Odocoileus hemionus - (Rafinesque, 1817)
Mule Deer
Other English Common Names: Black-tailed Deer
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Odocoileus hemionus (Rafinesque, 1817) (TSN 180698)
French Common Names: cerf mulet
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101365
Element Code: AMALC02010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Other Mammals
Image 11096

© Jeff Nadler

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Artiodactyla Cervidae Odocoileus
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/msw/.
Concept Reference Code: B93WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Odocoileus hemionus
Taxonomic Comments: See Cronin (1991) for information on the restricted gene flow that occurs among extant populations of white-tailed deer (O. virginianus), mule deer (O. h. hemionus), and black-tailed deer (O. h. columbianus and O. h. sitkensis); there is a low level of introgressive hybridization of mtDNA from mule deer and black-tailed deer into white-tailed deer populations in a few areas in western North America. MtDNA and serum albumin data indicate that gene flow between white-tailed deer and mule deer in Montana is not extensive (Cronin et al. 1988). See Hughes and Carr (1993, Can. J. Zool. 71:524-530) for information on hybridization between white-tailed and mule deer in western Canada.

In most areas of sympatry between O. virginianus and O. hemionus in the southwestern U.S., there is little evidence of nuclear gene introgression, though electrophoretic data do indicate hybridization in some localities (Derr 1991). Carr and Hughes (1993) documented recent mtDNA gene flow between mule deer and white-tailed deer in western Texas. Carr and Hughes (1993) found that some populations of mule deer are genetically more closely related to white-tailed deer than to other populations of mule deer; see Carr and Hughes for possible interpretations.

See Cronin et al. (1991) for information on genetic differentiation among subpopulations of mule deer. Cronin (1992) found considerable intraspecific variation in mtDNA in O. hemionus; different subspecies (mule deer and black-tailed deer) had distinct genotypes. Mule deer and black-tailed deer interbreed to a limited extent in a zone along the Cascade Range. Cronin (1991) found evidence of considerable interbreeding of mule deer and black-tailed deer in a contact zone in British Columbia.

This species was included in the genus Dama by Hall (1981), in Odocoileus by Jones et al. (1992), Baker et al. (2003), and Grubb (in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005).

See Cronin (1991) for a phylogeny of the Cervidae based on mitochondrial-DNA data. See Kraus and Miyamoto (1991) for a phylogenetic analysis of pecoran ruminants (Cervidae, Bovidae, Moschidae, Antilocapridae, and Giraffidae) based on mitochondrial DNA data.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 04Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 19Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Sep1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (01Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S4), Arizona (S5), California (SNR), Colorado (S4), Idaho (S4), Kansas (S5), Montana (S5), Navajo Nation (S5), Nebraska (S5), Nevada (S5), New Mexico (S5), North Dakota (SNR), Oklahoma (S1), Oregon (S5), South Dakota (S5), Texas (S4), Utah (S5), Washington (S5), Wyoming (S5)
Canada Alberta (S5), British Columbia (S5), Manitoba (S3), Northwest Territories (SU), Saskatchewan (S4), Yukon Territory (S3S4)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS
Comments on USESA: Subspecies cedrosensis of Isla Cedros (Mexico) is listed by USFWS as Endangered.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Native range extends from southeastern Alaska south through Canada and most of the western United States and Great Plains, to Baja California (including some islands in the Sea of Cortez) and the southern end of the Mexican Plateau (Sonora and northern Tamaulipas, according to Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 1993). The species has been introduced in Hawaii (Tomich 1986) and Argentina.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Extensive, intensive land use by humans can reduce, eliminate, or displace local mule deer populations, but many kinds of human activities, particularly those that generate patches of early successional growth in heavily forested areas, may improve the habitat for deer. Grazing/browsing by domestic sheep in dry environments reduces the capacity of the habitat to support deer (e.g., see Hall 1946).

Grinnell (1914) suggested that an absence or extreme scarcity of mule deer along part of the lower Colorado River (Arizona-California) probably was due to "rapid settlement of the river bottom." Presumably this involved habitat loss as well as excessive hunting (Grinnell suggested that hunting by miners eliminated bighorn sheep from Riverside Mountain, also along the lower Colorado River).

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a transmissable spongiform encephalopathy of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. It is caused by infectious agents known as prions (an abnormal form of a normal protein). Symptoms include lesions on the central nervous system, behavioral abnormalities, and, most obviously, chronic weight loss.CWD is always fatal. First recognized in captive mule deer in Colorado, CWD now occurs in the wild and has spread to at least dozen states and two Canadian provinces. It may be spread from one animal to another via saliva, feces, or possibly other body fluids. CWD does not cause rapid, widespread die-offs of deer, but there is concern about the long-term effects of the disease. No practical methods of CWD eradication are known; the focus thus far has been on learning more about CWD and how it is transmitted, and on preventing the disease from spreading by banning the transportation of live cervids across state lines.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Native range extends from southeastern Alaska south through Canada and most of the western United States and Great Plains, to Baja California (including some islands in the Sea of Cortez) and the southern end of the Mexican Plateau (Sonora and northern Tamaulipas, according to Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 1993). The species has been introduced in Hawaii (Tomich 1986) and Argentina.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, MT, ND, NE, NM, NN, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY
Canada AB, BCnative and exotic, MB, NT, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe 2008

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AZ Apache (04001)
OK Cimarron (40025)*, Comanche (40031), Greer (40055), Harmon (40057)
WA Adams (53001), Asotin (53003), Benton (53005), Chelan (53007), Clark (53011), Columbia (53013), Cowlitz (53015), Douglas (53017), Ferry (53019), Franklin (53021), Garfield (53023), Grant (53025), King (53033), Kittitas (53037), Klickitat (53039), Lewis (53041), Lincoln (53043), Okanogan (53047), Pend Oreille (53051), Pierce (53053), Skagit (53057), Skamania (53059), Snohomish (53061), Spokane (53063), Stevens (53065), Thurston (53067), Walla Walla (53071), Whitman (53075), Yakima (53077)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
11 Cimarron headwaters (11040001)+*, Elm Fork Red (11120304)+, Cache (11130202)+, West Cache (11130203)+, Northern Beaver (11130208)+
14 Chinle (14080204)+
17 Pend Oreille (17010216)+, Upper Spokane (17010305)+, Hangman (17010306)+, Lower Spokane (17010307)+, Little Spokane (17010308)+, Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (17020001)+, Kettle (17020002)+, Colville (17020003)+, Sanpoil (17020004)+, Chief Joseph (17020005)+, Okanogan (17020006)+, Similkameen (17020007)+, Methow (17020008)+, Lake Chelan (17020009)+, Upper Columbia-Entiat (17020010)+, Wenatchee (17020011)+, Moses Coulee (17020012)+, Upper Crab (17020013)+, Banks Lake (17020014)+, Lower Crab (17020015)+, Upper Columbia-Priest Rapids (17020016)+, Upper Yakima (17030001)+, Naches (17030002)+, Lower Yakima, Washington (17030003)+, Lower Snake-Asotin (17060103)+, Lower Grande Ronde (17060106)+, Lower Snake-Tucannon (17060107)+, Palouse (17060108)+, Rock (17060109)+, Lower Snake (17060110)+, Clearwater (17060306)+, Middle Columbia-Lake Wallula (17070101)+, Walla Walla (17070102)+, Middle Columbia-Hood (17070105)+, Klickitat (17070106)+, Lower Columbia-Sandy (17080001)+, Lewis (17080002)+, Upper Cowlitz (17080004)+, Lower Cowlitz (17080005)+, Sauk (17110006)+, Stillaguamish (17110008)+, Skykomish (17110009)+, Snoqualmie (17110010)+, Snohomish (17110011)+, Nisqually (17110015)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: Pelage is reddish or yellowish brown in summer, more grayish brown in winter. Ears are large and may move independently. Males have antlers that branch into separate equal beams that fork into two tines (white-tailed deer has only one main beam). Upper side of tail white with a black tip or all black or brown. Juveniles have spotted pelage.
Reproduction Comments: Mule deer mate in autumn, often mainly late November to mid-December. Gestation lasts about 203 days Births occur in late spring, mostly in May-June in much of the range, sometimes as late as July or August. Litter size is 1-2, depending on age and condition of female. Fawns are born with spotted pelage and initially stay hidden. They lose their spots generally by late summer or early fall. Weaning begins at about 5 weeks, usually completed by 16 weeks. Males usually first breed at 2 years, males at 3-4 years.
Ecology Comments: Home range size may be 30-240 hectares or more; directly correlated with availability of food, water and cover. Deep winter snows are major factor limiting population size in Pacific Northwest (Schoen and Kirchhoff 1990). Predators include: mountain lions; coyotes; dogs.

See Hatter and Janz (1994) for information on apparent demographic changes associated with wolf control on northern Vancouver Island.

Mule deer males use glands on their forehead to apply scent marks to trees. These scent posts communicate the presence and physiological status of the deer and seem to be important in the social and reproductive biology of the species.

Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: In mountainous regions, mule deer tend to migrate (up to 100+ km) from high summer range to lower winter range. For example, in Nevada, deer migrate in autumn from areas where snow lies deeply in winter (e.g., higher mountains) to areas where there is little or no snow (generally lower elevations); in some areas the climate is mild enough to allow deer to occupy the same locations all year (Hall 1946). In southeastern Alaska, deer migrated from low elevation heavily forested winter range to higher elevation summer range in open canopy subalpine and alpine habitats (Schoen and Kirchhoff 1990). In the arid southwest, deer reportedly migrate in response to rainfall patterns (Longhurst and Chattin 1941), but this has not been documented. In southwestern Arizona, some mule deer were nonmigratory whereas others migrated seasonally between summer-dry-season ranges that had permanent water sources to other areas that lacked permanent water (Rautenstrauch and Krausman 1989). Mule deer are not migratory in many plains regions. They exhibit high fidelity to individual seasonal ranges (e.g, see Kucera 1992).

Dispersal distances range up to around 100-200 km (Anderson and Wallmo 1984).

Home range size varies with season, gender, age, body mass, habitat, and other factors. Within a single season, home range size may be as small as around 30-40 hectares or as large as several hundred hectares; generally, mule deer do not move very far on a daily basis (Mackie et al., in Chapman and Fledhamer 1983).

Palustrine Habitat(s): Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Cropland/hedgerow, Desert, Forest - Conifer, Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Grassland/herbaceous, Old field, Savanna, Shrubland/chaparral, Suburban/orchard, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Habitat Comments: Mule deer occupy many types of habitats in mountains and lowlands, including various forests and woodlands, forest edges, shrublands, grasslands with shrubs, and residential areas. They are often associated with successional vegetation, especially near agricultural lands, but in southeastern Alaska they use old growth forests almost exclusively in winter and spring (Schoen and Kirchhoff 1990). Mule deer are scarce or absent in portions of the Mohave and Sonoran deserts, particularly where permanent water is absent during the summer dry season (Rautenstrauch and Krausman 1989). In southern Arizona, mean distance of mule deer from permanent water in July was less than 3 km (most females averaged less than 2 km) (Hervert and Krausman 1986); in early and late summer mule deer averaged 1.1-1.2 km from permanent water (compared to about 1.3 km for random locations) (Ordway and Krausman 1986). In winter, mule deer tend to be on warmer slopes or other areas with minimal snow cover. Snow depth in excess of 25-30 cm can impede movement, and snow depths greater than 51-60 cm discourage continuous occupation (Loveless 1967, Gilbert et al. 1970). Populations in Hawaii occur in moderately dry native and introduced forest.

In Nevada, mule deer inhabit most areas above the Lower Sonoran Life-zone; Hall (1946) observed that areas heavily grazed by domestic sheep have far fewer deer than those utilized only by cattle (possibly a result of competition for browse).

In northern Arizona, mule deer live in areas vegetated by yellow pine, buckbrush, snowberry, and aspen; elsehere in Arizona they inhabit chaparral and more xeric habitats, except those in the far southwestern portion of the state (Hoffmeister 1986). Deer that occur in yellow pine and spruce-fir habitats in spring and summer migrate to lower elevations (pinyon-juniper) for winter (Hoffmeister 1986).

In southern Arizona, mule deer used and preferred mountainous vegetative associations, but males also used nonmountainous associations (Ordway and Krausman 1986).

A survey along the lower Colorado River (California-Arizona border) in 1910 yielded no evidence at all of mule deer, but in earlier years deer apparently were numerous "both in the river bottom and back through certain desert ranges, where there are springs which the deer could visit regularly for water" (Grinnell 1914). In 1902 deer were said to be common on both sides of the river near Cibola (Grinnell 1914).

Adult Food Habits: Herbivore
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: Browses on wide variety of woody plants and grazes on grasses and forbs. May feed on agricultural crops. Also commonly consumes mushrooms, especially in late summer and fall (Great Basin Nat. 52:321). In northern California, reproductive success apparently was reduced due to selenium deficiency (Flueck, 1994, Ecology 75:807-812).
Adult Phenology: Circadian, Crepuscular
Immature Phenology: Circadian, Crepuscular
Phenology Comments: Throughout the year most activity occurs at dawn and dusk, though nocturnal and daytime activity is common.

Males grow antlers from late winter (March) through summer and into fall (October). Antler shedding occurs from December through April (mostly January-February).

Length: 199 centimeters
Weight: 215000 grams
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Browsing on juvenile fruit trees in northern Utah had no effect on tree growth or initial fruit production (Great Basin Nat. 52:352).
Management Summary
Management Requirements: Cattle grazing results in loss of hiding cover for fawns, possibly may increase rate of loss of fawns to predation (Loft et al. 1987). On summer range in the Sierra Nevada in California, cattle evidently competed with deer, particularly at high stocking rates and during a year of below-average precipitation; adverse effects could be reduced by reducing or eliminating cattle grazing during early summer on all or part of a grazing allotment (Kie 1991; see also Loft et al. 1991 for further evidence of cattle-induced habitat shifts by mule deer).

See Wood and Wolfe (1988) for discussion of viability of intercept feeding to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

See Andelt et al. (1991) for information on the relative effectiveness of various repellents for reducing damage to plants (when the deer were moderately hungry, even the best repellents failed to deter browsing).

Monitoring Requirements: See Mitchell (1986) for a description of a spotlight census method.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Use Class: Not applicable
Subtype(s): Migration route, Summer range, Winter range
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals in appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: None.
Alternate Separation Procedure: Occurrence separations should be based on populations that exhibit specific migration patterns, or on appropriate resource agency management units, rather than on specific prescribed distances.
Separation Justification: Home ranges vary from 30 to over 3000 hectares (Anderson and Wallmo 1984). Males usually occupy home ranges of about 500 hectares, females usually 250 hectares (McCullough, in Wilson and Ruff 1999).

Mule deer are good swimmers; water is not normally a barrier. Unsuitable habitat, however, includes waters that do not freeze regularly, as well as urban centers (not suburban areas) and extremely rugged mountain terrain.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 2.5 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Based on a home range of 500 hectares (McCullough, in Wilson and Ruff 1999).
Date: 23Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G., and S. Cannings
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 22Aug2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 21Aug2011
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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