Mule Deer: Graceful Symmetry

By Dave Hanks

We were coming over a rise in the early morning, and there he was. He was surrounded by several does and the sunlight put a magical glow upon him. The ripeness of autumn was evident in his body and beautiful “rack.” How could one not love something so splendid – something so immersed in its prime? I know that hunting is necessary in the management of wildlife. But if I hunted with a gun, instead of a camera, I’d have a hard time shooting him –a hard time erasing his perfect beauty that graced that morning.

Mule Deer differ from White-Tails in that they are more bulky, their antlers don’t sweep forward, their tails are tipped in black, and they have large ears, whereby their name is derived.

Deer are known as browsers, but they seem to do a lot of grazing. In the early morning or at dusk, they will carefully move out in the meadows to graze, always keeping cover close enough to flee to when sensing danger. They move with stiff-legged bounding (called pronking). This makes movement more efficient over ground littered with obstacles such as downed timber, rocks, etc. They are also excellent swimmers. They’re not migratory, but do move down to lower elevations to get away from deep snow. I’m always amazed at the numbers I see in scrubby, arid areas. Areas you don’t expect to find them in.

First year mothers have a single fawn, but from then on, two is the usual. Scent glands on the hind legs give off a special odor that fawns imprint on to recognize their mother. This is helpful to animals that are colorblind. A scientific axiom is: if an animal is colorful, it can see colors.

The Mule Deer’s major predators are Mountain Lions. Cassia County has a large deer population and that is why Mountain Lions inhabit our south hills. Coyotes and bobcats will take young or sick individuals. One of their biggest killers is highways, as they attempt crossing in the dark. My wife’s, and my own, post-college years were spent in Montana. Ranchers in that state stack their hay in their alfalfa fields. That requires very tall stack fences to protect the hay, as deer can easily jump over an average height fence.

(An early morning gift)