Posted on Leave a comment

How to identify mule deer tracks and signs.

Mule deer

About Mule deer

Mule deer are indigenous to western North America and are named for their large ears.  Unlike the related White-tailed deer, mule deer are generally more association with land west of the Missouri River, more specifically with the Rocky Mountain region of North America.  The most noticeable difference between mule deer and white tailed deer is the size of their ears and the color of their tails.  A mule deer’s tail is black-tipped (black tailed deer are a subspecies of mule deer).  Also, Mule deer antlers are bifurcated; they “fork” as they grow, rather than branching from a single main beam, as is the case with whitetails. Each spring, a buck’s antlers start to regrow almost immediately after the old antlers are shed. Shedding typically takes place in mid-February, with variations occurring by locale. Although capable of running, mule deer are often seen stotting (also called pronking), with all four feet coming down together.

Adult bucks (male deer) normally weigh 121–331 lbs., averaging around 203 lbs., although trophy specimens may weigh up to 460 lbs. Does (female deer) are rather smaller and typically weigh from 95 to 198 lbs., with an average of around 150 lbs.  Subspecies of Mule deer include:

Groups and species

Mule deer (sensu stricto) group:

Mule deer trackO. h. californicus – California mule deer
O. h. cerrosensis – Cedros/Cerros Island mule deer (Cedros Island)
O. h. eremicus – desert/burro mule deer (Lower Colorado River Valley; northwest Mexico, southeastern California, and Arizona)
O. h. fuliginatus – southern mule deer (southernmost California and Baja California)
O. h. hemionus – Rocky Mountain mule deer (western and central North America)
O. h. inyoensis – Inyo mule deer (Sierra Nevada, California)
O. h. peninsulae – Peninsula mule deer (Baja California Sur)
O. h. sheldoni – Tiburon Island mule deer (Tiburon Island)

Black-tailed deer group:

O. h. columbianus – black-tailed deer (Pacific Northwest and Northern California regions)
O. h. sitkensis – Sitka black-tailed deer (coastal area and islands off western British Columbia)

Mule deer characteristics

Diagonal walkers tracks showing difference in sexDeer are browsers. During the winter and early spring, they feed on Douglas-fir, western red cedar, red huckleberry, salal, deer fern, and lichens growing on trees. Late spring to fall, they consume grasses, blackberries, apples, fireweed, pearly everlasting, forbs, salmonberry, salal, and maple. Mule deer have also been known to eat ricegrass, gramagrass, bromegrass, and needlegrass, as well as antelope brush, bearberry, bitter cherry, bitterbrush, black oak, California buckeye, ceanothus, cedar, cliffrose, cottonwood, creek dogwood, creeping barberry, dogwood, Douglas fir, elderberry, fendlera, goldeneye, holly-leaf buckthrorn, jack pine, knotweed, kohleria, manzanita, mesquite, oak, pine, rabbitbrush, ragweed, redberry, scrub oak, serviceberry (including Pacific serviceberry), Sierra juniper, silktassel, snowberry, stonecrop, sunflower, tesota, thimbleberry, turbinella oak, velvet elder, western chokecherry, wild cherry, and wild oats.

Mule deer tracking and signs


Mule deer tracks have two toes (hooves) that form an upside-down heart-shaped track with the rounded bottom pointing in the direction of travel.  The sides of a Mule deer track are convex with the tips of the hooves located towards the inside of the track.  Usually the outside toe is slightly larger than the inside toe and the front feet are larger than the hind feet.  Deer typically walk with a direct register where the hind foot lands directly where the front foot imprinted.  Many animals produce similar tracks including pronghorn antelope and mountain goat.  Blacktail deer are nearly impossible to distinguish from white tailed deer without other non-track signs.

Mule deer track

Mule deer scat

Deer scat will be oblong in shaped (possibly with a nipple on the end) and typically less than 1/2 inch long for does and larger than 3/4 inch for bucks.  Deer scat can be in either pellets or clusters but is typically in piles.

Misc Mule deer signs

Deer are diagonal walkers.  Deer will often create serrated-edge chews on trees.  When startled, mule deer will typically bound away with a pogo-stick like action known as slotting.  They will often pause after a short distance and look back to see what scared them.  Mule deer are found in a wider variety of habitats than White-tailed deer.  They are at home in the desert, grasslands, and forests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *