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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Mule deer

October 04, 2005|David Lukas

[ ODOCOILEUS HEMIONUS ]

Many Californians know autumn as the season when deer begin their courtship. By early October, the large bucks have sharpened their impressive racks of antlers and are dueling among themselves or guarding chosen females in preparation for mating. Dosed up with hormones, the males are particularly edgy, ripping up small trees and bushes to vent their energy, constantly sniffing the air for the scent of rival males and scarcely eating as their ceaseless vigilance takes its toll. At the same time, females that are being guarded by males relax and fatten up in preparation for winter. Sometime in October or November, the doe becomes receptive to the buck's attention and they mate. The fawn is born seven months later.

NATURAL HISTORY

Antlers are formed by solid bone that grows within a sheath of living skin over the course of the summer. In preparation for courtship, the skin sloughs off as the buck "polishes" his antlers on branches. Males with the largest racks are the most successful breeders but don't live as long because they deplete their energy fighting.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

Reddish-brown through the summer, molting to gray-brown by winter; the smaller coastal subspecies is usually referred to as the black-tailed deer.

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