whitetail deer and mule deer side by side

Ear-Tip To Tail | The Differences Between Whitetail and Mule Deer

Depending on the time of year, mule deer and white tail deer can be almost indistinguishable. But, if you watch them closely, there are some tell-tail differences.

Mule deer and whitetail similarities

Although there are some distinct differences, whitetail and mule deer do have some things in common.

Coloring

During the Summertime, mule deer are often more tannish-brown while whitetail tend to be more of a reddish brown color.

However, in Winter, both types tend to turn more grayish.

mule deer in velvet during summer
Summertime colors of a mule deer (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetails in velvet during summer
Summertime colors of a whitetail (photography by Matt Hartsky)
mule deer gray color during winter
Fall Colors of a Mule Deer (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail deer grayer color in fall
Fall colors of a whitetail (Photography by Matt Hartsky)



Location

Whitetails are generally found in the middle and Eastern U.S., extending both North and South of the border. But, whitetail are remarkable at adapting, and thrive in all kinds of environments, from swamps to forests to grasslands.

Typically, mule deer like higher territory in the mountains and are found in the central and western parts of the US, Canada, and Mexico. However, the territories of the two breeds overlap greatly. Therefore, geography can’t be relied on as a great indicator of whether that deer you see off in the distance is a mule deer or a whitetail.

mule deer eating shrub
While the geographical areas in which mule deer and whitetail overlaps in many places, mule deer are more prevalent in the Western parts of the U.S. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail buck walking in high grass
Whitetail deer are more concentrated in the Midwestern and Eastern parts of the U.S. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)


Size

Size is another characteristic where there is overlap between mule deer and whitetail. Size can vary depending on geographic location, available food sources and habitat.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, typical mule deer weights range from 130-280 pounds. However, In rare cases, very large mule deer can tip the scales at 450+ pounds.



Whitetail deer are generally smaller in average weight, averaging around 90-220 pounds, but those big bucks can, in rare cases, come in near 400 pounds.

With size varying so much based on diet, age, and location, it is impossible to tell a whitetail from a mule deer based on size alone. Even characteristics like hoofprints are not distinguishable between the two.

So, before you prepare for the hunt and sight in your rifle or prepare for your bowhunt, let’s make sure you do know some distinguishing characteristics between these two different types of deer.




Differences Between Whitetail and Mule Deer

Now that we’ve covered some basic characteristics of whitetail and mule deer, let’s look at some differences between mule deer and whitetail that can help you distinguish between the two.

Facial markings

If you look more closely at the face, whitetails have more solid-colored brown heads with white around the eyes and often a white patch under the jaw at the top of the neck. (Rare genetic mutations like piebaldism can affect the amount of white markings).

mule deer with white face
As you can see in the picture above, the mule deer has a whiter snout and bridge of the nose, whereas the whitetail’s face (below) is overall more brown in color, with a white throat patch at the top of the neck. (photography by Matt Hartsky)
whitetail buck in grass
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

Mule deer (sometimes referred to as muleys) have a lighter top bridge of the nose, with a darker forehead above the eyes. These are the general colorings, but each individual deer is different and color can change with weather, age, and location. Because of this, you can’t rely on coloring alone to distinguish between the two.

Ears

With so many similarities between whitetail and mule deer, there are a few key differences to look for when peering at them through your scope or binoculars.

One is the ears.

mule deer buck peeking through the grass with ears wide
The ears of a mule deer (above) have larger ears, relative to the size of their head than do whitetail (below).photography by Jeff Coldwell
whitetail deer standing in open field
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

True to their name, mule deer have larger ears relative to the size of their head. They are also often more pointed and angle slightly more to the sides than the whitetail deer.

It is tough to compare the angle of the ears as deer have a habit of always moving them. So, try to look at the size of the ears as one indication to identify mule deer from whitetails.



Tail

While the ears are one of the differentiating characteristics on the head of these animals, the other end of the animal has a great defining characteristic as well.

mule deer with tall antlers profile view
The mule deer’s (above) hind quarters are mostly white, with a rope-like tail and black tip. The Whitetail (below) has hindquarters that are mostly brown, with a tail that has a wide, white underside. (Photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail deer with tail up flagging
(Photography by Keith Tyler)

Mule deer have a white colored rump that is almost always visible. They have a skinny rope-like tail tail, often with a black tip.

Whitetail deer on the other hand, have a more brownish rump and outside of the tail when relaxed. If a whitetail is startled, however, that wide flap of a tail lifts showing a bright white underside as a “flag” to warn other deer of possible danger, thus the name “whitetail deer.”




Antlers

Whether you are hunting from the ground or from your treestand, if you can get a look at a deer’s antlers, you may be able to determine whether it is a mule deer and a whitetail.

Both breeds of male deer have large showy antlers (although they are shed once a year around mid to late winter).

Whitetail males have one main “trunk” or beam on their antlers with the tines all coming from that main stem.

whitetail standing in high grass under large tree
Whitetail deer antlers (above and below) are constructed of one main beam, from which the tines protrude. (photography by Matt Hartsky)
whitetail deer with ears wide
(photography by Matt Hartsky)

Mule deer, however, have a main trunk that branches in two before forking into tines. Because of this, the mule deer’s antlers often look taller and more upright compared to the forward “hug” of a white tail’s rack.

Mule Deer have antlers that “fork,” as in the pictures above and below. (photography by Terry Hansen)
mule deer with giant antlers
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

The difference in antler structure between whitetails and mule deer is something a trained eye can pick up. However, some individual antlers can be too small or even grow oddly, so make sure to look for other characteristics too.



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The Run

The way these two types of deer typically run can be a clear distinguishing characteristic of whitetail and mule deer.

When fleeing, a whitetail has a typical run or gallop, similar in style to a horse. They may bound over fences or obstacles, but in general they have a quick, fluid motion.

Mule deer on the other hand, often flee with a stodgy hopping motion called stotting. All four hooves contact and push off the ground at once like springs, bouncing across the terrain again and again until slowing to a trot.

mule deer stotting
A mule deer’s run (above) is called “stotting,” which is more of a hopping motion on all fours. A whitetail deer (below) has more of galloping motion to its run. (Photography by Keith Reisenauer)
whitetail deer running
(Photography by Keith Tyler)


Conclusion

When it comes to gun hunting especially, one of the main lessons for firearms is to be sure of your target.

This applies whether you are hunting waterfowl, deer or feral hogs.

So, make sure that when you are trying to identify a mule deer versus a whitetail, that you compare multiple characteristics.



There are many similarities, and even the distinguishing traits can vary based on age, location, nutrition, and time of year. One can easily be mistaken for the other. Even some of the sounds these deer make can be similar.

So, be sure you know the differences – some subtle and some more pronounced – so you can easily tell the difference between the two.

Best of luck in all your hunting adventures!


view while sighting in riflescope view
Richard Douglas of Scopes Field.
Colt Russell Buck picture 5

The Story of An Adirondack Giant | The Colt Russell Buck

– By Colt Bison Russell, US Army Vet

Three years…

That’s how long I had been watching this buck on my trail camera.

In 2019, he was an 11pt.

Years and points…

Then, in 2020, from what I could tell, he appeared to be a big 14 point. However, a couple of weeks before bow season began, he made an appearance. And then, just like that, he vanished.

Colt Russell Buck profile view

Getting to see this buck in the wild was a dream… Getting to harvest him was a dream come true!

He showed up again the final two days of our rifle season that year, but then disappeared once again.

As each year passed, he continued to have the same distinguishing characteristics; tall brows and tines that nearly touched. He also had split main beams.

Each year, he seemed to add a little more to what was already an impressive rack.



When considering what he had done the prior two years, I just figured I would never see him again.

The Video That Changed Everything

But, then, in 2021, on the 6th of September, I got one brief trail cam video of this buck in velvet.

This is the brief trailcam video clip that renewed my hope that I might actually get a chance to harvest this impressive New York buck!

One thing was for sure… this buck was an absolute stud, especially for Essex County, New York! You just don’t see bucks of this caliber around these parts.



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The Hunt For “Houdini”

I had hunted the same area the night before with no luck.

On September 30th, I really didn’t plant on hunting the same area again. However, I decided at the last minute that I would because two nice 8-pointers (both on my hit list) showed up on the trail cam.

colt russell with his big new york whitetail

I had nicknamed this buck Houdini, because he always seemed to disappear. But he showed up for one final act.

It wasn’t very long that I’d been in the woods when a mature doe approached, but I couldn’t get a clear shot on her.

So, I continued to check more of my trail cameras and still hunt.



It was 6 PM and I was roughly 1.5 miles deep on my hunting lease when I decided I was going to head back to the house for dinner.

I was looking for deer the whole walk back, but when I was about 250 yards from reaching my truck, I noticed the big body of a deer in the wood line about 60 yards away.

colt russell buck profile view in the field

What if I hadn’t stopped to check the trail camera? What if I had shot that doe? What if I hadn’t been so hungry that I decided to go home? I’m glad those all happened!

I instantly nocked an arrow onto my Mathews Solocam bow and continued moving down the trail. When I got about 10 yards into the woods, I drew my bow back.

I could tell that this deer was a buck, but the light was dimmer under the canopy of trees and it made it difficult to see the rack. I thought this deer was probably one of my two 8-point hit-listers that I was after.

I really didn’t have time to get nervous, because from the time I drew back until I released the arrow was only about 8 seconds. It all happened so fast!




The Shot

I was at about 50 yards when I let the arrow fly.

The arrow hit a little high and he dropped. When he did, I could see his rack and instantly realized what buck it was.

That’s when things got hectic. The panic was setting in!

I ran over to put another arrow in him to finish him.



colt russell buck profile mount

“Houdini” grossed 205 4/8 inches Boone and Crockett and netted 196 inches (non-typical). It was the highest scoring buck ever in Essex County and was the largest buck harvested in the state of New York and all the Northeast in 2021.

I was in disbelief. The giant buck I had been seeing for 3 years was finally down!

His rack was covered in grass as if he had just racked the ground to shreds.

I picked up his head and just took a minute to soak it all in.



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I counted 20 points on his rack. All I could think was, “who is even going to believe me when I tell them that I just shot a 20-point buck with my bow?”

I started making phone calls. And, just like I thought, it took some convincing for my close friends and family members to believe me and understand that I needed help getting this buck to the truck!

colt russell buck wall mount on barn wood

I figured that this monster of a buck had to have watched me 80 to 100 yards down that trail before I had even noticed he was there. I truly believe that deer was going to just let me walk right past him.

All The “What Ifs”

When my friends and family came, they were as in shock as I was because, again, you just don’t see deer like this one in these parts!

There are so many things that could have been different that would have kept me from tagging this buck.

What if I hadn’t stopped to check that trail cam?



What if I had taken a shot on that doe I had seen earlier in the evening?

It’s very possible that I would never have crossed paths with this giant.

Everything just fell in to place that day and I truly believe that someone was looking over my shoulder.



Word Gets Around

I was shocked how fast the word spread across the country about this buck. In just a matter of hours, the state knew about it and friends of mine across the county were contacting me, offering congratulations.

I count myself truly blessed to have gotten the chance to harvest a true Adirondack giant!

man skiing in snow with hunting gun

Don’t Let The Cold Win! | How To Layer Clothing For Winter

There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing for the conditions.

While you might think you only need a warm jacket when venturing into the great outdoors to go hunting or fishing during the cooler months, there can be much more involved in keeping yourself warm and comfortable. 

man drilling hole for ice fishing

Hunting, fishing or camping in the cold weather requires a knowledge of how to best layer clothing so that you can stay warm.

When the time comes to plan your next hunting trip into the wilderness, take a moment to consider the following information, so that you can learn all about how to layer winter clothing to feel comfortable enough to explore all that nature has to offer. 

How to Remain Warm in the Great Outdoors

When you put on warm clothing to head outside, your goal should always be to manage moisture, maintain your heat level for comfort, and create a barrier between the elements and your skin. 

man walking to box stand in snow

You might enjoy being alone in the outdoors… you just don’t want to be COLD and alone!

Not all cold-winter clothing is created equal. So, purchasing high-quality outdoor garments from well-known companies like Kryptek and others is a critical component of remaining warm in the great outdoors, but it’s also helpful to understand the science behind retaining your body heat to know how to wear your clothing appropriately. 

mule deer standing in the snow

You may not have the anatomy of a deer to keep you warm in cold conditions, but you can learn to layer clothing in a manner that protects you from the elements.


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During winter, you’re often faced with many challenging elements, such as wind, rain, and cold temperatures. Heat is easily transferred from your body into the environment, and it’s easier to lose heat than it is to retain it. 

So, whether you’re ice fishing or hunting, you need to have knowledge of how sweat affects your body and heat levels. Body heat can be pulled away from your body much faster when it’s wet with perspiration than if it were dry. 


Prevent Moisture to Stay Warm

One of the best ways to stay warm, regardless of how you layer your clothing, is by being cold before you begin your hunting trip in earnest. If you add all your winter layers and then stand in front of a heater before venturing outside, you might start sweating and lose much-needed body heat.   

moisture

Moisture is the enemy when it comes to staying warm in colder weather, as it robs you of body heat.

So, as challenging as it might be to immediately venture outside to start hiking once you’ve put on your multiple layers, it can be essential for giving your body the best chance of retaining its heat. 



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Layer Your Winter Hunting Clothing Strategically

When you’re trying to dress warmly in cold weather, it can sometimes feel like you have to pack an entire closet full of clothing when you go on a winter hunting adventure or that you have to wear multiple layers until you’re no longer comfortable.

However, if you apply the right layering strategy, you might be surprised at how easy it can be to prepare for an outdoor trip

Before heading out, read up on the weather conditions you can expect. This allows you to take all necessary precautions with supplies and provides insight into the type of clothing you need to take with you and what to wear when you set off. 




You’ll need to continually layer up and down on most hunting trips. Take note of how your body is feeling, and when you’re feeling too warm, take off a layer before you start sweating. 

If weather conditions change and rain or snow sets in, you can add more layers from your hunting backpack, including a waterproof jacket to keep your mid layers warm and retain your body heat. Weather conditions can change rapidly, so you may be layering up and down throughout your hunting trip. 


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Adopt the W.I.S.E System

If you’re new to hunting, it may not be immediately apparent which clothing you should buy to remain warm, dry, and comfortable.

However, you might have a much easier shopping experience when you familiarize yourself with the W.I.S.E system. This system involves:

  • Wicking – Next-to-skin base layers
  • Insulating – Mid layers, such as fleece or a down jacket
  • Sheltering – Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Extra – Additional layers in case of an emergency, such as an unexpected snowstorm  
layering WISE system

The W.I.S.E system will give you a fundamental understanding of the basic garments to purchase, but don’t forget to buy wool socks, waterproof boots, hats, and gloves. 



Choose Your Base Layer

Now that you’re aware of the garments you require for the W.I.S.E system, you can learn more about each layer and how it contributes to your overall warmth, dryness, and comfort.

A base layer is a snug-fitting set of garments designed to wick sweat away from your skin to keep you dry. 

base layer

When choosing a base layer, go with wool, silk or synthetics, rather than cotton (photo credit: Wikihow.com)

While cotton can be a preference for everyday wear, it’s less suitable for outdoor activities like hunting.

Instead, opt for base layers featuring wool, silk, or synthetic fabrics. Your top base layer can be a long or short-sleeve shirt and leggings with these materials, paired with a high-quality pair of synthetic or wool socks. 



Choose Your Insulating Layer

Equally as important as your base layer is your insulating layer. This layer prevents the outdoor environment from taking your much-needed body heat.

insualting layer

The insulating layer will help maintain valuable body heat while in the cold weather. (photo credit Wikihow.com)

Typically, you would wear a wool or microfleece top, a puffer jacket, and fleece leggings. You can also pair your insulating layer with a wool or fleece hat and neck gaiter, glove liners, and insulating socks. 



Choose Your Sheltering Layer

If you are going on a hunting or fishing trip, you certainly like to see favorable weather conditions. However, weather conditions can certainly change, and sometimes rapidly.

sheltering layer

Wearing a sheltering layer is critical in protecting the insulating layer underneath. (photo credit: Wikihow.com)

You might be caught out in the rain or snow when you least expect it, and you need to protect your insulating layer at all costs.

Pack a sheltering layer, and you can be prepared for any eventuality. Typically, this layer consists of a pair of rain pants and a rain jacket, both of which need to be waterproof to remain effective. 



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Best Materials for Winter Outdoor Clothing

When there are so many different types of outdoor and hunting clothing for sale, it can be hard to know what will be the most comfortable and practical. While there are many desirable options, some stand out more than others. 

For example, merino wool, a natural fiber sourced from sheep, is a moisture-wicking base layer that is odor-resistant and temperature regulating.

snow on evergreen trees

When adventuring outdoors in colder weather, merino wool is a great moisture wicking base layer that is also odor resistant.

You might also consider synthetic fleece as a mid layer option, which is both affordable and warm. Although, it’s not an ideal wind-resistant layer. 

Synthetic and down jackets can be an effective insulating mid layer, while nylon is ideal for keeping you dry. Some manufacturers create special membranes for nylon to form waterproof jackets for winter use. 



Final Thoughts On Layer Clothing For Cold Weather

Layering winter clothing is an integral part of preparing for any outdoor adventure or hunting trip.

so, before you begin planning your next trip, take the time to make sure you’ve got a full closet of winter options to keep you warm, dry, and protected from the elements.

Remember the W.I.S.E. system and have fun outdoors!