The mule deer that wander through our yard are exceedingly handsome right now. They are sporting their new winter coats and are sleek and fat. It has been a good year for them, with plenty of browse — to which my lilac bushes bear mute testimony. They also had a prolific crop of young, with many of the does bearing twins — and one beautiful large doe crossed our driveway one evening with triplets frolicking around her in the dusk.
Mulies, as these animals are affectionately called, are the most common deer and are the reason for Colorado’s fame as a big-game hunting state, with thousands of them being shot every year. Unfortunately, our local deer have become semi-domesticated and like our elk are no longer afraid of people. This is unfortunate for them and for us.
The mule deer’s summer coat is reddish tan and blends well with the drying grasses, but their new fall coats are grayer, and one I saw last week was quite dark gray along the back. I thought at first it was an odd color for winter, as it stood out against the snow. Then it moved among the trees, and the dark coat and long legs disappeared among the dark and light shadows among the pines. It was instantly camouflaged. I would never have seen it, had I not seen it enter the trees.
Mule deer are also past masters at concealing themselves even in relatively open areas. One day a few years ago when I was birding at Red Rocks Park, I noticed a mulie browsing on a rocky mountain cedar. The tree was a large conical shape, standing by itself in the open. As I approached, the deer kept moving back behind the tree; when I reversed my direction around the tree, it did likewise. When I finally tired of playing ring around the rosy and moved off in a straight line, it returned to where I had first seen it and continued to browse.
Over the past couple of summers, many people have reported seeing a white doe at various points between Upper Bear Creek and Marshdale. I have never seen this phantom, myself, but did finally see a wonderful photo of this ghost-like deer last summer. The photo was taken less than a mile from our house, and she is a truly beautiful lady. I have no explanation of this unusual animal other than two wild guesses. It may well be an albino, for it appears to be snow white; however, it had black eyes and hooves. Another possible explanation is that, several years ago, it was rumored that three fallow deer had escaped from a local ranch that keeps exotic wild animals. If true, then this might be one of these animals. I rather lean toward this theory, for shortly after the photo was sent to me, I saw a deer going up the hillside near our house that was not pure white but was a very light tan or cream color. A possible hybrid offspring? Who knows? At any rate, if you see this white lady, you are not losing your mind or seeing a ghost. She is around and is a very beautiful female deer.
The only other native deer, which we see here, is the white-tailed deer. Although they are usually found in eastern North America, they have always been found along the wooded watercourses on the plains. They have worked their way into the foothills and are seen in certain areas but are not as abundant as the mule deer. They are easily told apart both by their antlers and their tails. As the name implies, the white-tailed deer have a white rump patch and a broad tail with a white underside, which it raises like a flag when alarmed. This white flag cannot be missed as they run away from you.
The mule deer has either an all-black tail or a black-tipped tail and does not raise the tail when alarmed. There are several subspecies of both white-tailed and mule deer, which have slight variations in different parts of their range. The only other deer species in America is the miniature key deer, which is found only in the Florida Keys.