Common all over the western U.S., mule deer are the most easily spotted mammal in Yosemite National Park. They are easily recognized by the shape of their ears, which actually do resemble mules’ ears, and by their tails, which are often white with black tips. During your Yosemite vacation, you will most likely glimpse them bounding across meadows or grazing beside trails in the forest.
An unusual fact about mule deer is their bounding gait: when they run, all four feet hit the ground at once, giving them an athletic ability to turn and change directions quickly. You’ll get a chance to see this if you accidentally startle them while hiking along the park’s forested hiking trails.
Despite being preyed upon by mountain lions, mule deer are still among the most prolific fauna in the park. Their diet mainly consists of tender twigs, grasses, and herbs, as well as berries and acorns. They migrate seasonally between the Sierra Nevada highlands and the foothills, following the food supply and avoiding the coldest temperatures and deepest snows in the mountains. You can see them year-round, however, in Yosemite Valley.
The most active time for mule deer is in the fall, when males energetically battle each other for mates during the rutting season. Male deer re-grow their antlers each year starting in spring, then shed them again during winter. A fully-grown buck (adult male deer) can weigh up to 400 pounds, with average does weighing less than half that. Mule deer usually live for an average of 10 years. Remember that inside the national park boundaries, all hunting of wildlife is illegal.
Although many park visitors find mule deer irresistibly cute, do not forget that mule deer are still wild animals. More injuries have been inflicted on park visitors by mule deer than by black bears. This typically occurs when visitors try to feed the deer, which is not only illegal but also endangers the deer, which thrive when they are left to eat what they naturally forage for in the wild.
Keep a safe distance from deer at all times, and don’t approach them too closely just for a photograph. Driving slowly inside the park helps avoid accidental collisions with deer.