule deer inhabit a big part of the state and are a normal sight on Montana ranches. They are a big part of the wildlife that is found on Montana ranches and can be found in areas where there are also elk, whitetail and antelopes.
Identification starts with the distinctive ears where the mule deer gets its name from. The ears are noticeably larger than the whitetail and the mule deer got the name from the ear being large and similar to a mules. Mule deer will live to be 9-11 years old in the wilds that Montana ranches represent. Muleys will weigh between 130-280 lbs. There distinctive run is a hop called stotting. All four hooves hit the ground, at the same time, as they hop away. It is a very common sight when you are on a Montana ranch to see a herd hopping over the hill top.
Mule deer can be found in the Western part of North America and range from Mexico all the way up to the coastal islands of Alaska. So they are very adaptable both in weather and in forage available. They prefer the mountains and forest edges and the bucks will be found above timberline on Montana ranches or public land. They are ruminants which mean they ferment plant material before digesting. They will eat both forbs(weeds) and browse(leaves and twigs). Depending on where they are depends on what they eat but on Montana ranches their favorite food is most likely sagebrush, aspen, gambel oak, sumac and bitterbrush.
The mule deer’s normal predators are mountain lions, coyotes, bears and wolves. This is why they are equipped with 310 degree vision and they are very sensitive to movement. They can detect movement up to 600 yards away but are not that good at picking out stationary objects. Their smell is up to 1000 times better than humans. Needless to say, with the above traits it means that many shots on Montana ranches are 200 to 300+ yard shots. When alarmed they can run at speeds up to 40+ mph and can change directions in one hop. Most Montana ranches are more brush or rough terrain so it fits the mule deer well.
A mule deer’s horns are wider than a whitetail’s and many times will not have a brow tine. Trophy mule deer bucks are wider and thicker horned than their cousins. When hunting on Montana ranches a hunter usually will not see whitetail and muleys in the same area but there is crossover points in terrain. So, they have to be mindful of shooting the right species.
During rutting season mule deer are similar to elk in that a dominant buck rounds up a harem. The harem will be smaller than elk have but they will still bound together in groups. The mule deer rut usually happens during October/November and does usually give birth to two fawns. A young doe will usually birth one fawn the first year. Fawns stay with their mothers for their first year. Seeing a fawn and their mother hopping off is one of my fondest Montana ranch memories.
The mule deer bucks after mating season usually leave the does and shed their antlers in February to early March. These sheds are hunted and have nice value that can be sold. In the last decade, mule deer populations have been thought to be in decline. This is especially true in Colorado where development and oil and gas drilling has impacted mule deer habitat. However, on Montana ranches and public lands the populations have been rebounding in the last year or two.
The mule deer is not as prevalent or desireable among the general hunting public but the muleys have a very enthusiastic fan club that wait every year for the mule deer season to open and rut to start. The opportunity to take one of the very elusive large mule deer bucks only comes into range one time of the year and makes for a very loyal population of hunters.
If you found this article on Montana Ranches wildlife interesting, you might want to read Montana Ranches Wildlife-Moose Tracks or Montana Ranches Wildlife-Elk Facts. If you are interested in Montana hunting ranches you might look at Montana Hunting Ranches for Sale-The Dream.
If you would like to read more on mule deer you might try to read some of the following websites that I used for this article:
Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 6 years ago and still owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. He and his wife are involved in a number of business ventures. He also enjoys being a part time professor at MSU in the business school and mentoring students.