Nebraska Game and Parks Commission



David W. Oates

Date of this Version

January 1989


Published in the Nebraska Wildlife Bulletin. Copyright © 1989 Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Used by permission.


The mule deer was so named because of the appearance of its ears. Compared to the whitetail's, the mule deer's ears are noticeably oversized, measuring fully one-fourth larger.

The whitetail is also well named, for its most distinctive feature is the large tail or "flag." The upper surface of the underside is pure white and is often exposed when the deer is fleeing. Instead of a "white flag," the mule deer's tail can be more likened to a black-tipped rope.

Antlers, too, serve to differentiate the species. In the whitetail, the points on each antler arise from a single main beam, much as the points on a garden rake arise from the iron crosspiece. On the other hand, the mule deer's antlers are basically in the form of the letter "V" and the upper ends fork to form two smaller “Y’s”. The ends of these may fork also.

The whitetail's winter coat has a buff cast while the mule deer's is a plain gray. Both have white bellies; however, the mule deer's brisket is a rich brown. Also, the mule deer's brow has a distinct, dark gray patch.

But regardless of physical appearances, the mule deer proclaims its identity in no uncertain terms when he bounds away. Unlike the loping gait characteristic of the whitetail, he bounces along stiff-leggedly, striking all four hoofs at once, reminding you of a boyan a pogo stick.