Carrying Capacity of Mule Deer

By: Sara Carroll

Mule Deer Background

The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is a deer indigenous to western North America; it is named for its ears, which are large like those of the mule. There are believed to be several subspecies, including the black-tailed deer. Unlike the related white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer are generally more associated with the land west of the Missouri River, and more specifically with the Rocky Mountain region of North America. Mule deer have also been introduced to Argentina.

Mule deer are prey for many large predators of western North America. In the western U.S. and Canada, those predators are primarily mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats, although black bears, wolves, grizzly bears, and feral dogs will also take mule deer. Predators can have a limiting or regulating effect on mule deer populations. However, many factors interact to influence mule deer abundance, and predation is only one part of the equation. Predator control is simply the removal of predators. Predation management is any activity that may influence the relationship between predators and their prey, including habitat enhancement to increase prey security and lethal removal of predators. In most cases, reducing the number of predators to increase mule deer populations is inefficient and cost prohibitive. Therefore, predator control should only be instituted when circumstances indicate a high likelihood of management success, and where specific and measurable objectives can be applied and carefully monitored.


  • Diet: Known to eat mesquite leaves and beans, fairy duster, jojoba, cat claw, buck bush and other shrubs and grasses.
  • Life Span: Mule deer usually live 9-11 years in the wild and can live to be much older when in captivity
  • The annual cycle of antler growth is regulated by changes in the length of the day.
  • Mule deer females usually give birth to two fawns, although if it is their first time having a baby they often only have one fawn.
  • Mule deer have no upper teeth, only a hard palate


  • Humans
  • Coyotes
  • Mountain Lions
  • Eagles
  • Bears
  • Wolves
  • Bobcats
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Exam Questions

  1. Why can't the carrying capacity of an organism go up with the population?
  2. What will be the result if humanity gives maximum carrying capacity precedence over problems of cultural carrying capacity?
  3. What may happen when a country's population growth is out of control?