Mule deer are an iconic symbol of rugged, western landscapes. Their massive racks and legendary elusiveness make mulies one of North America's most coveted game species for Huntin' Fool and SCI members alike. Mule deer are widely distributed from the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast, and from the Yukon Territory down into Sonora and Baja, Mexico. Fifteen different states offer mule deer hunting opportunities in addition to parts of Canada and Mexico. However, unlike their whitetail cousins, mule deer populations are not exactly booming and advanced scientific research is needed to ensure management strategies enhance both ample hunting opportunities and the sustainable conservation of the species.
Arguably no hunting and conservation organization has done more to support research related to mule deer management than the Safari Club International Foundation, which has invested more than half a million dollars in mule deer research in California, Colorado, and Wyoming.
An ongoing project being led by the Wyoming Migration Initiative supported by SCIF and the Hunter Legacy Fund 100 is focused on mapping migration corridors and habitat patterns of big game species. The findings of this research are being used to plan more effective on-the-ground habitat conservation and regional land planning by evaluating the consistency of annual migration corridors and identifying key locations for actions such as fence removals, land conservation, and highway crossings that can facilitate successful migratory movements for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, and bighorn sheep. One study under the WMI umbrella recently used GPS collar data to track seasonal migrations of mule deer herds in excess of 150 miles each way, the longest documented ungulate migration in the lower 48 states.
SCIF is also involved with another project led by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the University of Wyoming focused on the ecological relationships between elk and mule deer in areas where they share range in southwestern Wyoming. The impacts of drought, hunter harvest, coyote and mountain lion predation, and competition are being evaluated to explain why mule deer are declining while elk populations are stable. Lessons learned from this project should be transferable to studying these dynamics between mule deer and elk to determine the extent to which each factor contributes to declining mule deer herds throughout the West.
In California, SCIF and SCI chapters have supported several projects led by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the University of Nevada – Reno focused on mule deer. In the early 2000s, ranchers moved out of the Mojave National Preserve and concerns arose that removing water sources for cattle would leave mule deer and other desert wildlife in the area susceptible to drought. This study provided insight into the impact water sources have on mule deer movements. SCI Chapters have also worked closely with the Department to research the impact of lice infestations and wildlife fires on the Tuolumne and Yosemite mule deer herds in Stanislaus National Forest.
Another study supported by SCIF explored the impact of energy development on mule deer habitat preferences and migration routes in Colorado, providing valuable data to help shape balanced management plans that meet the energy needs of Colorado's people while working to conserve the habitat needs of the state's mule deer herd.
SCIF is heavily invested in mule deer research to safeguard robust herds and ample hunting opportunities into the future. One of the best ways to support mule deer conservation is to support the Safari Club International Foundation, an organization that is first for wildlife and a world leader in mule deer research.