Desert Mule Deer Use of Feed and Water

In the Trans-Pecos and other arid environments of the Southwest, food and water availability are primary concerns for many wildlife species including mule deer. Throughout most of the year west Texas receives very little rainfall with most of the precipitation occurring during the late summer months (Jul- Sep). This means that both food and water can be limiting resources and are particularly scarce during times of extreme drought.

The use of supplemental feed for wildlife has been used throughout Texas for many years but only recently have land owners began making it available to mule deer. The use of supplemental feed and water could alleviate drastic fluctuations in fawn crops during drought, increase body mass, maximize antler potential, and increase deer densities.  However, the effect of supplemental feed and water on mule deer herds has not been documented. 

We conducted a study on a private ranch in Culberson County to evaluate the use of supplemental feed and water stations by mule deer. We were specifically interested in how deer used habitats near feed and water stations relative to areas away from feed and water stations.

In general, mule deer did prefer areas closer to feed and water stations across all seasons. There was variation among individual deer where some deer were located near feed and water stations only occasionally while others spent more than 20% of their time within 100 yards of feed and water station during the fall.

Use of feed and water stations also varied greatly between seasons. Only 12% of deer locations were within 500 yards of feed and water stations during the spring while 27% of deer locations were within 500 yards during the fall.

The most limiting resource for mule deer in the Trans-Pecos is water. It is important to have permanent water sources available for mule deer throughout the year. Studies have shown that deer will travel up to 3 miles in search of water but prefer that it be within 1.5 miles of any point within its home range. Mule deer will leave its home range in search of water if sources become unavailable in that area.

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Researchers with the Borderlands Research Institute evaluated the movements of mature mule deer bucks relative to supplemental feed and water sites using GPS radiocollars on 40 bucks.    

 

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Seasonal analysis of supplemental water and feed sites used by mature mule deer bucks.  For example, 60% of the winter locations (orange line) were found within 1,600 yards of supplemental water and feed sites.