Living With Mule Deer
Mule deer are found throughout Utah in many types of habitats, including neighborhoods and backyards. The mule deer gets its name from the size of its mule-like ears. They are the smallest member of the deer family in Utah and are extremely popular game animals. The breeding season, called the rut, occurs in mid-November. Does typically give birth to one or two offspring in late spring or early summer. Only the bucks have antlers, which are shed every year. Mule deer migrate annually from high mountain habitats where they summer, to lower elevations in the winter to avoid deep snow and to find food. As the primary food source for cougars in Utah, mule deer are followed by predators during their migrations. They can be seen throughout the year and are mainly active at dusk and dawn, but may be active throughout the day during winter.
Feeding Habits Vary With the Seasons
Mule deer are known as browsers. From late spring to early fall they gain weight and build fat reserves by feeding heavily on broad-leafed plants and grasses. During the winter and early spring, when there is little forage available, their diet is mostly leaves, stems, and buds. This type of vegetation is difficult to digest and lacks enough nutritional value to maintain top body condition. As such, mule deer must use stored body fat to survive. During winter, an adult deer may lose up to 20 percent of its body weight, and as much as 40 percent of its daily energy comes from body fat. A deer's winter survival depends on the weather, its stored fat reserves, and its ability to conserve energy.
Do Not Feed the Deer
While well-intentioned people try to help deer by feeding them, they can harm them instead. Deer are ruminants that need sufficient time to switch from summer to winter diets. Offering the wrong foods, especially during the winter months, is harmful to deer and can kill them.
- Do not feed deer or provide them with salt or mineral licks.
- Feeding deer makes them lose their natural wariness of humans, and can also contribute to disease transmission by unnaturally concentrating deer.
- Attracting deer to your property through feeding may attract predators, like cougars.
- Feeding deer near neighborhoods and roadways increases the risk of deer-vehicle collisions.
- Annual migration patterns to wintering areas may be disrupted if deer are enticed to remain at a feeding area.
Preventing Deer Damage On Your Property
Most Utah foothills, bench areas, and valley floors are traditional wintering and foraging areas for mule deer. They will regularly feed on many plants used in landscaping. The most effective way to eliminate unwanted browsing by deer is to enclose the area with a fence that is at least 7 - 8 feet high. Entrances must be closed at all times, particularly at night. Lower fences, such as 4-foot chainlink, and decorative, wood, or metal fences will reduce, but not eliminate deer use. You can also:
- Wrap highly susceptible plants with heavy burlap or plastic.
- Wrap trees with wire mesh or plastic cylinders.
- Avoid using ornamental plants in your landscaping. Instead, use native shrubs and plants that can withstand occasional browsing by deer. Plants that are preferred by deer and frequently suffer damage include daylilies, firs, fruit trees, hostas, ivy, junipers, some pines, tulips, and yews.
Deer can also become trapped and injured falling into window wells. Once in the well, deer may crash through the glass and do damage to the home in their efforts to escape. To prevent this cover window wells with commercially available grates, bubbles, and fencing or build a cover using quarter-inch cloth or wire.
Keep Your Distance
Always give deer plenty of space. It is against the law to allow your dogs to chase or harass deer. Males can be especially aggressive during the fall breeding season, which usually occurs in November. If you see a deer fawn on its own, the best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal right where you found it. The mother is usually close by. If a deer knocks you down, curl into a ball, protect your head, and lie still until it retreats.
Slow down while driving through deer habitats, especially at dawn and dusk, and during the spring and winter months when deer are migrating. Pay attention to wildlife crossing warning signs. Watch for movement along the roadway — if you see one deer, there may be more.
If you have an encounter with aggressive wildlife, please alert the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) at (801) 538-4700. If the encounter occurs after hours or on the weekend, call the Draper Police Department at (801) 840-4000 or the county sheriff's office at (385) 468-9898 (Salt Lake County) or (801) 851-4000 (Utah County); they can contact a conservation officer to handle the situation.