Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

The most numerous, widespread and popular of Arizona’s big-game animals are deer. The state has two distinct species, the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

The most abundant deer in Arizona is the Rocky Mountain mule deer. Mule deer are not limited to any one type of terrain, being found from sparse, low deserts to high forested mountains. Generally they prefer the more rugged country.

Life History

The mule deer gets its name from its large ears. Coat color is reddish-brown in summer, turning to a blue-gray in winter. Its forehead is much darker than its face, while its throat, belly and inner leg are white. Mule deer have white rump patches and short, narrow, black-tipped white tails.

The mule deer is the larger of Arizona’s deer. Adult bucks may weigh in excess of 200 pounds and stand up to 42 inches at the shoulder. Does average 125 pounds.


Typical mule deer antler configuration has each side branching equally into two main beams, each may fork into two tines. The size and number of ‘points’ is dependent on a combination of age, nutrition, and genetic background. The antlers grow under a layer of skin called velvet. The velvet supplies blood to the growing antlers, which are soft. When fully grown, the antlers harden, the velvet dries, and is rubbed off. Antlers are composed of material similar to that of bone. Each year in the spring, after the breeding season has passed, antlers are shed. It is in preparation for the rut that mule deer grow antlers. Bucks are polygamous and fight for a harem of does during the winter breeding season.


After a gestation period of about 190 days, the does give birth to spotted fawns, often twins. Fawns are ‘dropped’ about mid-summer. At higher elevations, the fawns are born early after the last spring storms to allow the young to grow large enough to withstand the winter storms. At lower, drier elevations, drop time is synchronized more with summer rains that bring on new plant growth. A fawn’s spots will disappear in about two months and the young will stay with their mother until the following spring. They will become sexually mature in a year and a half. In the wild deer have a life span of about ten years.

Mule Deer Viewing Locations

Look for mule deer in the following locations: