E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Odocoileus hemionus (Rafinesque)
Black-tailed Deer; Mule Deer
Family: Cervidae
Species account author: David Shackleton
Extracted from the Hoofed Mammals of British Columbia
Photo of species

© David Shackleton  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #8529)

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Distribution of Odocoileus hemionus in British Columbia.
(Click on the map to view a larger version.)
Source: Hoofed Mammals of British Columbia by David Shackleton © Royal BC Museum
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Species Information

Mule Deer is a medium-sized deer with a stocky body, slender legs, and a medium-length tail. Its common name stems from the characteristically large ears, which are light coloured on the inside with a dark brown-black rim. The coat is greyish brown in winter, and reddish brown in summer. The belly is the same colour as the rest of body, but the insides of the legs are lighter. There is a dark brown cap on the forehead extending from the ears to between the eyes; in older males, the cap is often darker along the sides just above the eyes and along the front edge. In adult males, this cap is especially noticeable because the face below it can be light grey to almost white. The cap usually does not reach the top of the eye, so there may be a lighter eye-ring above the eye. In summer coat, the cap is not always obvious. The nose is black and mainly hairless, sometimes with a narrow light or white area at the posterior edge, and the chin is also white with a vertical black stripe towards the back of the lips. There is always one white patch at the top of the neck below the throat, and sometimes a second one below it. The rump patch is white but varies in size with the subspecies, as does the colour of the tail. Mule Deer have poorly developed frontal skin glands located in the forehead. The metatarsal glands on the outside of the hind legs are large and well developed, as are the tarsal glands on the inner sides. Both pairs of these hind-leg glands are recognizable by the tufts of longer hair, sometimes of a darker colour, that mark their position. Other paired glands include antorbitals and interdigitals on each foot.

Young of the year are a reddish brown with white spots usually in horizontal rows along either side of the unbroken white mid-dorsal stripe. They also have a small light rump patch, and the hair inside the ears is light. At about 2.5 to 3 months of age, the coat becomes similar in colour to that of the adults.

The antlers of adult male Mule Deer show a bifurcated pattern: after the small brow tine, there are two pairs of relatively even forks, typically making a total of five tines on each antler. But atypical antlers are occasionally found on Rocky Mountain Mule Deer in B.C., and as many as 48 tines have been counted on the antlers of one animal. Atypical antlers are rarely found in either of the two Black-tailed subspecies. The antorbital depression (lachrymal pit) on the skull is relatively deep.

Identification and Subspecies Information

Three subspecies of mule deer are recognized in B.C.

Subspecies: Columbian Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)

Subspecies Description:

Columbian Black-tailed Deer is generally similar in coloration to the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer, but it is smaller and has a relatively shorter face and ears. The Columbian Black-tailed Deer’s rump patch is also much smaller and the upper tail surface is black for about the last three-quarters of its length, with the basal quarter brown. Its metatarsal gland, located about halfway along the metatarsal, is 64 to 70 mm long – this is about half as long as that of the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer, which is located closer to the proximal end of the metatarsal.

For most of us, it is probably impossible to tell Columbian Black-tailed Deer apart from Sitka Black-tailed Deer in the field where their distributions meet. The Columbian is less reddish brown in winter than the Sitka, but more red in summer, and it has a larger forehead patch. It also lacks the obvious dark line down the nose that the Sitka Black-tailed Deer has. The tail of the Columbian has more black on its upper surface than the Sitka.

The antlers of adult male Columbian Black-tailed Deer are darker, smaller and less massive than those of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer, and they usually have fewer forks. Where these two subspecies overlap on the east side of the Coast Mountains, hybrids occur, and again the most useful distinguishing feature is probably the tail. The hybrid’s tail usually has a black stripe running from the tip to the base; their other characteristics are intermediate. There may also be small differences in antler shape between Columbian and Sitka Black-tailed Deer, but these are difficult to see in museum specimens, and even harder to see in the field. The maximum breadth of the sub-lachrymal extension of the jugal bone in the skull is more than 5 mm in Columbian Black-tailed Deer, compared to less than 5 mm in Sitka Black-tailed Deer.


total length: male: 1,614 mm (1,472-1,780) n=3; female: 1,379 mm (?) n=14
tail vertebrae: male: 186 mm (162-205) n=3; female: 140 mm (152-191)
hind foot: male: 454 mm (410-495) n=4; female: 411 mm (?) n-14
ear: male: 142 mm n=1; female: 155 mm n=1
chest: female: 805 mm (?) n=14
weight: male: 54.5 kg (45-64) n=5; female: 45.7 km (?) n=14
skull length: male: 230.7 mm (227-233) n=5); female: 225.4 mm (216-230) n=5
skull width: male: 102.0 mm (102) n=3; female: 97.2 mm (93-100) n=3


Columbian Black-tailed Deer are found throughout Vancouver Island, on almost all the smaller islands, and along the coast on the west slopes of the Coast Mountains from the international border north to about Rivers Inlet. There it begins to intergrade with Sitka Black-tailed Deer. The eastern boundary of its distribution is approximately the height of land of the Coast Mountains, and here too it intergrades with the other subspecies, Rocky Mountain Mule Deer.

On Vancouver Island, Columbian Black-tailed Deer can be found in almost any forested area where recent logging has taken place with adjacent unlogged habitat. The Sechelt Peninsula and most of the islands in the Strait of Georgia from Malcolm to Saturna islands are also areas of high density and thus good places to spot these deer. If undisturbed, Columbian Black-tailed Deer adapt well to the presence of humans; if there are forested areas, they can be found within many city parks, gardens and other green areas.

The effects of forestry on Columbian Black-tailed Deer have been well studied. Results show that as long as a well-interspersed mosaic of different forest types is maintained, along with adequate winter range for severe winters (i.e., old-growth forests), deer will thrive. In some cases, they have reached much higher densities than in the past. The successional stages following logging provide abundant forage, and with older timber nearby, there is the necessary thermal and security cover and relief from deep snow. On Vancouver Island, and probably along all B.C.’s coast, preserving intact old-growth forests at low to mid elevations is recommended as vital for maintaining or rebuilding Black-tailed Deer populations of both subspecies. This is important because individual Black-tailed Deer, like some other ungulates, show strong attachment to an area and to a habitat-use pattern, using them for most of its life. As a result, Black-tailed Deer are susceptible to sudden significant changes in habitat such as those caused by forest removal. Individuals are unable to respond quickly with new, more appropriate strategies when change occurs suddenly.

Conservation Status

Based on the 1997 estimates, there are around 180,000 Black-tailed Deer in B.C.. Approximately 115,000 of these are Columbian Black-tailed Deer, of which about 86,000 (75 per cent) live on Vancouver Island. Before 1975, some of the highest densities on the island were on the western slopes around Gold River, Quatsino Sound and Tahsish Inlet, in the Nitinat-Alberni area, an don Nootka Island. Currently, the highest densities are o the east side of the islands, often near human habitation. Columbian Black-tailed Deer are not threatened.

Subspecies: Rocky Mountain Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus)

Subspecies Description:

The Rocky Mountain Mule Deer’s ears are large and its tail has relatively short white hairs, except on the tip where they are longer and black. Surrounding the tail is a large white rump patch, while the top of the rump just at the base of the tail is often darker than the rest of the body. Rocky Mountain Mule Deer also tend to be more greyish brown in winter pelage than either of the two Black-tailed subspecies, and in some individuals the hind legs can be a more reddish brown than the rest of the body. As winter proceeds, the coat colour often becomes bleached to a lighter grey-brown. The metatarsal gland is over 100 mm long and is located close to the proximal end of the metatarsal. This is longer than the gland in either of the other two subspecies and its location on the metatarsal also differs. For other differences between the three subspecies of Mule Deer, see the Description for Columbian Black-tailed Deer.


total length: male: 1778 mm (1,727-1,880) n=3; female: 1,448 mm (1,270-1,549) n=3
tail vertebrae: male 152 mm (135-178) n=3; female: 178mm (165-197) n=3
hind foot: male: 584 mm (533-584) n=3; female: 483 mm (457-508) n=3
weight: male: 103.7 kg. (75-126) n=3; female: 64.6 kg (48-80) n=10
skull length: male: 274.6 mm (273-284) n=5; female: 250.5 mm (230-257) n=4
skull width: male: 120.0 mm (106-131) n=6; female: 112.0 mm (98-121) n=4


The extensive distribution of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer in B.C. stretches almost continuously from Manning Provincial Park to the Rocky Mountains. It extends northward along the east slopes of the Coast Mountains to about 56° North, bounded on the west by the height of land, then runs eastwards to just south of Tchentlo and Chuchi lakes in north-central B.C., before swinging north again to the south end of Williston Lake in the Rocky Mountain Trench. From there the distribution continues north along the east side of the Rocky Mountains as far as the Liard River, and east through the Peace River area to the Alberta border. There are other separate distribution areas with a few sparse populations of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer in the northern part of the province. These sparse populations are found at the north end of Williston Lake around the Ingenika and Finlay rivers south of Ware; along the Gataga, Kechika and Dall rivers at the north end of the Rocky Mountain Trench; north of Boya Lake Park; and on the Stikine Plateau along the upper Spatsizi and Ross rivers, between Tuaton and Laslui lakes in the south and Cold Fish Lake in the north, extending upstream along the Stikine River from its junction with the Chutine River to around Snow Peak and south along the Klappan River to the beginning of the Little Klappan River. The most northerly distribution areas are east of the Coast Mountains around Atlin and Tusthi lakes, and on the north side of Graham Inlet.

Mule Deer can be seen almost anywhere within their range where densities are moderate to high, such as in central and south-central British Columbia.

Conservation Status

The 1997 estimate for Rocky Mountain Mule Deer in the province was 165,000 animals, and more than half were in the Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan subregions of central and south-central British Columbia. This subspecies is not threatened. Numbers are considered stable in more areas, but declines were reported in 1997 in the Okanagan and in both the East and West Kootenays. Generally, the highest densities occur in the southern and central parts of the province as far north as the Nechako River, and also in the northeast along the Peace River and its main tributaries around Fort St. John.

Subspecies: Sitka Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis)

Subspecies description:

Sitka Black-tailed Deer has a darker coat than the Columbian Black-tailed Deer, and it has two white spots on the throat. The dark patch on the forehead is smaller and individuals in some populations have an obvious dark line down the nose. The metatarsal gland is between 40 and 50 mm long. The Sitka Black-tailed Deer introduced to the islands of the Queen Charlotte Islands can reach high densities and individuals in some populations are smaller than those on the mainland. For other differences among the subspecies of Mule Deer, see the Description for Columbian Black-tailed Deer.


total length: male: 1,567 mm (1,500-1,640) n=3; female: 1,347 mm (1,273-1,395) n=4
tail: male: 150 mm (150) n=3; female:168 (150-195) n=3
hind foot: male: 435 mm (425-450) n=3; female: 407 mm (400-416) n=4
ear: male: 129 mm (188-139) n=3; female: 127 mm (118-140) n=4
skull length: male: 238.0 mm (236-240) n=2
skull width: male: 107.5 (107-108) n=2


The distribution of Sitka Black-tailed Deer is west of the Coast Mountains beginning around Rivers Inlet and extending northward to the Portland Canal. Beyond this, the distribution becomes patchy, with some along the river valleys on the west side of Mount Robertson and in another area just south of the Yukon border at lower elevations along parts of the Alsek and Tatshenshi rivers. This subspecies was also introduced several times onto some of the islands in the Queen Charlotte Islands beginning in the late 1890s. The sources of these deer were populations on Porcher and Pitt islands. Introductions were not successful until the 1920s; but today, deer are found on most of the larger islands in this archipelago.

For those without boats, the best places to see Sitka Black-tailed Deer are probably the few accessible areas along the central and northern coast, such as around Prince Rupert, Kitimat and on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Conservation Status

Although difficult to count, Sitka Black-tailed Deer may number more than 65,000 in the province, based on the 1997 estimate, so this subspecies is not considered threatened.



The Mule Deer is similar in size to the White-tailed Deer and European Fallow Deer. Unlike White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer of both sexes have a dark forehead patch, their metatarsal glands lack the white hairs and the rump patches differ markedly. The Rocky Mountain Mule Deer’s large white rump patch and short-haired white tail with its black tip make it easily distinguishable from White-tailed Deer, which has a long tail with long hairs that are reddish-brown on the upper surface and white on the lower. The upper side of the tail of both subspecies of Black-tailed Deer is dark brown or black. In males of all three subspecies of Mule Deer, the forked tines that grow from the main beam contrast with the unforked tines of White-tailed Deer. The skull is similar in size to those of White-tailed Deer and Fallow Deer, but the antorbital depression of Mule Deer is much deeper than that of White-tailed Deer, and unlike the Fallow Deer, the posterior nares are divided by the vomer.

Adult Mule Deer lack the spots of the spotted form of Fallow Deer, and compared to the two other colour phases, Mule Deer are either darker than the light phase, or lighter than the dark phase. Also, compared to all colour phases of Fallow Deer, the Mule Deer’s dark forehead extends forward past the eyes, and the ears are proportionately larger and have dark rims. The Mule Deer’s rump patch lacks the black side stripes that the Fallow Deer’s has. The antlers of male Mule Deer are not palmated as is typical of adult Fallow Deer.

Tracks are not easily distinguishable from other medium-sized deer; but with practice, they can be separated from those of Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep, because deer tracks are more pointed and delicate in shape. Faeces can be difficult to separate from those of similar-sized ungulates.

The average gestation period is 203 days. The female bears one or two young, each weighing 2 to 4 kg, usually in June. Twins are quite common, except on poor range, and triplets are rare. The young are hiders and remain hidden while their mothers feed elsewhere, sometimes in small temporary groups. The spotted brown coat of the young provides camouflage as it lies in the undergrowth.

Mule Deer reach sexual maturity at about 18 months of age, and most females give birth for the first time on their second birthday, usually to a single young. Males probably have their first chance to participate in the rut at three or four years of age.

Although Mule Deer are primarily browsing herbivores, they eat a variety of plant foods, apparently related to local conditions. Rocky Mountain Mule Deer seem to eat more grasses than their coastal relatives. All three species in British Columbia prefer browsing on Douglas-fir, Saskatoon and willows; they also eat many species of forbs, such as Fireweed, and a variety of grasses. In some areas in the late fall and early winter, Rocky Mountain Mule Deer will paw through the snow to eat the brown, dead remains of large leafy forbs, such as Cow-Parsnip, that have turned into a natural silage. Important plant foods for Columbian Black-tailed Deer in spring and summer include forbs such as Fireweed and Pearly Everlasting, ferns such as Bracken, and browse species like blackberry, Douglas-fir, raspberry, Salal, Salmonberry, Thimbleberry and willows. In winter, important forages are Douglas-fir, Red Huckleberry, Salal and Western Red-cedar, as well as Deer Fern and arboreal lichens (e.g., Alectoria, Bryoria and Usnea). Research has shown that the normally low digestibility of Salal is improved when eaten with other plant species. Little is known about the ecology or behaviour of Sitka Black-tailed Deer in B.C.
Age determination and life expectancy

The pelvis can be used to determine the sex of a skeleton where the head is missing. In adult male Mule Deer, there is a protuberance called the suspensory tuberosity where the penis ligament attaches to the anterior edge of each ilium just above their junction. With experience, tracks of adult male and female Black-tailed Deer can be distinguished by their shape. Male tracks are longer and wider than those of the female. There are various methods for determining the age of Mule Deer. The most reliable are the tooth eruption sequence for animals up to about three years of age, and cementum annuli counts using incisors for older individuals. Probably few Mule Deer live longer than ten years and most live for no more than four or five.
Predators and other mortality factors

Diseases and parasites do not seem to be major causes of death for Mule Deer. Like White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer are susceptible to epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD), but there have been no reports of this disease in B.C.’s populations. Predation is probably the main mortality factor for Mule Deer, and severe winters can have devastating effects. Wolves and Cougars are the major predators of all three subspecies. On the mainland, Coyotes are also important predators on young and probably also take some adults. Other less frequent predators are Bobcats, Lynxes, and Wolverines, and both Black and Grizzly bears will take young deer in spring. Wolves from the mainland moved over to Vancouver Island in the early 1970s and increased in numbers. Besides swamping the indigenous Wolf on Vancouver Island, they also drastically reduced Columbian Black-tailed Deer populations, especially on the northern part of the island. Deer numbers have only recently started to increase again.
Social organization, grouping and behaviour

Adult males and females of all three subspecies of Mule Deer live apart for most of the year, often in groups. During winter, Rocky Mountain Mule Deer may form larger groups than the other two subspecies, especially late in the season and in open habitats, where groups of 60 or more can assemble. In Columbian Black-tailed Deer, females are less social than males. Their basic social unit, as in the Rocky Mountain subspecies, is the family group, consisting of a mother with her offspring of the current year and often those of the previous year; two or more maternal units sometimes join to former larger groupings. Even larger aggregations can form when deer feed in clear-cuts, but these are usually only temporary and show little if any cohesion. During spring in some areas, the more social Black-tailed males are often seen in groups of 20 or more, but divide into smaller, looser-knit units in summers. During periods of high predation, the large spring groups of Columbian Black-tailed Deer are seldom seen.

When alarmed, Mule Deer will stamp a front foot, snort and, sometimes, walk a few paces in a stiff-legged gait. In the open, they often flee using a distinctive gait called stotting, where the animal bounds along as if it has springs on its feet, moving surprisingly fast. Stotting is more common in the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer than in Columbian Black-tailed Deer, and less so in Sitka Black-tailed Deer. Unlike White-tailed Deer, Rocky Mountain Mule Deer do not their raise their tail upright and wave it when alarmed, although Black-tailed Deer, especially a female with young, will sometimes do so. Where thick cover is available, Black-tailed Deer prefer to sneak away from predators.

Unlike most other ungulates, male and female Mule Deer urinate alike, lowering their hind legs and crouching. Both sexes also perform hock-rubbing (or hock-urination), in which they stand with hind legs together, rubbing their tarsal glands and urinating on them. Hock-rubbing is done year-round, but during the rut it is done primarily by large males, often when encountering another male or after a bout of antler thrashing. Rubbing their antlers on shrubs, bushes and small trees is a common behaviour of males to get rid of the velvet, and also in the rut when it may serve as both visual and auditory signals. It may also leave an olfactory message if the forehead glands are rubbed against the vegetation.

Similar-sized large males, when meeting in the rut, approach each other with heads low, ears back, tails held horizontally or moving rapidly up and down, and body hair erect. They will also bush-thrash and hock-rub as they approach. When closer, the males circle without looking directly at each other, sometimes in a crouch. Males also make a rut-snort (a pig-like noise) while snapping the head up and then immediately lowering it again and hissing for 5 to 10 seconds. Rut-snorts of Columbian Black-tailed Deer are reportedly louder than those of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer and are followed by a series of loud grunts. At this point in an interaction, one male may move away, and if he does, his opponent will often follow him for some distance.

Sparring matches are not uncommon between males of different sizes, but only similar-sized males will engage in a real fight, presumably to determine dominance. Even so, these real fights are rare and are preceded by the displays described earlier. Fights can be violent – it is not unusual for one of the combatants to be injured. The animals engage antlers, then twist and shove vigorously until one disengages. The one that breaks off flees as quickly as possible to avoid being attacked by the winner, who chases him striking the ground with his forefeet. Rocky Mountain Mule Deer males also make a barking call during these chases. Locking antlers is extremely rare – but if it occurs, both combatants, unable to disengage, may starve to death. Females, and males without hard antlers, fight by striking out with their front legs, either from a normal standing position or by rearing up on their hind legs. Often prior to striking out, the animal may show a head-high threat, raising the neck and head with the ears back.

The female Mule Deer’s oestrous cycle lasts for 24 to 36 hours, and the interval between heats is 20 to 29 days. The mating system is a tending pair, with one male guarding and courting a single female. When the male has copulated several times, he moves in search of another female. A male checks a female’s reproductive status by sniffing her urine and lip-curling. To encourage her to urinate, the courting male moves towards her rear without looking directly at her, his head low and neck stretched, and makes a soft buzzing sound while flickering his tongue in and out, before finally nosing her rear. The female may move away a few steps or crouch and urinate for the male. A second quite different approach is when the male, again behind a female, makes a low drawn out bleat and then suddenly rushes towards her with his head lowered. He then strikes the ground with his front feet, at the same time making a loud coughing roar, before chasing after her. When the male stops, so does the female, and then she urinates. A female approaching oestrous will feed with her tail raised slightly, and when she allows the male to lick her rear and put his chin and neck on her rump, the male will try to copulate with her. Successful ejaculation occurs in a brief copulatory jump, with the male’s hind legs off the ground and head thrown back. After this, the female bounds away a short distance, stands with her back arched and tail erect, and then contracts her belly several times. These contractions can go on for up to an hour after copulation. Columbian Black-tailed Deer begin mating in late October on the southern part of Vancouver Island and on the Gulf Islands, and later further north, extending into November and early December. Rocky Mountain Mule Deer usually start in mid November and continue until mid December.


Mule Deer is a widespread and adaptable species that inhabits a broad range of habitats. But the two coastal subspecies prefer different habitats than the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer of the interior.

In general, the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer prefers open forested areas or parklands with adjacent grasslands, but also inhabits timbered (Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine) river breaks, foothills and mountain slopes. In the interior, Rocky Mountain Mule Deer is often associated with the Interior Douglas-Fir Zone, especially in winter. The open grasslands and underbrush in adjacent mature timber (80 to 140 years old) provide food, while the forest supplies cover from both predators and weather. In winter, this deer also prefers southerly or westerly exposures below 1,500 metres elevation with gentle slopes. In the central interior of British Columbia, it prefers old forest stands in winter, especially during periods with moderate (250 to 400 mm) and deep (more than 400 mm) snow. A moderate to dense forest canopy is characteristic of deer winter range during periods with deep snow.

In contrast, both Columbian and Sitka black-tailed deer inhabit the dense coastal rainforests. But they also need access to open habitats such as riparian, subalpine and alpine areas, early successional stages of forest, and the underbrush of old-growth forest for the forages that grow in them. The coastal forests also lessen the effects of deep snow. A dense forest canopy not only provides a litter of lichens and twigs for winter food, but also intercepts much of the snowfall. Because less snow accumulates on the forest floor, shrubs are more accessible and travel is easier for the deer. Deer try to avoid areas where they begin to sink almost half way to their chest, because the energy costs of moving increase dramatically at this point. It can also be much harder to escape predators in deep snow. Where there are no alternatives, deer may yard – remain in the same general area and use snow trails that develop into open runways through repeated use.

A dense forest canopy also affords important thermal cover for deer, providing cooling shade in summer and shelter in winter. The two coastal subspecies seem to prefer forest edges where they have ready access to both open and closed habitats. This is similar to habitat preferred by Rocky Mountain Mule Deer, although the interior deer often move further from cover. All three subspecies like to bed down in forest and shrub edges along natural or man-made openings and grasslands, or along ridge tops and mountain slopes. These areas not only provide concealment but also a clear view to look for predators.

Although individuals vary, most deer make seasonal altitudinal migrations, moving to higher elevations in summer. Rocky Mountain Mule Deer may travel up to 60 km between summer and winter ranges, with some moving as much as 120 km. In spring, these deer move from their winter range to wetter areas with a greater variety and biomass of forages available in summer, thus maximizing their nutritional opportunities. In fall and early winter, snow accumulation at the higher elevations forces the deer back to the lower valleys. Columbian Black-tailed Deer seem to move less than Mule Deer, restricting their seasonal migrations to within watersheds. All three subspecies are excellent swimmers and both Columbian and Sitka black-tailed deer are known to swim between islands along the coast.


The Rocky Mountain Mule Deer can be clearly separated from the other two forms in terms of external morphology, behaviour and ecology. It has been speculated that the Black-tailed Deer and Rocky Mountain Mule Deer will continue to diverge, and eventually be recognized as distinct species. Distinguishing the two coastal deer is more difficult. Mule Deer from the extreme northwest of the province on the east side of the Coast Mountains around Atlin and Tusthi lakes and Tagish, and on the north side of Graham Inlet, may be closer to Sitka Black-tailed Deer than to Rocky Mountain Mule Deer. The type specimen localities are Sioux River, South Dakota, for Rocky Mountain Mule Deer; Cape Disappointment, Washington, for Columbian Black-tailed Deer; and Sitka, Alaska, for Sitka Black-tailed Deer. Recent genetic studies of North American deer, including Mule Deer, indicate that their relationships and evolutionary histories are complex.


Odocoileus means “hollow-toothed”, from the Greek Odo for “tooth” and koilis for “hollow”, while hemionus is “mule-like” referring to the large ears of the species. Atypical coat coloration has been reported in Columbian Black-tailed Deer on rare occasions. These include albinos and individuals without any white hairs anywhere on the body. Another rare colour variant seen in adults and young consists of patches of white hair over different parts of the body.

It is normal for young of the year to be left hidden in vegetation while their mother feeds elsewhere. If you find a young deer on its own, do not assume that it has been abandoned. Too many fawns are mistakenly “rescued” by well-meaning people and end up in wildlife rescue centres. Do not handle or disturb any young deer found lying hidden.

As any gardener living in deer country knows all too well, Mule Deer can jump easily over a two-metre-high fence to feed on vegetables, fruit trees and flowers. Deer browsing creates a major problem for commercial orchards, and in the Okanagan, it has been necessary to construct stretches of tall, expensive deer-fencing to control deer depredation. Deer browsing also causes considerable damage to forest tree seedlings, and various deterrents have been tried. Predator-odour repellents have had limited success, because like noise makers, without negative reinforcement, deer are likely to become habituated and ignore most repellents. Ungulate fencing has also been built along Coquihalla Highway with special one-way gates and underpasses to allow Mule Deer and Elk to migrate relatively freely without deer-automobile collisions.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS5YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Notes

Mule deer are sometimes found in large herds. Large herds of 40 or more deer have been observed along Hwy. 3, just west of Princeton. Similar species: The Mule Deer has a black-tipped tail, while the White-tailed Deer does not (although, in some individuals it may appear dark brown).

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2023-06-03 2:06:40 AM]
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