Mule Deer Rut

A large mule deer buck rouses a specific female during the autumn rut. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Colorado.

The autumn mule deer rut (mating season) action has begun at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, with bucks competing for the attention of does. I was out one evening last week and located a herd of five bucks and ten or so does. It’s interesting to watch smaller bucks follow does, tasting the air for estrus, and thinking they’ll get a chance to mate until a much larger buck emerges from tall grass and takes over. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR is renowned for big bucks; and although their numbers are down from historical populations, there are some very large deer at RMA. The rut will continue into December, generally peaking before Thanksgiving. In early December, you can observe larger groups of deer, often a single, big buck with harem. Take the auto tour route and be prepared to photograph from your open car window. I often travel with a 400mm lens ready to shoot.

A large mule deer buck pauses to look at the photographer while following a doe during autumn rut. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Colorado.

2 thoughts on “Mule Deer Rut

  1. Great photos Dave, as always. That Buck is showing some intense focus!

    How big does a herd have to be in order to avoid health problems with interbreeding? The RMA is such a cool oasis in the middle of our increasing sprawl so will biologist have to introduce new deer in the group to keep the genetics properly balanced?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    1. Thanks Mike. Gotta love their intensity this time of year and it will get better over the next two weeks. You and Annie would enjoy taking the auto tour and spotting some of these big deer. As for the genetic diversity and overall health of the herd – I don’t know the answer. Yes, they’re landlocked, but there are roughly 250 mule deer and 250 whitetail. Most of the attention from biologists has been focused on fawn mortality that is higher than in open country. Coyotes prey heavily on fawns in May and June. What can you do about that? Perhaps the coyote population will peak and deer will stabilize – I’ll let you know when I learn more.

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