Deer are among the most fascinating animals on the planet. Most of the humans find them aesthetically pleasing, while some hunt them. There are a few others who even worship the deer. The practice of hunting deer was prevalent in many nations and cultures. In recent times, this practice continues in certain places across the world.

Meat of a game animal is considered one of the healthiest and delicious kinds of meat. Deer feast on foods that are high in nutritional value. This is why they like to live in regions with freshly changed landscapes. Sometimes, there can be a change in their habitat owing to conditions like logging or forest fire.

Under such circumstances, they move to another region that’s ideal for their survival. However, there’s always a possibility of them coming back to the place they had abandoned. This happens when there’s a growth of fresh and nutritious vegetation in those areas.

The difference between whitetail, mule, and blacktail deer

There are close relatives of the caribou, moose, and elk on the other side of the Pacific. It’s almost impossible to distinguish between the East Siberian moose and the Alaska moose. They can be considered the same sub-species. Although close enough, there’s still a little bit of difference between the North American elk and Siberian wapiti. The Caribou can be found across the whole of Arctic.

The whitetail and mule deer don’t have their close relatives in the European or Asian countries. They’re more American. The relationship between these deer species is rather complicated. According to the regular classification, whitetail and mule deer are considered separate species. A blacktail deer is mule deer’s sub-species, but the genetic tests present a more complicated picture.

Some historical facts about these species

The mitochondrial DNA is a piece of genome. An organism inherits it from its mother. From the analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of these deer species, certain historical facts have come to light. The whitetail deer evolved about 3.5 million years ago, which makes it the oldest among the deer species. Later, a part of its population evolved into blacktail deer on the Pacific coast.

Then the blacktail deer started colonizing the continent. When they met the whitetail deer, it led to hybridization. As a result, the hybrids evolved into the mule deer. So, the fact that one should consider mule deer as a sub-species of blacktail is true to a great extent. Of course, this is more of a speculation. The reason is that it’s based on a study of one piece of gene.

This is not often sufficient to explain everything. It’s a known fact that blacktail deer and mule mate readily. One doesn’t always come across instances of whitetail and mule deer hybrids mating in the wild. Further studies done in this regard might tell a different story. Until then, the mule, blacktail, and whitetail remain the three main deer species in North America.

Physical features of these deer species

Hunters might encounter the whitetail and mule deer, but can legally hunt only one of them. So, it becomes necessary for them to know the difference between them. These two deer species inhabit most parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. One good thing about them is that it’s relatively easy to identify them. You can identify these deer on the basis of their physical features.

The biggest difference that’s apparent is the color of the tail. A deer raises its tail while escaping. So, the bright white fur color acts as a signal to the other deer. Mule deer have more beige or creamy color on the underside of their tails. A mule deer’s tail is narrower and longer than a whitetail deer’s tail and has a black tip.

Parts of the head and face

One can recognize the mule deer from its large ears. It’s these ears that gave them their name, as they resembled those of a mule. The face of a mule deer has more of the white color than its whitetail counterpart. Both these types of deer also have a difference in their antlers.

There’s one main beam in the antlers of whitetail deer. It resembles a hair comb in the formation of a typical antler. In mule deer, the antlers have each beam divided into two points of equal size. Each of these points branches again.


Whitetail deer prefer to move around in the forest, while mule deer enjoy more open spaces. A certain section of their population might display a different behavior. They mostly don’t like to inter-breed in the wild. One of the distinguishing factors in these species is the ‘slot’ in mule deer.

This is its particular way of walking that gives the observer the impression that it’s jumping. While in the slot, a mule deer uses all its four legs at the same time. On the other hand, blacktail deer are smaller. You’ll find them mostly on the Pacific coast, but their behavior is quite similar to that of the mule deer.

Inter-breeding is common among them in the wild. The only differentiating factor that’s readily visible in them is their tail. A mule deer’s tail has a black tip, while a blacktail deer has a completely black tail.

The family’s other members

It can be said that the whitetail, blacktail, and mule deer are the species commonly found in North America. Of course, there are others who are a part of the family. Among them are the moose and the caribou. In Mexico, there are a few other species, such as brocket deer. It is small in size and the males have antlers that are short and without branches.

Together with the mule and whitetail deer, they come under the subfamily called ‘Capreolinae’. The only exception here would be the elk. It has a close association with the red deer of Europe. The elk belongs to the sub-family Cervinae together with the sambar, barasingha, and sika deer. It is believed to have crossed the continental divide between Canada, the United States, and Alaska.

This happened about 10,000 years ago. Despite this ‘immigrant’ status, it’s listed as an American deer. So, we can say that there are six kinds of deer in North America. Many consider mule and blacktail deer as one species. The rest are whitetail deer, brocket, elk, caribou, and moose.

An Overview of the North American Deer Species

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