So, what happens when whitetail and mule deer meet up?
It’s a question I have long been intrigued with since I heard stories of mysterious whitetail/mule deer hybrids at a hunting camp in my home state of Texas.
While on a mission to photograph Merriam’s turkey in Colorado for my Turkey Revolution quest two weeks ago my wife Lisa and I stopped at a beautiful location to look for mule deer.
We found a big bachelor group with some large males feeding in a meadow.
And then from the distance came more deer.
I assumed they were muleys too but after glassing, I realized they were whitetail.
Eventually, they made their way to the mule deer. Most passed by but a couple merged with them and began to feed. This is what you see in the included photo.
It was interesting to see this interaction.
I plan on returning to this location in the fall when the rut is on and see what type of activity occurs. Bucks could get along now but how about when their antlers are hard and testosterone is jacked up?
The whitetail will be fighting one another and the muleys battling it out as well. But will they fight one another?
Who will win?
Even more intriguing is the possibility of whitetail and mule deer mating.
Longstanding studies by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials show some interesting dynamics including hybridization.
“Where mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist, interbreeding does occur. The long-term effects are unknown, and for most areas, the extent of hybridization is not known. The highest incidence of hybridization in the Trans-Pecos occurs in the eastern part of the region where high populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist. It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of deer may be hybrids where both species occupy the same range,” TPWD reported.
“DNA sequencing techniques were used to determine the extent of hybridization in the Panhandle (Donley County) where the ranges of both species overlap. Results indicated a hybridization frequency of eight percent. ”
TPWD reported antler characteristics, tail coloration, and ear length are not reliable in recognizing hybrids.
They said hybrids can be identified by the length of the metatarsal gland that is located on the outside of the rear leg between the hock and the hoof. It typically will measure about 3 /4 inch long in whitetail and about 4 inches long in mule deer.”
“The metatarsal gland of hybrids is intermediate in length, measuring about two inches long. It has been theorized that occurrences of hybridization are initiated by white-tailed bucks, but interbreeding also can occur between mule deer bucks and white-tailed does. Hybrids appear to have at least a limited degree of fertility. Hybridization is a concern to managers who see it as a threat to their mule deer herd.:
Whitetail numbers have reached historic highs in most of their range and are healthy virtually everywhere whereas mule deer are on the decline in many areas.
I will have more on the mule deer decline soon as well as hybridization.
For now, I am seeking photos of whitetail/mule deer hybrids.
If you have seen or shot any or deer you suspect might be hybrids send photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe this is a topic that needs more coverage and look forward to seeing what other outdoors lovers are seeing out there.
Chester Moore, Jr.