Difference between a Whitetail Deer and a Mule Deer

Updated on July 24, 2018

There are many different species of deer around the world. In North America, there are two very popular types of deer when it comes to deer hunting. These are the whitetail deer and the mule deer. You would think their names would be a dead giveaway in terms of identifying and differentiating the two, but that’s not exactly the case. This article will give you a clear-cut rundown of the characteristics of the whitetail deer and the mule deer, to help you clearly distinguish between the two.

Summary Table

Whitetail Deer Mule Deer
Has a brown face with white circles around eyes and noseHas a mostly white face
Ears are smaller in proportion to the headEars are larger in proportion to the head
Antlers have a main shaft with lines pointing upwardsAntlers fork out repeatedly
Somewhat smaller in body sizeSomewhat bigger in body size
Reddish-brown furGreyish-brown fur
Fat dark tail, with completely white undersideThin white tail with a black tip
Has a graceful body and runs with tail liftedHas a less graceful body and runs without lifting its tail


whitetail deer
A whitetail deer

The whitetail deer, otherwise known as the Virginia deer, is a member of the North American deer family. Its scientific name is Odocoileus virginianus and it can be found in certain parts of southern Canada to South America. The whitetail deer is an herbivore and has an average lifespan of 5-11 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.

Mule deer
Mule deer

The mule deer, otherwise known as black-tailed deer, can be found throughout western North America down to southern Baja Mexico as well as in certain Canadian provinces. Its scientific name is Odocoileus hemionus. A mule deer’s diet is usually composed of weeds, leaves, and twigs. This particular mammal can live up to 11 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.

Whitetail Deer vs Mule Deer

You’ll notice that there are very obvious physical differences between a whitetail deer and a mule deer when you look close enough. Looking at their faces, the whitetail deer has a brown face with white circles around its eyes and nose, whereas the mule deer has a mostly white face. The ears of the whitetail deer are smaller in proportion to its head, compared to the large ears of the mule deer. When it comes to their antlers, the whitetail deer has a main shaft, with the rest all pointing upwards. The mule deer’s antlers, on the other hand, fork out repeatedly.

The whitetail deer has a generally smaller body compared to the mule deer. Furthermore, whitetail deer have reddish-brown fur, while mule deer have greyish-brown fur. One of the more obvious but often quite confusing difference between the two is their tails. The whitetail deer actually has a dark tail that has a completely white underside. This white part is seen when the whitetail deer raises its tail up (known as flagging) when alerted of the presence of a predator. Conversely, the tail of the mule deer is white and has a dark tip. It often bounces away (called “stotting”) when alarmed.

Whitetail deer use speed and agility to outrun their predators. They have a graceful body and they run with tails lifted. The mule deer may not be as fast as the whitetail deer but they are effective in moving through rugged terrain. They have a less graceful body and they run without lifting their tails.

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