While the antelope spend most of their time in the lower elevation sagebrush steppe, the mule deer spend this time of year in a variety of habitats. Driving along some brushy, deep creek bottoms and riparian areas I witnessed the muleys in their pre-rut frolicking. The “rut” is the period when the males are actively seeking does to breed. With a gestation period of 205 days, the fawns from does bred in the first of November will be born in late May. The timing of the rut is mostly determined by day length. As the days shorten, the rut begins. For mule deer the rut is fairly short- as short as ten days, but for now they are moving from bunch to bunch, sizing each other up, and generally displaying a kind of freedom I find joyous.
At this time of year the deer are more active in daylight hours and more intent on their breeding duties than on passersby. I find that if I don’t make a big fuss about stopping for a photo, and don’t dally too long, I can get fairly close to the deer. The hunting season isn’t open in this area yet, so the deer are not as skittish as they will be during open season.
I am happy to see the deer looking so good. They have spent all summer consuming high quality forage, and as winter approaches their diets will be more limited and the demands on their physiology higher. Their condition as they go into winter has a huge impact on their ability to survive the coming winter months.