Each year in the lower elevations of Chelan County, Washington thousands of mule deer settles in for the winter seeking better opportunities for food and warmer temperatures. So, knowing that the wildlife habitat at the Preserve is ideal winter range, I packed up my camera last March and took a hike in the hills above Entiat, Washington to see if I could get a few shots off – photographs, that is. As it happened, good photos were not too hard to find – there were mule deer almost everywhere I looked. In fact, from one particular vantage point I was able to count over 100 deer! I'm quite certain there were yet another hundred or more hiding within the various gullies and draws just out of my line of sight.
Personally, I find mule deer to be incredibly cute, what with their large ears that move independently – like the "rabbit ears" of your grandmother's television set – permanently resetting to pick up the best reception. They're similar in appearance to the ears of a mule, which is from where, of course, they get their name.
Mule deer usually hear you coming long before you've spotted them, which was pretty much the case for me. Theyave me the "eye" for a bit, to see if I was a threat, then went back to grazing, albeit just a bit farther away. But try to get a little closer and they'll quickly move on over the next ridge with the largest buck taking one last look over his shoulder to make sure you're not following.
Characteristic, yet highly unusual gait, moving in a series of stiff-legged jumps and hops
with all four feet sitting the ground together.
As I rounded one corner, though, I started a group of about a dozen. They took off in their characteristic, yet highly unusual gait, moving in a series of stiff-legged jumps and hops with all four feet hitting the ground together, their small white bumps and black-tipped, white drooping tails receding quickly over the next hill . Amazingly, mule deer can reach distances of over 8 yards with each "hop" using this protocol, bounding leap and for a short while, they can reach speeds of up to 45 mph. These are definitely not the leisurely, graceful leaps of their close cousin, the white tail deer.
Late winter is actually a great time for mule deer watching. While in the summer they tend to "stay low" during the hot daylight hours, during the winter they come down from the higher elevations to escape the colder temperatures and deeper snow, where there is a better chance of finding food in their traditional "winter range "areas. During this time they seem to have a preference for the open hillsides and rocky slopes where they graze, which makes them easier to spot (although they do tend to blend in to the hillside rather well as you can see – or can you? – in the video). As the winter snow melts, they started to move back to higher ground, so most of the photos in the video were taken above the 2000 'level.
I hope you enjoy these photos … the mule deer video's about 2 minutes long, and do not forget to turn your speakers on, there's a nice soundtrack, to boot.