The "Lowly" Mule Deer

Deer are fairly common around Elk Lake. This time of year I find it especially delightful to see does with their fawns. A quiet morning on the lake often offers a chance to see three or four different family units. A hike through the woods may find me nearly stumbling across a wide-eyed but completely immobile fawn or I catching a glimpse of a doe and her fawns heading into deeper timber.

Because deer are such a common sight, I often dismiss them. However, I do these beautiful and graceful animals an injustice by thinking of them in this light. They are really quite fascinating animals which deserve a closer look. Thus, interspersed with some pictures I took of a curious doe the other day, are some interesting facts and tidbits about these forest friends.

Most recognizable for the large ears - which gained them the name “Mule Deer” - Muleys are related to both the smaller Black-Tail Deer seen to our west as well as the White-Tail Deer which predominate east of the Mississippi.

While Mule Deer are of the Cervidae Family (which includes moose - a much larger animal than the deer), the mule deer is the largest of the Odocoileus genus. They stand about 40-42 inches at the shoulders and measure about 80 inches from nose to tail. An adult buck Mule Deer will tip the scales at 150 to 300 pounds, with an occasional trophy buck reaching around 500 pounds.

Unlike the moose who gallops in a somewhat mule-like fashion or the white-tail deer who runs with grace and speed, the Mule Deer, when startled, bounds stiffly away. Their pojo-stick jumps are the result of all four feet hitting the ground together. While not as graceful to watch, their bounding leaps can cover up to 8 yards at a time and allow them to reach up to 45 miles per hour for short stretches. Even more amazing, if necessary, Mule Deer can completely reverse direction in a single bound!

Mule Deer are browsers and consume a large variety of vegetation. Unlike their cousin the moose who prefers woody stems, Mule Deer enjoy grasses, leaves, tender tree branches and twigs. They are particularly fond of vines, both blackberry and raspberry, as well as grapes, mistletoe, ferns, and mushrooms. They are such careful eaters, those who live in dessert regions can consume cactus fruit with damaging their sensitive mouth tissues.

Mule Deer are quiet animals. Fawns may occasionally bleat. However, unless injured (when they may make a loud ‘blatt’ sound or bawl), adult deer are silent creatures.

Every baby animal is cute. Even a baby pig. Even, while I gladly keep my distance, a baby skunk! However, there are few animals prettier than a baby deer. After a 200-day gestation, a doe will deliver 1 to 4 young - the normal being 2. Fawns are born late May to early June.

Typically a doe will produce one youngster the first year and twins from thereon. Fawns are more reddish than their mothers and have white spots to help them blend into the forest floor (and they blend in better than you can imagine if you’ve never seen one in its natural environment). They typically weigh about 6 pounds at birth, will nurse within the first hour and stand within the first 12 hours. Until they gain the strength to flee predators, fawns only see their mothers at feeding time.

Mule Deer have larger feet than some of their cousins. This not only supports their stockier bodies, it also allows them to dig for water which their sensitive noses detect below the surface. They have been known to dig as much as two feet to reach water!

Mule Deer are excellent swimmers but rarely flee into water when chased by predators.

A Mule Deer sheds its antlers (antlers not horns which are not re-grown each year) - usually by February. Antler regrowth is triggered by lengthening daylight which triggers cells in their anterior pituitary.

So, if all this information has made the lowly Mule Deer a little more of an object of interest, keep this in mind: Mule Deer are unable to detect motionless objects. Thus, if you see a deer, freeze. As long as you are downwind and make absolutely no sound (for their sense of hearing is very keen), they will most likely act very similar to the deer whose photos grace this page.

Lady of the Lake

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