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.