What’s the difference between a white–tailed deer and a mule deer?

By Ashley South


The Montanian published a picture last week of a white-tailed deer next to our article covering the recent establishment of a mule deer permit area outside of Libby.

The new permit area applies only to mule deer hunting. White-tailed deer hunting will continue as it always has in the permit area.

Since anyone with a valid license can still hunt white-tailed deer in the new permit area, it is important for potential hunters to understand the difference between the two species of deer to avoid shooting the wrong species of buck.


Mule deer

Mule deer have much larger ears then white-tailed deer, that is why they are called mule deer. Their ears are similar to a Mule.

Mule deer tend to be a bit larger and have bifurcated antlers which means they do not have a single main beam like a white-tailed deer. Their antlers grow into two main beam antlers with tines growing from there. Mule deer antlers tend to be broader and taller than a white-tailed deer’s.       From the rear end a mule deer has a short, skinny tail and has a black tip unlike the white-tailed deer.

The face of a mule deer is typically darker, especially above the eyes and around the base of the antlers. They almost look like they are glaring at you, but their noses are whiter then a white-tailed deer’s.

Mule deer are usually found in higher elevations and open hill sides.


White-tailed deer

White-tailed deer have smaller ears then a mule deer.

White-tails are also smaller in body mass than a mule deer, and they have a lighter coat most of the time. Their fur usually looks fluffier or softer than that of a mule deer as well.

White-tailed deer have a single main beam antler with tines that grow off from there.

From the rear, a white- tailed deer has a large, fluffy brown tail that covers most of the buttocks. When a white-tailed deer runs or is cautious, it will stand it’s tail up and wave the bright white underside. Males tend to keep their tail down more often then females.

The face of a white-tailed deer is light brown above the eyes and around the antler base, but the nose area is darker brown.

White tail deer are mostly found in lower elevations and wooded to open areas.