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 Antelope. A large number of the properties on our homepage have healthy populations of all of these different species of big game animals.
Mule Deer Identification
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 their name from their ears being larger and similar to a mule’s. They tend to live to be 9-11 years old in the wild that Montana ranches represent. Muleys will weigh between 130-280 lbs. Their 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 hilltop.
Mule Deer Range
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 can adapt to weather and forage available. They prefer the mountains and forest edges. The bucks will be found above timberline on Montana ranches or public land. They are ruminants which mean they ferment plant materials in their stomachs before digesting. They will eat both forbs (weeds) and browse (leaves and twigs). Depending on where they live, depends on what they eat, but on Montana ranches, their favorite food is most likely Sagebrush, Aspen, Gambel Oak, Sumac, and Bitterbrush.
Mule Deer Predators
The Mule deer’s normal predators are mountain lions, coyotes, bears and wolves. This is why they are equipped with a 310-degree vision which is 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 1,000 times better than humans. Needless to say, with the above traits it means that many shots that hunters take 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.
Mule Deer Antlers
A Mule deer’s antlers are wider than a whitetail’s and many times will not have a brow tine. Trophy Mule deer bucks have wider and thicker antlers than their cousins. When hunting on Montana ranches a hunter usually will not see Whitetails and Muleys in the same area but there are 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 a nice value that they can be sold for. In the last decade, Mule deer populations have been thought to be in decline. This is especially true in Colorado where development, oil, and gas drilling has impacted their habitats. However, on Montana ranches and public lands, the populations have been rebounding in the last year or two.
Desirability of Mule Deer
Mule deer are not as prevalent or desirable among the general hunting public, but the Muleys have a very enthusiastic fan club that waits every year for hunting season to open and rut to start. The opportunity to take one of the very elusive large bucks may only come once each 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. Follow our Facebook and LinkedIn pages to receive notifications of our newest articles and upcoming events.
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:
About the Author
Partner at Venture West Ranches
Buzz Tatom is a ranch owner that has built, run, and sold numerous businesses in his career. This gives him a unique background in helping Montana farmers and ranchers navigate the life decisions that we all have to face. Whether it is passing a ranch on to the next generation or planning for eventual sale, his talents and contacts help save clients money and navigate complicated transactions.