Blacktail Deer. Mule Deer. History. Identification

Since the time of their discovery by Lewis and Clark in the early 19th century, there has been confusion concerning the nomenclature of the blacktail deer and mule deer. The mule deer was found first along the Missouri River and was named a black-tail, but a year later, by the Columbia River, explorers came up on another deer, with a true black tail, and so he was called "blacktail deer." The name of the first-found species was changed to "mule deer," primarily because of the great ears.

Today, zoologists differ as to the classification of the blacktail deer. Some claim that it is a sub-species of the mule deer, pointing out the likeness in forked antlers, stocky build, large ears and hop-ping gait. They also say that there is more difference between some acknowledged forms of the mule deer than between the mule and blacktail.

Others, however, point out the distinct dissimilarities of: characteristic white rump patch of the mule, his black-tipped tail—held depressed, not limp, while running—and his generally larger size.

In this volume the blacktail will be considered as a separate species, with sub-species Odocoileus hemionus columbianus (Columbian Blacktail or Coast Deer) and Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis (Sitka Deer).

The recognized sub-species of the mule deer are:

History. Until the late 1800's the mule deer was numerous on the deserts and open plains of this country. The range extended from the Southwest to either side of the Rocky Mountains.

The same forces that cut the numbers of the whitetail deer worked against the mule deer. With the advent of settlers killing for food, hunters destroying wantonly for hides, and civilization pushing him from his range, the deer met with virtual extinction in some sections. It once thrived east of the Rockies. Where it was exterminated, it was replaced to a large extent by the whitetail, which is more adaptable to an environment altered by man. The virtual extermination of the prairie mule deer during the early days of settlement has left the species primarily a creature of the mountains and desert in modern times.

The changes in the life history of the blacktail have been less drastic, though he suffered from the inroads of civilization as did all the other deer. The blacktail is confined specifically to the Pacific Coast and there are no records of his having left his range, in spite of man and wolves.

Before Alaskan game laws were established, there was unchecked killing of blacktails by commercial hunters on some of the Alaskan islands. They were an easy mark, because winter snow forced them down from the high slopes to seek food at the shore-line, and those not killed by hunters in so confined an area were attacked by wolves. The deer of those islands were almost completely annihilated.

Today's game laws and management protect and regulate the population of the blacktail and mule as efficiently as that of the whitetail.

Identification. The general appearance of the blacktail and mule deer is very similar. They are both chunky and rugged in build, but the mulie, the largest of the genus, is about a fifth heavier, with longer, sturdier legs, and is more awkward in manner.

The size of either type depends largely up on the food supply of his range. The weight is consequently variable; but a blacktail averages 150 pounds, with large bucks scaling above 200 pounds. The largest specimens are usually found in northern Washington and British Columbia. The record head was taken in the Camas Valley of Oregon by Bernard L. Den in 1958. It scored 160 5/8 . The main beams measured 20 5/8 and 21 1/2 inches, right and left. Each antler was 4 5/8 inches in circumference at the smallest point between the burr and first point, and it carried four points on each antler.

Although the blacktail is considered to be generally much smaller than the mule deer, there are notable exceptions in some areas. In one section of Oregon, for example, a large area was burned off. Because of the number of deer killed as a result of the fire, the Game Commission closed the area to hunting for four years. When it finally was opened, the deer kill was not especially large, but the individual bucks were unusually large and heavy, and in perfect physical condition.

British Columbia produces the largest animals, which range between 300 and 400 pounds. The record typical mule deer head is owned by W . C. Lawrence and was killed in Hoback Canyon , Wyoming. When and by whom is unknown. The score is 217. With six points on each antler, the right and left main beams measure 28 1/2 and 28 1/4 inches in length. Circumference of the smallest places between burr and first point is 5 5/8 and 5 3/4 inches, and the inside spread is 26 3/4 inches.

The white-lined ears of the blacktail are almost as large as the tremendous, broad ones of the mule deer, and the hearing of both is excellent.

The tail of the blacktail is as distinctive as the name implies. It is black on the outside and white underneath. It is bushier and wider than the mule's, which is shorter and hairless on the inside surface and is typically white with a black tip. While running, the blacktail sometimes holds his tail erect like a whitetail, but usually it droops, as opposed to the mule deer's, which is pressed against the body and never raised when startled.

The metatarsal gland of the mule averages 5 inches, that of the blacktail 3 inches. Both have the scent glands on the outside of each hind leg.

The coloring of the blacktail resembles that of the whitetail. It is alike in both sexes. The winter coat is brownish gray with a darker forehead, and the summer coat is a yellowish brown. In both seasons there is a dark stripe running down the length of the back.

The coat coloration of the widely distributed mule deer varies with the particular section. It varies more noticeably in the summer when the dull yellow of the mule deer of Sonora contrasts with the rusty red of the race in Arizona. Between the summer and winter seasons a black coat is worn for a short period, being replaced by the winter one of brownish gray with its common marking of a dark "horseshoe" on the forehead. In both seasons, though, the tail and gray legs remain the same color, as does the important identifying characteristic of the white rump patch.

Only the buck bears antlers, though an occasional freak female, usually incapable of producing young, carries a poorly-developed rack. The antlers of the mule and blacktail are typically forked, but those of the mule tend to be larger and more widely spread. There is much individual variation, however, in the antlers of the mule deer, and many are high and narrow, extensively palmated or heavy with points.

Antler formations are a most uncertain means of telling age in these two species, unless a mature buck has begun to decline. The yearlings, for instance, have two to three points while those of any other deer have only spikes. Between two and five years of age the bucks usually have four points, but a four-pointer could be anywhere from three to nine years old. After the bucks pass their prime at about six years of age, the antlers "goback" to two points or flatten and palmate and often have a freakish number of points. This retrogression occurs at an earlier age than with any other deer.

The buck sheds his antlers about February or March and new ones start forming almost immediately. Since he usually drops both at once, he is left for a brief period without any protection in a fight except his forefeet.

 






Date added: 2022-12-11; views: 559;


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