Can You Tell The Difference? Mule Deer vs. Whitetail Deer

Bowhunting

What’s the difference between black-tailed, white-tailed and mule deer? Keep reading to find out.

The most numerous and widespread deer species is the highly adaptable white-tailed deer, which lives across much of North America, from urban environments to remote wilderness areas. Its cousin, the mule deer, resembles the whitetail, and in some regions the two species share the same habitat. Then there’s the black-tailed deer, which is closely related to the mule deer and inhabits the Pacific Northwest.

Telling the difference between deer species is especially important if you live or hunt in areas that hold whitetails and muleys, or blacktails and muleys. Bowhunting requires an array of outdoors skills, one of which is animal identification. If you have a license/tag specifying a mule deer, you don’t want to accidentally shoot a whitetail or blacktail.

But even if you live in Maine, and the closest wild mule deer lives in South Dakota, you’ll be a better outdoors-person if know what they look like and which habitats they prefer. Learning to identify animals and the plants that sustain them is like learning the ABCs of the outdoors.

Blacktails

Blacktail Deer are an elusive deer species, and characterized by dark antlers and a black tail. The blacktail’s two subspecies are the Columbian and Sitka. Photo Credit: wideopenspaces.com

Black-tailed deer have a native range that extends across the Pacific Northwest. They’re an elusive deer species, and characterized by dark antlers and a black tail. The blacktail’s two subspecies are the Columbian and Sitka.

Classic blacktail country includes the thick forests along the Northwest coast. Savvy blacktail hunters, however, know the region’s apple orchards are highly coveted hunting spots.

Hunting blacktails is much like hunting white-tailed deer. It’s important to study their daily patterns and place treestands in well-used travel corridors. That’s because blacktails typically live in densely forested areas, which provide few opportunities for spot-and-stalk bowhunting.

Mule Deer

The mule deer’s most telling feature is its large ears, which gave them their name. These long ears, which resemble a mule’s ears, help muleys dissipate heat and detect far-off dangers. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Mule deer are Western icons. A group of mule deer bucks feeding along a mountainside can inspire hunters to hike high and far, bow in hand. Mule deer, however, don’t just live at high elevations. They also inhabit deserts, prairies and agricultural areas.

The mule deer’s most telling feature is its large ears, which gave them their name. These long ears, which resemble a mule’s ears, help muleys dissipate heat and detect far-off dangers. Another mule-deer identifier is the species’ white rear end and dark, rope-like tail.

Bowhunters use several tactics to pursue mule deer, but the most common is spot and stalk. Hunters use binoculars and spotting scopes to locate distant deer. Then they sneak into bow range for a shot. Another tactic is to set up a treestand or ground blind near a watering hole or food source.

Whitetail

A whitetail deer’s tail has a bright white underside, but the rest of the rump is brown. In most conditions, the tails bright-white underside is covered. Adults only raise their tail when signaling other deer of danger. Photo Credit: John Hafner

The white-tailed deer is North America’s most popular big-game animal because whitetails thrive just about everywhere. All 48 contiguous states, Mexico and Canada have white-tailed deer, but some hold far more than others. This adaptable species can survive in the desert, extreme cold, and densely populated suburban areas.

A whitetail’s tail has a bright white underside, but the rest of the rump is brown. In most conditions, the tails bright-white underside is covered. Adults only raise their tail when signaling other deer of danger.

A common tactic for bowhunting whitetails is to hang treestands in travel corridors and feeding areas. Look for sites where several deer trails intersect. These can be excellent places to set up a treestand and patiently wait.

No matter which species you bowhunt, you’ll enjoy the experience. America’s deer populations are thriving, and you’ll find one or more of these deer in your home state. If you want to harvest your own tasty venison, start by visiting an archery shop to learn everything you need to know about bowhunting. You can find an archery store near you here.


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