Deer Species of North America

Northeast Outdoors Experience Staff

The deer family represents probably the most economically important game animals of North America. They vary in size from the tiny Key deer of Florida to the moose of the north which can stand 7’ tall at the shoulder and weigh well over 1000 pounds. Their antlers and meat are prized by sportsmen and the total revenue in their pursuit literally is in the millions of dollars yearly.

The whitetail is the most widely distributed member of the deer family and most likely the largest contributor of revenue among all of the species. Their size varies according to sub-species with larger individuals occurring more commonly in their northern ranges. As with all deer species, breeding takes place in the fall during the “rutting” period which generally coincides with regulated hunting seasons. Populations of the whitetail can become excessive as dwindling undeveloped land forces them into smaller spaces where increased breeding success that is not adequately managed by hunting occurs. Venison is a popular meat and has been a staple throughout its history as a food source.

The mule deer is a similar species limited in its range to the more westerly parts of the US and Canada. It is an animal of the more open country and hills that can often overlap the whitetail’s range. The black-tail deer is a sub-species that is primarily a west coast inhabitant and closely related to the mule deer. The Sika deer was introduced from Europe and has established itself within limited populations that depend on hunting to control this invasive species.

The Coues deer is a sub-species of the southwest and Mexico and the Key deer is a species found only in extreme southern Florida that is protected and achieved almost a “wild pet” status where they are found.

The elk is a member of the deer family that once ranged across the continent but due to over hunting has seen its range diminish significantly. There are 4 species of elk that inhabit North America including The Tule, Roosevelt, Rocky Mountain and the Manitoban. The largest bulls can weigh up to 1300# while the cows, or females, will weigh around 800#. They are a very important game and trophy animal of the west. They are known for their sometimes tremendous antlers and “bugling” calls during the rut which can carry for great distances as the bulls search out cows to add to their “harem”. They travel and live in herds that can sometimes include large numbers.

The moose is the largest member of the deer family. There are 4 sub-species of moose found in North America including the Eastern, Western, Shiras and Alaskan varieties. They are typically animals of the far north but do inhabit limited areas of the west. They can stand close to 7’ high at the shoulder and mature bulls can weigh up to 1800# with cows averaging about half that. They are an important food source for the people of the more remote parts of the country where the moose is the most common deer species of the woods.

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