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Colorful Colorado: A look at Colorado's deer

 

Last updated 3/2/2020 at 11:49am

Karen AuBuchon Johnson

A herd of mule deer bucks sporting new antler growth. They are pictured at sunset in June, Western Colorado.

Colorado is home to two species of deer: the mule deer and the white-tailed deer.

Mule deer, sometimes referred to as "mulies," are indigenous to western North America and can be found throughout the state with the highest concentration in the mountainous areas and the Western Slope. They are named for their large mule-like ears.

Colorado's white-tailed deer populations are primarily located in the eastern portion of the state with a few pockets in the central mountain areas.

The white-tailed deer is also known as the Virginia deer and is native to North America. They can be distinguished from mule deer by their white tails held high in the air, waving like a flag, when they take off running.

In comparison, mule deer have a white tail with a black-tip and a white patch on their rump. Males are called bucks, females are does and their young are fawns. Both species of deer can live 12 to 15 years.

Mule deer are slightly larger in size, standing at three feet or more at the shoulders and weigh 100-300 pounds; a large buck can weigh 350 pounds or more. Females are smaller, about half the size of a large buck.

Mule deer bucks have antlers with tines branching off forming forks. White-tailed deer antlers grow from a main beam and their tines do not branch off. Males shed their antlers annually in late winter. A new set begins to grow a few weeks later and is covered with a velvety skin until they finish growing late summer. At this time, bucks scrape off the velvet layer on trees and branches. Males reach maximum antler size in five to seven years. Additional non-typical antler points tend to grow at older ages or when the buck has an injury.

Does are often seen in family groups of several generations. Once they are a year old, bucks often group with other bucks, depending on the time of year.

During the breeding season or "rut" in the late fall, the larger more dominant males usually have the breeding rights. When bucks challenge one another they posture and spar, clashing their antlers.

Does are pregnant for six to seven months usually having twins early summer. The mothers hide their young for the first few weeks of life. As the fawns grow stronger they join their mother in small groups.

Deer are most often active in the early morning or in the later afternoon/evening hours. Deer are browsers, mostly feeding on woody vegetation, including twigs and leaves of shrubs and trees.

Karen AuBuchon Johnson

Two mule deer rest by some trees in February, Pueblo Reservoir.

Mule deer population numbers have fluctuated over the years, overall declining. They face many challenges and impacts to their habitat: environmental stressors, harsh weather, livestock grazing on public lands eating their forage.

As Colorado's human population continues to increase, human encroachment also presents a severe problem. Deer are being displaced from their homes and their habitat is being fragmented. Deer are particularly affected by the following: construction of new homes and subdivisions, outdoor recreation, expanding road systems, and increased oil and gas energy development.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has worked for many years to increase the state's deer numbers. Their efforts include monitoring deer populations and adopting deer management strategies, including limiting the number of hunting licenses issued for certain areas.

 

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