Deer in Washington
There are three species of huntable deer in Washington:
- Mule deer
- Black-tailed deer
- White-tailed deer
A fourth deer species called the Columbian white-tailed deer is found in southwest Washington, but it is protected and may not be hunted. There are about 300,000 deer in the state, with about 100,000 black-tails, 90,000 mule deer, and 110,000 white-tails.
The mule deer is found along the eastern slopes of the Cascades and throughout all of eastern Washington. Its antlers are like those of black-tailed deer, except they are usually larger and have more points for the same age class. Most yearling bucks are two-point bucks. Main identification features of the mule deer are its narrow, white tail with a black tip and rebranching antlers.
Black-tailed deer are found throughout western Washington. The antlers are similar to those of the mule deer, except smaller. Yearling black-tails usually have only spike antlers. The main identification feature is the tail, which is black on top. While running, the tail is erect, revealing a white underspot. Hunters may mistakenly refer to the deer as a white-tail when they see the underside.
The white-tailed deer is found primarily in the northeastern part of the state. This deer is easily identified by its large tail that is reddish-brown on the topside but white underneath. The white-tail has the largest tail of all deer. White-tailed deer antlers do not fork like the mule and black-tailed deer. All tines rise from a single main beam.
Deer antlers, along with size and weight of a deer, provide a good indication of the animal’s health. It is impossible, however, to tell the age of a deer from its antlers. As a general rule, bucks start to develop their first true antlers when they are ten months old, and nearly all black-tails will grow spikes as yearlings. The majority of white-tails and mule deer bucks will grow forked antlers as yearlings, although they are very small. The most accurate method of determining the age of a deer is by examining its teeth.
The main food items of deer are “browse,” primarily the growing tips of woody, brushy plants. Trailing blackberry is a common plant eaten by deer in western Washington. In eastern Washington, deer will feed on bitterbrush, buckbrush, aspen, and alder. In late winter and early spring, most deer include grass in their diet.
Deer are most active in the early morning and evening hours. Often, deer will feed during the night. Most of a deer’s movements relate to finding a suitable feeding area. In western Washington, most deer will remain within a one-square-mile area. In eastern Washington, deer may migrate and cover 40 miles or more during spring and fall.