Mule Deer (Odocolleus hemlonus)

Mule Deer Hunting Canada. Discover where to hunt Mule Deer (Odocolleus hemlonus). Also, learn to identify it and study its' physical description, Range, Habitat, Diet, Food Strategy, Breeding Habits, and Status.

Provinces with Mule Deer Hunting

Yukon Resident and Non-Resident
British Columbia Resident and Non-Resident
Alberta Resident and Non-Resident
Saskatchewan Resident and Non-Resident

Distribution and Habitat of Mule Deer

Mule Deer Range

The Canadian Rocky Mountain and Columbia Mountain regions between Alberta and British Columbia contain the highest concentrations of deer species, with all five North American species (white-tailed deer, mule deer, caribou, elk, and moose) inhabiting this region. This region has several national parks including Mount Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park (Canada), Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Park on the British Columbia side, and Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Glacier National Park (U.S.) on the Alberta and Montana sides. Mountain slope habitats vary from moist coniferous/mixed forested habitats to dry sub alpine/pine forests with alpine meadows higher up. 

Preferred Habitats are:

  • Edges of coniferous forests
  • Hilly areas
  • Mixed-wood forests
Province Mule Deer Black-Tailed Deer
British Columbia 100,000 - 168,000 98,000 - 157,000
Alberta 151,135
Saskatchewan 30,000 - 60,000


The world record for a non-typical Mule Deer comes from Alberta.

Selecting a Hunting Calibre for Mule Deer

  • Vital Shot Placement for Mule Deer

Shot Placement to Vital Area of Mule Deer

Photo By: Pacific Southwest Region from Sacramento, US (Mule Deer at Lava Beds Monument) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons,

Modified by:

Mule deer may be hunted at various ranges and you should expect to be shooting anywhere from 50 to 250 yards or even further. Deer, in general, can be a little more resilient in harvesting. As in all cases shot placement and the comfort level that you have with your rifle are key factors, along with a high-quality hunting round.

The bullet you use must be consistent in its placement every time and expansion factor is key to a quick kill. I know that it is hard to go to the store and purchase good quality ammunition. In retirement cash resources are lower and the high cost of ammunition is hard on a limited budget especially if you don't reload. But, the benefits of knowing exactly what your bullet will do can not be under estimated.

I have read many times that the 30-30 has harvested more deer than any other caliber. Most of that is true because of the length of time that this round has been around but it does support the fact that you don't need a long range round to hunt deer. For the most part, most hunters are susceptible to flinching and for most hunters, any caliber that is close to the 300 caliber and has a lighter recoil would be a good choice. 

In reading deer forms and using experience with my hunting groups. Bullet weight seems to be is all over the map with most hunters I know choosing a 120 -150-grain bullet.

White-Tailed Deer Hooves

White-tailed Deer Hooves


  • 2.25 - 4 Inches (5.7-10.2 cm) long
  • 1.625- 2.75 Inches (4.1 - 7 cm) wide


  • 2 - 3.5 Inches (5.1 - 8.9 cm) long
  • 1.5 2.375 Inches (3.8 - 6 cm) wide

Trail Width

  • 5 - 10 inches (12.7 - 25.4 cm)

Photo by: Robert Lemke -


There is no discernable way to tell if deer track is a Mule Deer or a Whitetail Deer unless they are running. Mule Deer bound (called pronking) when they run and because of this you will find the front and rear tracks together when they run. All others alternate their tracks.

Although the picture to the left is that of a whitetail the mule deer's track will be much the same.

Note that the front hoof of the buck is much larger than the rear. Also note the difference in the dew claw which is larger and closer to the hoof than the rear.

This author has an opinion that there is a discernable difference between the front hooves and rear hooves of the deer family. The thought here is that there is a lot more mass with the antlers, shoulders, and neck area that the buck has to carry.

Thus the hoof on the front must be larger to support that extra mass. Note that the rear hooves of both male and female deer are similar in size for both the buck and doe. But the front hooves have a considerable difference that can be detected. I looked a six bucks taken the fall of 2016 and the results were all the same.

Mule Deer Scat

Mule Deer Scat

Photo By: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,


 Description of Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

Mule Deer Bucks Does
Life Span 9-11 years
Shoulder Height 90-95 cm (3–3.5 Ft) 
Overall Length 4.5-7ft nose to tail
Weight 68-113 KG 50-75 kg.
Weight at Birth

2.7-4 kg

Antlers Their antlers are bifurcated in that they "fork" as they grow, rather than branching from a single main beam, as is the case with white-tails. Antlers are shed annually None
Hearing They have large ears that move constantly and independently, It is said that their hearing is accute.

The Mule Deer's eyes are located on the sides of their heads giving them a 310 degree view. They have better nighttime vision than humans, but less accurate daytime and color vision.

Mule deer can detect slight predator movement up to 600 meters away, but they are not very good at detecting motionless forms.

Dental Formula I 0/3, Cc 0/1, P 3/3, M 3/3 with a total of 32 teeth
Body Temperature 37.2 °C 
Feet Ungulate
Can Travel 45 miles per hours for short periods of time
Diet Herbivore
Sexual Maturity 2 Year s 2 years
Breeding Time Oct-Nov Oct-Nov
Gestation N/A 165-212 days
Birthing N/A May or Jun
# in Litter N/A 1-4 fawns, generally 2
Weaning 60-75 days
Communication Deer communicate with the aid of scents or pheromones that come from several glands. The most important are the metatarsal (outside of lower leg), tarsal (inside of hock), and interdigital (between the toes). The metatarsal gland produces an alarm scent, the tarsal serves for mutual recognition, and the interdigital glands leave a scent trail when deer travel.


Mule Deer Identification

Mule Deer Identification

Photo By: USFWS Mountain Prairie

Modified By:

The differences between a white-tailed deer and mule deer includes

The size of their ears, the Mule Deer’s ears are larger than the white-tails. The ears measure nearly 50 mm longer than those of White-tailed Deer.

The color of their tails, the Mule Deer tail is white with a black tip where as the Whitetail tail is brown with a black tip.

The antler configuration, the Mule Deer antler has a fork from which tines branch out. White-tail deer has one main beam from which its tines branch from

Body size can also be a key difference with the mule deer being the larger species of the two.

Adult bucks (male deer) can weigh anywhere from 55 kg to 150 kg (121–331 lb), with an average weight in around 92 kg (203 lb). Trophy Mule Deer can weigh up to 210 kg (460 lb). 

  • Unlike the wary white-tail, mule deer are often inquisitive. When alarmed and running, they often stop for a last look before bounding out of sight.

Does are smaller than the buck and will weigh anywhere from 43 to 90 kg (95 to 198 lb), with an average weight in around 68 kg (150 lb). 

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Mule Deer

Mule Deer Buck 

Mule Deer Buck

Photo By: Jon Nelson - Flickr

Where mule deer share the same feeding grounds of whitetail deer, their diets are similar in nature. The Mule deer predominantly browse, but also eat herbaceous flowering plants (weeds, sunflowers, and milkweed are examples of forbs), small amounts of grass, and, where available, tree or shrub fruits such as beans, pods, nuts (including acorns, which are oak nuts), and berries.

In spring and summer, Mule Deer prefer various grasses, along with herbs like balsamroot, clover, wild strawberry, fireweed, and the leaves of many kinds of shrubs.

The Mule Deer's key winter foods include shrubs like big sagebrush, pasture sage, bitterbrush, rabbit brush, snowbrush, saskatoon, rose, and serviceberry, as well as the foliage of Douglas-fir trees and a variety of grasses and herbs.

Mule deer are ruminants, in that they utilize a specialized stomach prior to digestion. This process typically requires their cud to be regurgitated and chewed again. Deer that browse on high-fibre, low-starch foods require less intake of browse than those on high-starch, low-fibre foods. Deer on high-fibre, low-starch browse require additional rumination time to absorb the additional nutrients due to greater length of fermentation time.

Some subspecies of mule deer are migratory and they will see more variable habitats and forage quality throughout their migrations. Typical browse in the summer will be higher in proteins, starches, sugars, and hemicellulose and will be more digestible than browse consumed in the winter.

Fat storage for the Mule Deer varies according to browse quality and availability meaning that they will fluctuate with their annual migrations. Typically, most fat reserves are at their highest in October. They then will use these reserves to get them through the winter. Those reserves will probably be at their lowest levels in March.

Breeding Cycle and Reproduction of Mule Deer

Mule Deer Does

Mule Deer Does

Photo By: Pixabay

It is January, the New Year has come in and mule deer are travelling in small groups. Bucks will be shedding their antlers soon (January to March). The older more mature bucks will shed first and the younger bucks later. New antler growth starts almost as soon as they are shed. For those of you who hunt trophy bucks, this time right up to into the month of April is a good time to search for those sheds and plan where you will place your trail cameras in order to scout for your next monster buck.

Late May and June sees fawning does birthing their fawns. If the doe has a year old fawn. It is at this time that she drives it away. The new born fawn is reddish-brown in colour with many small white spots when born. Like the whitetail this year’s fawn will stay with its mother during the summer.  The Does leave fawns hidden while they forage in the vicinity, returning occasionally to nurse them. Mule deer typically produces twin fawns, first time does generally produce only one fawn, and triplets occur once in a while with fawns weighing 2.7 to 4 kg at birth.

The bucks over the summer are developing their antlers in velvet and it is the month of August that trophy hunters should be putting out their trail cameras to catch a sneak peak of a monster buck from the sheds collected in April.

Antler growth is regulated by testosterone and IGF (an insulin like growth factor) that is produced in the liver. Ultimately the length of day light is what controls this growth process. Hardening of the antler is initiated by a rise of testosterone and  the shedding of antler velvet. On the other hand, a drop in testosterone will trigger the shedding or casting of the antlers.  

Late August and the month of September is the time at which the bucks are rubbing off their velvet and it is not uncommon for the bucks to eat the velvet.

The rut normally occurs in November. Many factors will determine how intense the "rutting season" will be and air temperature is a major one. Deer are subject to overheating or dehydrating any time the temperature rises above 40 °F (4 °C), this results in Bucks doing much less traveling in search of a hot doe. 

If the ratio of buck in comparison to available does is high. The aggression and competition by Bucks during with rut will be more intense as they compete for available does. If the ratio of bucks to does is tipped in favour of the does, then the selection process will not need to be as competitive. 

The does will be in heat for a period of a few days and may mate with more than one buck. If she does not successfully breed she will come back into heat within a month. Bucks tending a doe will not seek out another doe. The buck will also be secretive in tending his area with that doe in order to maintain his exclusive rights. However, bucks will become quite aggressive, in order to maintain his breeding rights should a competing buck arrive on the scene.

Status of Mule Deer in Canada

Mule Deer Fawns

Mule Deer Fawns

Photo By: USFWS - Flickr

Mule and Black-tailed deer have done fairly well despite expanding civilization and are not considered to be a species at-risk in British Columbia. However, some deer habitat has permanently disappeared because of residential development, particularly on southern Vancouver Island, in the Greater Vancouver area, and the Okanagan Valley.

For Alberta, Mule deer are classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report.

  • References


Photo Credits

Background - USFWS - Flickr

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