San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) Odocoileus hemionus
Mule Deer

Family: Cervidae (Deer and Relatives)


The mule deer is a dark gray-brown in color. It has a white tail with a black tip that it carries in the drooped position. It locates water with its keen sense of smell and uses its large feet to claw water out of the ground from as much as two feet deep. Instead of running, the mule deer jumps stiff-legged with all four feet hitting the ground at once. It can leap distances up to eight yards and reach speeds up to forty-five miles per hour. This style of leaping is called stotting. The mule deer's large ears are able to move constantly and independently from each other. The antlers, which begin growth in spring and are shed in December, branch to form two equal forks.

The mule deer is generally four to six-and-a-half feet in length and three to three-and-a-half feet high at the shoulder.

Range and Habitat

The mule deer lives throughout the western United States, including the deserts. It may migrate in response to rainfall.

Natural History

Mule deer mate in November and December with the antlered males fighting for possession of the females.

Mule deer have a multi-part stomach, which aids in the digestion of the plant matter they consume. Mule deer browse on fresh green leaves, twigs, grasses, herbs, weeds, blackberries, raspberries, vines, grapes, mistletoe, mushrooms, ferns, and cactus fruit.

Mule deer live for about ten years in the wild but have been known to live up to twenty-five years in captivity. Natural predators include coyotes, cougars, and bobcats.

Conservation Status

Federal, state, and provincial land- and wildlife-management agencies are working to acquire land designated as mule deer ranges.

Text by Connie Gatlin
Photo credit: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles
© California Academy of Sciences

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