Mule Deer

Odocoileus hemionus
Mule deer on the refuge

Named for their long, mulish ears, Mule Deer range throughout the North American west.  A Mule Deer’s antlers "fork" as they grow, rather than branching from a single main beam. Shedding of antlers typically takes place in mid-February and new ones start to regrow almost immediately after the old antlers are shed.  A type of bone, antler is some of the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom. Maximum antler size is typically reached in their 5th to 7th year of life, assuming the buck survives harsh winters, predation, disease, and hunting pressure.  Bucks with larger antlers tend to dominate and mate with more does than smaller-antlered, young bucks.  The rut, or mating season, begins in the fall as does go into estrus for a period of a few days. The gestation period is about 190–200 days, with fawns born in the spring. Fawns stay with their mothers during the summer and are usually weaned in the fall after about 60–75 days. Mule deer females usually give birth to two fawns. 

Although widespread across the West, Mule Deer numbers have declined significantly in most states since the 1960s. It is not known for sure why they have declined but factors such as fire suppression, loss of habitat to development, drought and severe winters probably act in combination against deer survival.  In some areas, competition with White-tailed Deer and high predation by bears, wolves, mountain lions, and coyotes also are contributing factors. 

Fortunately, the Mule Deer herd which inhabits the Ruby Mountains has historically been the largest in Nevada and may number 12,000 or more animals.  In the early spring and late fall thousands of Mule Deer may be seen migrating along the base of the Ruby Mountains.  Large herds of Mule Deer are commonly viewed along Harrison Pass during those times.  Some deer also move down into Ruby Valley to forage in agricultural fields, especially in summer when lush alfalfa is available.  They may sometimes be seen in the sagebrush, willow, and meadow habitats of the refuge or in the aspens along Cave Creek.  In the fall, hunters by the hundreds inundate the area looking to fill their tag on the public lands surrounding the Refuge.  Note that hunting of all animals (with the exception of waterfowl hunting) is prohibited on Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Facts About Mule Deer

Habitat: pinyon/juniper, sagebrush, mountains, agriculture - close to water sources 

Diet: browsers, primarily of woody vegetation and broad-leaved plants and some grasses, but may eat agricultural plantings, landscape plants, apples, acorns, berries, etc. as available  

Average weight: males 203 lbs/females 150 lbs

Trophy weight: up to 460 lbs

Mating season: fall

 Mule deer