Mule deer are the most numerous, widespread and popular deer in the central and western United States. Mule deer are not limited to any one type of terrain, being found from sparse, low deserts to high forested mountains. They prefer the more rugged country.
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 surfaces are white. Mule deer have white rump patches and short, narrow, black-tipped white tails. Adult bucks may weigh more than 200 pounds and stand up to 42 inches at the shoulders. Mule deer have a peculiar and distinctive bounding leap over distances up to 8 yards, with all 4 feet coming down together. In this fashion, they can reach a speed of 45 m.p.h. for short periods.
Typical mule deer antlers branch equally into two main beams; each may fork into two tines. Some antlers also have brow tines, known as eye guards. The size and number of points depend 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 will fight for a harem of does during the winter breeding season.