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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Odocoileus hemionus
Mule Deer

Scientific Name: Odocoileus hemionus (Rafinesque, 1817)
English Name: Mule Deer
English Name Synonyms: Black-tailed Deer
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - 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:
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: M-ODHE
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Artiodactyla Cervidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S5 (Feb 2015)
BC List: Yellow
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2005)
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.
Global 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.
Global 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.
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
Y /
Y /
N /
na /
Global 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).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Agriculture / Cultivated Field / Facultative - frequent use
Agriculture / Hedgerow / Facultative - frequent use
Agriculture / Pasture/Old Field / Facultative - frequent use
Alpine/Tundra / Alpine Grassland / Unknown
Alpine/Tundra / Tundra / Facultative - frequent use
Anthropogenic / Urban/Suburban / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Conifer Forest - Dry / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Conifer Forest - Mesic (average) / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Conifer Forest - Moist/wet / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Deciduous/Broadleaf Forest / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Mixed Forest (deciduous/coniferous mix) / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Antelope-brush Steppe / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Grassland / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Meadow / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Sagebrush Steppe / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Shrub - Logged / Facultative - frequent use
Grassland/Shrub / Shrub - Natural / Facultative - frequent use
Lakes / Lake / Facultative - occasional use
Lakes / Pond/Open Water / Facultative - occasional use
Other Unique Habitats / Avalanche Track / Facultative - occasional use
Other Unique Habitats / Estuary / Facultative - frequent use
Other Unique Habitats / Vernal Pools/Seasonal Seeps / Facultative - occasional use
Riparian / Gravel Bar / Facultative - frequent use
Riparian / Riparian Forest / Facultative - frequent use
Riparian / Riparian Herbaceous / Facultative - frequent use
Riparian / Riparian Shrub / Facultative - frequent use
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Cliff / Facultative - occasional use
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Facultative - occasional use
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Talus / Facultative - occasional use
Wetland / Bog / Facultative - frequent use
Wetland / Fen / Facultative - frequent use
Wetland / Marsh / Facultative - frequent use
Wetland / Swamp / Facultative - frequent use
Global 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).
Food Habits: Herbivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits 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).
Global Phenology: Circadian: Adult, Immature
Crepuscular: Adult, Immature
Global 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).
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 199/ / 215000
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: 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.
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Aug 21, 2011
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
References and Related Literature
Andelt, W. F., K. P. Burnham, and J. A. Manning. 1991. Relative effectiveness of repellents for reducing mule deer damage. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:341-347.
Anderson, A. E., and O. C. Wallmo. 1984. Odocoileus hemionus. Mammalian Species 219:1-9.
Blood, D.A. 2000. Mule and Black-tailed Deer in British Columbia, Ecology, Conservation and Management. B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Branch. 6pp.
Caire, W., J. D. Tyler, B. P. Glass, and M. A. Mares. 1989. Mammals of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. Oklahoma. 567 pp.
Carr, S. M., and G. A. Hughes. 1993. Direction of introgressive hybridization between species of North American deer (ODOCOILEUS) as inferred from mitochondrial-cytochrome-b sequences. J. Mamm. 74:331-342.
Cronin, M. A. 1991a. Mitochondrial-DNA phylogeny of deer (Cervidae). J. Mamm. 72:533-566.
Cronin, M. A. 1991b. Mitochondrial and nuclear genetic relationships of deer (ODOCOILEUS spp.) in western North America. Can. J. Zool. 69:1270-1279.
Cronin, M. A. 1992. Intraspecific variation in mitochondrial DNA of North American cervids. J. Mammalogy 73:70-82.
Cronin, M. A., E. R. Vyse, and D. G. Cameron. 1988. Genetic relationships between mule deer and white-tailed deer in Montana. J. Wildl. Manage. 52:320-328.
Cronin, M. A., M. E. Nelson, and D. F. Pac. 1991. Spatial heterogeneity of mitochondrial DNA and allozymes among populations of white-tailed deer and mule deer. J. Heredity 82:118-127.
Derr, J. N. 1991. Genetic interactions between white-tailed and mule deer in the southwestern United States. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:228-237.
Hall, E. R. 1981a. The Mammals of North America, second edition. Vols. I & II. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York. 1181 pp.
Hatter, I. W., and D. W. Janz. 1994. Apparent demographic changes in black-tailed deer associated with wolf control on northern Vancouver Island. Canadian J. Zoology 72:878-884.
Jones, J. K., Jr., D. M. Armstrong, R. S. Hoffmann, and C. Jones. 1983. Mammals of the Northern Great Plains. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Jones, J. K., Jr., R. S. Hoffman, D. W. Rice, C. Jones, R. J. Baker, and M. D. Engstrom. 1992a. Revised checklist of North American mammals north of Mexico, 1991. Occasional Papers, The Museum, Texas Tech University, 146:1-23.
Kie, J. G. 1991. Foraging behavior by mule deer: the influence of cattle grazing. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:665-674.
Kramer, R. J. 1971. Hawaiian land mammals. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, Japan. 347 pp.
Kraus, F., and M. M. Miyamoto. 1991. Rapid cladogenesis among the pecoran ruminants: evidence from mitochondrial DNA sequences. Systematic Zoology 40:117-130.
Kucera, T. E. 1992. Influences of sex and weather on migration of mule deer in California. Great Basin Nat. 52:122-130.
Loft, E. R., et al. 1987. Influence of cattle stocking rate on the structural profile of deer hiding cover. J. Wildl. Manage. 51:655-664.
Loft, E. R., J. W. Menke, and J. G. Kie. 1991. Habitat shifts by mule deer: the influence of cattle grazing. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:16-26.
Mitchell, W. A. 1986a. Deer spotlight census. Section 6.4.3, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wildife Resources Management Manual. Tech. Rep. EL-86-53. Waterways Expt. Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's mammals of the world. Fifth edition. Vols. I and II. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore. 1629 pp.
Rue, L. L., III. The deer of North America. Updated and expanded edition. Stackpole. 544 pp.
Schoen, J. W., and M. D. Kirchhoff. 1990. Seasonal habitat use by Sitka black-tailed deer on Admiralty Island, Alaska. J. Wildl. Manage. 54:371-378.
Tomich, P. Q. 1986. Mammals in Hawai'i. A synopsis and notational bibliography. Second edition. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu. 375 pp.
Wallmo, O.C. 1981. The mule and black-tailed deer of North America. 605 pp.
Wemmer, C. M., editor. 1987. Biology and management of theCervidae: proceedings of a symposium. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D. C. 1000 pp.
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:
Wood, P., and M. L. Wolfe. 1988. Intercept feeding as a means of reducing deer-vehicle collisions. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 16:376-380.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2011. Species Summary: Odocoileus hemionus. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Aug 12, 2022).