DESERT MULE DEER

Desert mule deer are widespread in the Trans-Pecos. Their large ears and stiff-legged jumping, known as stotting, make them instantly recognizable. They are the most widely managed game species in the Trans-Pecos as well, and mule deer hunting is a significant economic driver in the region. This makes sustainable management of mule deer herds a priority for many landowners.

Notably, desert mule deer antlers are one of their most striking features. They are considerably larger than those of the closely related white-tailed deer. Interestingly, while Rocky Mountain mule deer rarely have brow tines, desert mule deer often do. This is hypothesized to be a result of genetic introgression from white-tailed deer, as both can be found in the Trans-Pecos and hybrids occasionally occur, but genetic evidence has not born that out. Desert mule deer reach their maximum antler size around 5.5 years old, though some may peak earlier or slightly later.

Desert mule deer have fared better than other big game species in the Trans-Pecos. While severe population declines occurred in desert bighorn and pronghorn over the last century, the desert mule deer’s generalist habits allowed it to persevere. They prefer rolling foot hills, and generally tolerate more woody vegetation cover than other species, but can be found in a variety of habitats. This specie is a browser, eating new growth, fruits, and leaves from a variety of woody shrubs.

While regionally successful, mule deer have declined in parts of the Trans-Pecos, prompting the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to undertake preventative translocation efforts. Researchers and biologists are currently studying many aspects of desert mule deer ecology, including variation in how they select habitats, how they interact with other big game species, and how antler development varies within populations.

Projects

Survival, Movements, and Habitat Use of Translocated Desert Mule Deer in Southeastern Brewster County, Texas

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J.C. Kiddo Campbell, Louis A. Harveson, Shawn Gray (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

This project is funded by: Mule Deer Foundation, Houston Safari Club, West Texas Chapter of the Safari Club International, San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and CEMEX

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Texas have varied in distribution and population size over the last century. With their ranges expanding across the western half of Texas, mostly in the Trans-Pecos, Panhandle, and western Edwards Plateau regions. The mule deer population in the Trans-Pecos region has fluctuated since the late 1980s. However, portions of the Trans-Pecos have never fully recovered in population size. In 2015 and 2016, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and their partners translocated a total of 116 mule deer does to southeastern Brewster County to the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (soft-release) and El Carmen Land and Conservation Company (hard-release) properties (collectively called the Black Gap Complex) from Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area and two other source populations.

From both release years, survival was slightly higher amongst hard-released individuals (73% and 56% survival rates for 2015; 78% and 63% survival for 2016). However, during these two years, soft-released deer exhibited higher site fidelity to the release site. The soft-release also produced smaller core and general utilization distributions. We found no difference in range sizes relative to release method. Translocated mule deer had higher usage in five habitat classifications within their home ranges. These five were the Chihuahuan Succulent Desert Scrub, Chihuahuan Mixed Desert and Thornscrub, Apache-Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Grassland and Steppe, North American Warm Desert Riperian Woodland and Shrubland, and the North American Warm Desert Wash. With only Chihuahuan Succulent Desert Scrub, Chihuahuan Mixed Desert and Thornscrub, and Apache-Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Grassland and Steppe being used in higher proportions than available within the core ranges. With these areas in the Black Gap Complex being used in higher portions these areas can be areas of interest for future mule deer habitat management efforts at the Black Gap Complex.

Updates

To understand why mule deer numbers struggled, researchers with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Cemex and Borderlands Research Institute conducted a restoration project in the BGWMA and a neighboring ranch…

Currently a Natural Resource Specialist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Deparment, Kiddo Campbell is also a graduate student at Sul Ross State University and is wrapping up his thesis project on mule deer restoration…

While most landowners enjoy seeing mule deer, concerns about crop damage have increased, raising many questions about the relationship between mule deer and agriculture…