Mule Deer

The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) or big-eared deer is a common deer in western North America. It is the closest relative of the white-tailed deer. Several subspecies are distinguished: a slightly smaller and darker subspecies, those west of the Rocky Mountains, is usually referred to as black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus). The species name mule deer refers to the large ears, which resemble those of mules.

Unlike the white-tailed deer, the mule deer is not a cultural follower and avoids humans more.

General data

Males of mule deer have a height at withers of one meter and a head-torso length of almost two meters. Strong males sometimes have a weight of more than 120kg.

Scoring a mule deer is determined by antlers, which only males wear. A distinction is made between typical and atypical antlers, which are scored separately.


Mule deer are herd animals, so they usually occur in small herds. Occasionally, however, one can also find individual animals. A herd usually consists of a maximum of six animals. If several herds meet, one can encounter significantly more animals.

A herd of mule deer is dominated by females. The males are often outnumbered. Often there is a top dog, i.e. a single deer in the whole pack that leads the herd. The leader does not have to be extremely big and powerful, though. Some herds are also led by younger, weaker deer. The leader indicates the direction in which the pack moves.

It is interesting and in some situations also very helpful to observe the herd of deer closely. If the herd was startled and all the animals flee in different directions, then after some time all the animals will rejoin the lead animal. It is then good to know the leading animal and to lie in wait. Trotting animals are never the lead animal! Trotting animals are somewhat separated from the rest of the pack, or from the lead animal and try to catch up. If the lead animal is killed, another animal from the herd automatically becomes the lead animal.

Mule deer have a special daily rhythm and seek out feeding areas in the early morning hours, for example, and then retreat into the woods to rest. Later they can be found again on the feeding grounds (but more about that below).

Generally speaking, the deer can be found almost everywhere, depending on the time of day and their needs. At the same time they are always alert. Strong, capital deer are very attentive, whereas bald deer are often careless and easy to hunt. The animals have a good sense of smell, hear well and react to movements. Therefore, you should always pay attention to the wind direction (always headwind) and if possible avoid movements at short distances to the animal. Proper camouflage clothing also helps well.

Since mule deer are flight animals that have enemies living on the ground, they have a wide, horizontal field of view. Their vertical field of view is less well developed. Therefore, particularly high perches such as treestands or tripod stands are good for hunting.

If one wants to get very close to the animals, e.g. to shoot with arrow weapons, one can additionally use natural objects such as trees, stones and earth banks as cover.

If the hunter is spotted, the animal will stand there silently and stare at the hunter. If the animal then considers the hunter to be a real danger, it will flee quickly, sometimes far away. In the high grass one observes so-called bounce jumps.

Traces are left abundantly, which one can follow well. Whether this is meaningful, is to be left open. In reality, a track is only worthwhile to follow when it is still relatively fresh.


If you are very close to the animals (< 30 m), you can hear their steps and the rustling of the leaves.

Both sexes emit calls that can be detected by the hunter and thus can be used to locate the animal. The females call with a slightly lighter bleat while the males tend to call a little deeper and rougher, almost burping sounds.

Activity in the course of the day

Mule Deer, like all animal species in play, engage in various activities during the course of the day. For example, they seek out feeding places to graze. But they also look for sleeping places to rest and waters to drink. These activities are always, as in real life, tied to specific times and places. If the hunter knows the times, habits and places exactly, he can adjust his hunting time and tactics to it, position and wait for game. Hunting can thus become more effective, or success is maximized.

More about this under hunting time.

General observations show:

  • At feeding times, animals sometimes find themselves in loose groups in meadows and fields looking for food.
  • At drinking times, they prefer to stay near bodies of water.
  • At resting times, the animals retreat into the protective forests and lie down to rest. Activity is then low, so hunting is less favorable.

It is also important to know that not all animals rest at rest time or feed at feeding time. Most of the time it is the minority that is engaged in activity. Animals spend most of their time moving from one place to another.

This overview comes from the observations of numerous hunters.

Hunting methods and tips for mule deer hunting

The hunting methods and tips presented here can be partially combined with each other which often, but not always, makes them much more effective.


Here the hunter carefully and quietly walks the area to be hunted, he “stalks” or creeps up against the wind to get as close as possible to the game unnoticed. He will not follow tracks blindly, but only if they are promising. This requires good knowledge of the territory.

Stalking can work well for mule deer, but is not particularly effective. It usually takes a long time to find the appropriate animal at the end of a track, or to be able to read tracks well you should have good skills.

It is not always easy to get close to the game, because you usually have to walk towards the game yourself, causing noises or attracting attention by movements. You have to be lucky if the animal comes right up to you.

In most cases, only mule deer that have just been spotted “by chance”, such as in large open areas, etc., are shot during stalking.

As a basic rule, however, always stalk against the wind and avoid unnecessary noise and movement.

Hide hunting

When hunting from a raised hide – the most common type of hunting – a hunter waits at a suitable spot, often on a raised hide or other stalking device. Game passing by can thus be observed, approached (recognized) and, if necessary, shot in peace.

Since it is quiet here and usually well camouflaged, it is difficult to attract attention from the wild animals. So it comes very close. Ideal for bow hunters or hunters who want to get very close to the game. Especially mule deer can be hunted so close. But there are also small differences in the hide facilities.

The disadvantage is that you are bound to the place where the hide is located (you don’t get around much and therefore see less game). Some devices are mobile, but also cause noise during assembly and disassembly. Often with mule deer you have to wait for a long time, or know exactly the places where the game is so that you can see animals.

So this method alone is only really effective if you know that there are a lot of animals around at the moment. Otherwise, the method is less productive, but can be very effective when combined with other methods, such as decoy hunting.

Party hunts

Here more than three hunters are involved in the hunt. Usually there are beaters who scare up the game and drive or push it in front of the shooters (depending on the type of party hunt and the game being hunted). The shooters can then shoot these animals.

This method of hunting allows large areas to be combed quickly and large numbers of game to be killed, as the effort per piece is simply small and there is no need to camouflage or sneak up on them.

For mule deer, the method works quite well if you have many players and a suitable terrain, where the animals have little chance to escape. In addition, good marksmen with suitable calibers are necessary, since the game is often on the run, i.e. running and is therefore more difficult to hit. Arrow weapons are considered unsuitable here.

Such a hunting method can be a lot of fun, it is often easier because you don’t have to pay attention to cover, wind etc. and you can kill a lot of game.

Decoy hunting

Decoy hunting is a collective term for hunting methods in which game is lured in various ways. Decoy hunting is mostly practiced during hide hunting, less often during stalking. People like to combine this method with others, or strictly speaking it is not possible to do a pure decoy hunt, there are always components of stalking or hide hunting.

The decoy hunt is therefore a refinement/improvement of the hide hunt or stalking. Almost all hunters use decoy hunting because it is quite effective because you can lure animals, sometimes in large numbers, or lure them to positions where they can be easily killed (e.g. in front of hide facilities).

It is also advantageous that the animals usually come to the hunter and he does not have to move much, which prevents unnecessary conspicuousness or unnecessary noise and thus allows the game to come closer.

For the mule deer there are different attraction methods, while the most popular one is mule deer baiting.


Anatomy deals with the structure of organisms. The shape, position and structure of body parts, organs, tissues or cells are considered.

For a hunter, it is particularly important to know how the game body is structured, i.e. where which organs are located. Only with this knowledge can an accurate shot be fired that precisely injures vital organs and thus kills the game quickly and without great agony. This benefits both the hunter and the game.

In the following part, the anatomy of this game species will be presented and at the same time it will be shown how to kill the piece quickly and easily, or what happens when you hit this or that organ.

In order to make a good and ethical kill, the animal should go down on the spot. This saves you the search.

A target shot, aimed at the shoulder blade, the lungs and the heart, works well. When shot in the lungs, both lungs should be hit so that the animal dies immediately. Shots in the brain and neck vertebrae (carrier shot) are immediately fatal, as is the heart. Head and girdle shots in particular aren’t easy, as the animal often moves those body parts, especially when standing. Shots in the stomach, liver, etc. are not recommended, since the animal can usually flee a few hundred meters before collapsing.


The score for mule deer is determined only by the size/shape of the antlers. Females do not have antlers and therefore do not have a score.

The scoring distinguishes between two antler types, which are also scored differently. Both antler types (the typical antlers and the atypical antlers) have their own separate rankings (leaderboards).

In the following, the two antler shapes and their evaluations are briefly presented.

Typical antler shape

The typical antler shape is by far the most common antler shape in mule deer and can therefore be considered the normal antler shape. Almost every deer bears such antlers and is therefore scored according to the scoring system for typical antlers.

As for antlers, the mule deer has a distinctive shape very similar to that of the black-tailed deer subspecies, only slightly larger. It has few ends for its size, extending from a branched main stem. The largest typically well-formed antler consists of two rods, each with up to 5 ends. A 10-pointer is therefore the ideal picture. But there are also antlers with more ends, but these are usually abnormal, i.e. crooked and crooked and disturb the picture.

Atypical antler shape

There are a few deer that have a very different antler shape. The antlers are usually much more branched, unsymmetrical and often larger. This is usually caused by genetic defects or injuries to the still growing antlers.

As mentioned, animals with such atypical antlers are not common but rather rare, but clearly more common than e.g. albinos.

Atypical antlers are evaluated according to a different but similar scheme as typical antlers, but often have much larger values and can be compared poorly with the typical forms. Therefore, atypical animals have their own ranking (leaderboards).

Color morphs

As with almost all animal species, the mule deer also has different color morphs, i.e. different coat colors. Not every animal resembles the other. There is the well-known “normal form” and, deviating from it, some other color variations, some of which are very rare and therefore popular trophies (rare animals).

  • Normal type – Most common color morphs. The absolute majority (> 99%) of all animals looks like this.
  • Pinto – Rare color morphs. Less than 1% of all animals look like this.
  • Albino – Very rare color morph. There is often no such animal among 500 to 1000 animals.
  • Blackling – Very rare color morph. There is often no such animal among 500 to 1000 animals. Even rarer than albinos.