Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mule Deer

Mule Deer: A Handbook for Utah Hunters and Landowners

Dennis D. Austin
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 281
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mule Deer
    Book Description:

    A complete guide to the history, biology, hunting, and management of mule deer in Utah. The author, Dennis D. Austin, is a retired research scientist with more than thirty years of experience working as a wildlife biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-742-1
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Historical Review

    • Chapter 1 A Brief History of Mule Deer Management in Utah
      (pp. 3-26)

      Indirect sources provide the only records of the diversity and abundance of wildlife prior to the Domínguez-Escalante historic exploration of Utah in 1776. For an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 years prior to written records, Native Americans evolved culturally and flora and fauna evolved biologically in Utah and throughout North America. Evolution in western North America, where water resources were limited, led to dry climate adaptations and decreased land productivity to support flora and fauna. Because of the dryer climate, the abundance of flora and fauna resources necessary for human survival probably fluctuated over time and space, and Native Americans developed...

  2. Basic Mule Deer Biology

    • Chapter 2 Life Cycle and Behavior
      (pp. 29-31)

      Utah mule deer fawns are mostly born in late spring within one or two weeks of June 20, the approximate mean birth date (Robinette et al. 1977). The short fawning period has natural survival values for the fawn crop. Foremost, the effects of predators in reducing deer numbers is lessened because of the short time interval when fawns are especially vulnerable. Because almost all does have been determined to be carrying fawns in spring, long fawning periods would generally produce about the same number of fawns as shorter fawning periods; however, fawns would be vulnerable to predation over a longer...

    • Chapter 3 Forages, Nutrition, and Water Requirements
      (pp. 32-41)

      Deer are highly adaptable to available forages within most Utah habitats and readily consume various plants, from succulent forbs found in alpine meadows to brittle shrubs on the desert floor. In any particular location deer will generally select the more palatable, lush, and usually nutritious forages available during any season. The tapered snout and sticky tongue of the mule deer enables it to carefully choose selected forages. For example, at the big game research facility near Utah State University, rolled barley (equivalent to ice cream for deer) and alfalfa hay deer pellets (bread or potatoes) were mixed and fed daily...

    • Chapter 4 Antlers, Carcass Measurements, and Venison Quality
      (pp. 42-53)

      The size of harvested mule deer is important to hunters for antler, meat, hide, and self-satisfaction values. In reporting deer weights, three different measurements are used: (1) live or total weight, (2) field dressed weight, which equals total weight including heart and liver but minus the blood and viscera, and (3) hog-dressed or eviscerated carcass weight, which is field dressed weight without the heart and liver. In all three measurements the hide, legs, and head are intact. Hog-dressed weight is the most commonly used measurement and hog-dressed weights are often collected at Utah’s deer checking stations.

      The average and normal...

    • Chapter 5 Winter Range, Habitat Types, Migration, and Home Range
      (pp. 54-62)

      Winter range is simply defined as the area used by the majority of the mule deer population during the wintry months. The time period during which deer utilize their winter range is about November 15 through April 15, although two to three week variations are common at the beginning or end of winter. Most winter ranges occur at lower elevations. The Utah Fish and Game Department recognized winter range as the limiting factor in controlling sustainable populations of mule deer at least as early as 1930, when excessive utilization of some winter ranges was first recorded.

      The first action to...

    • Chapter 6 Mule Deer Relationships with Livestock, Elk, and White-tailed Deer
      (pp. 63-75)

      The composition of a plant community is the total number of individual plants by species within the community. Consequently, plant communities or wildlife habitats are defined by the species present and their abundance or density. Plant community composition is directly affected and altered by grazing animals. All grazing animals both domestic and wild affect changes in the plant composition within their habitats.

      All grazing animals prefer some plant species and ignore others. Ungrazed plants receive a competitive growth advantage and gradually increase in vigor and abundance. Because of this, the shift in plant composition associated with grazing is always away...

    • Chapter 7 The Influence of Predators on Mule Deer Populations
      (pp. 76-90)

      The common native predators of mule deer currently found in Utah and placed in the order of their effectiveness in affecting or controlling mule deer populations are the coyote, cougar, bobcat, black bear, gray fox, and some raptors. On rare occasions a badger may kill a fawn within a few days of parturition. Wolverine and lynx are extremely rare if even extant in Utah. Domestic and feral dogs and possibly the red fox are introduced species but effective predators, whereas the grizzly bear and the gray wolf have been extirpated from Utah. However, as a result of re-introductions in the...

    • Chapter 8 Understanding Population Dynamics
      (pp. 91-116)

      The dynamics of any wildlife population can be simply defined by reproduction, mortality, and movements in and out of the geographic area. However, these apparently simple factors can almost never be defined or even accurately measured for wildlife populations. Consequently, indices such as fawn-to-doe ratios, age structure of the harvested population, and overwinter mortality surveys are used as estimators for population dynamics analyses.

      Understanding the dynamics of any hunted wildlife population is critical to the proper setting of the hunting seasons, bag limits, and projected total harvest of the population. Hunting is the major management option influencing most hunted wildlife...

  3. Hunters, Hunting, and Harvest

    • Chapter 9 Profiles and Preferences of Hunters
      (pp. 119-130)

      More than 90 percent of Utah resident deer hunters are male, over half (55 percent) are between 25 and 44 years of age, and the majority (61 percent) have 11 or more years of experience as licensed Utah deer hunters. Except for the youngest age class (14 to 25 years) the percentage of participating hunters decreases with increasing age. That is, as a hunter cohort ages, fewer hunters continue hunting. However, most hunters who are active at age 25 continue hunting at least until their mid 40s. After age 45, participation percentage in the Utah deer hunt rapidly decreases. Since...

    • Chapter 10 Hunter Ethics
      (pp. 131-135)

      Hunter ethics is the set of written and unwritten rules of hunting behavior based upon respect for the land and water resources, all wildlife species, and other hunters. It is likely that the number and types of big game hunters, as well as the number of available upland game, waterfowl, and furbearer species available to hunters, by the middle of the twenty-first century will largely depend upon the quality of ethics developed and practiced by hunters in the early part of this century. The various numerous, and often wealthy organizations which mildly or vehemently oppose hunting as a sport are...

    • Chapter 11 Successful Mule Deer Hunting
      (pp. 136-150)

      Since only about one in three hunters, or fewer, are successful in harvesting a deer in Utah in any year, it seems reasonable that hunters who really desire to be successful would place considerably more effort into preparation. Most hunters anticipate the annual Utah deer hunt with the hope of success, but far too often, hunters return home with feelings of too many hunters and too few deer. Although being prepared is no guarantee of harvest success, it is a guarantee to a more enjoyable hunt and likely will increase the chances of success.

      It is interesting to note that...

    • Chapter 12 Utah Mule Deer Harvest
      (pp. 151-168)

      Even though aesthetics and non-consumptive values associated with deer hunting are increasing in importance, hunter harvest remains the most critical motivator for hunting recreation and economic contribution into wildlife management. The many facets of the harvest include numbers of animals harvested by sex and age classes, hunter success and densities, and harvest densities and trends.

      No buck harvest data were available before 1896. Although some incidental harvest records were obtained during the year of Utah’s statehood in 1896 and throughout the early 1900s, accurate data of the legal harvest were not collected until 1925. Thus the numbers presented in Table...

  4. Determining Management Decisions

    • Chapter 13 Management Challenges
      (pp. 171-185)

      The three most important and recurring challenges of mule deer management are:

      (1) Maintaining habitat quantity and quality.

      (2) Collecting sufficient data.

      (3) Balancing deer populations with available habitat.

      The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has expended a significant part of its time and monetary resources available to accomplish these three major goals. Since the 1940s, DWR has acquired more than 450,000 acres of wildlife habitat within the state of Utah for the purpose of wildlife management. Most of these purchases were acquired for winter range to maintain healthy and viable numbers of big game. However, these lands are also...

    • Chapter 14 Lessons From the East Canyon and Oak Creek Management Units
      (pp. 186-196)

      Between 1951 and 1968, under either-sex hunting, buck harvest on the East Canyon Unit was relatively consistent, and the total population was considered to be maintained within winter range carrying capacity. Increased population and buck harvest began about 1969, and by 1975 the population was clearly exceeding the carrying capacity as evidenced by very heavy use on shrubs on most of the scattered winter ranges within the unit. However, the winter ranges remained healthy, most shrubs recovered during the summer, winters were moderate, hunters were happy, and deer populations remained high. Winter range conditions were probably gradually deteriorating, but the...

    • Chapter 15 Lessons from the Cache Management Unit
      (pp. 197-222)

      For the non-hunter, mule deer management may simply be defined by this heading. Because almost all ranges continue to support sustainable populations, management must be viewed successful by this definition. However, from the view of game management the definition would be extended to read: The complex problems of maintaining sustainable populations and harvest objectives. This second definition and the inherent changes in mule deer populations lead to considerable discussion and consternation.

      Mule deer populations have been decreasing throughout their entire range, including Utah and the Cache Wildlife Management Unit, at least since the early 1970s. Not only have numbers significantly...

    • Chapter 16 Defining Management Techniques
      (pp. 223-237)

      The age of mule deer cannot be determined by the number of antler tines or any other antler measurement. For example, although a high proportion, often 50 percent or more, of yearling bucks have 2x2 point antlers, yearling antlers can vary from 1x1 to an occasional 3x3 or even 4x4. Accurate age determination can only be made from dental examination or cementum annuli analysis (Severinghaus 1949; Robinette et al. 1957). Dental examination involves evaluating the teeth in the field, whereas in cementum annuli analysis the two front incisors are cut and removed from the jaw for laboratory inspection. In a...

    • Chapter 17 How to Manage a Mule Deer Herd—Essentials in Data Collection and Management Decisions
      (pp. 238-259)

      During the non-hunting season, which is unfortunately most of the year, many hunters reminisce of past experiences but, probably even more often, daydream of the forthcoming hunts. Similarly, wildlife biologists in charge of managing Utah’s deer herds dream, consider, and analyze various alternatives to improve the management within their geographical areas. Certainly all managers could do a better job of understanding the wildlife resources within their areas if they were not constrained by time and money.

      Consequently any discussion on “how to manage a deer herd” must be defined in terms of resources available to a herd’s management. As a...

  5. Epilogue
    (pp. 260-262)

    Throughout this volume I have assumed sustainable mule deer populations and hunting harvest will continue perpetually. What if they do not? In Utah a few units have been closed for one or more years to allow the population to recover, and then reopened with limited-entry hunting restrictions. What if populations decline to the point where recovery is unlikely, such has been the case with sage grouse in many Utah counties that have been closed to hunting for decades? What if mule deer populations continue to decline to the level where hunting is no longer feasible? Is it possible mule deer...

  6. Appendix: Utah Statewide Buck Harvest, Antlerless Harvest, and Hunters Afield, 1925-2008.
    (pp. 263-265)