White-tailed Deer


From Yellowstone Wildlife: A Watchers Guide 
by Todd Wilkinson.

Next-Door Neighbor

When we think of North American big game, we often think of the whitetailed deer. Whitetails (Odocoileus virginianus) are the most abundant deer species in the lower 48 states, and are found in regions from suburban lawns to the rural woodlands. Yet the popular species is scarce in Yellowstone, and is found chiefly along rivers and streams flanked by deciduous (leaf-bearing) trees, such as cottonwoods and willow thickets.

The whitetail is more gregarious and tolerant of humans than its larger cousin, the mule deer, and the two species are rarely found within the same niche. White-tailed deer are smaller and leaner than mulies, and are distinguished by their reddish-brown coats, white underbellies, and tails that are brown on top but whitish on the inside, like a snowy flag. Male whitetails grow antlers, but females do not.

The whitetail's occupation of Yellowstone has been irregular over the years, and centers on the northern valleys of the park. Here, their range overlaps somewhat with other members of the cervid (deer) family, including mule deer, elk, and antelope. Historically, a small number of whitetails wintered in lowlands near the Gardiner and Yellowstone rivers in the park, but the species was largely extinct in the area by 1930. Biologists believe this extirpation was caused by external factors beyond Yellowstone's borders, including livestock grazing, land clearing and development, and human hunting.

Where to Find White-tailed Deer

Whitetails are frequently spotted in farmer's fields that are 20 miles or less north of the national park, but they are rarely seen within the park itself. The best viewing area for whitetails is a stretch 20 to 30 miles north of Gardiner, Montana, along U.S. Highway 89.

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