A mini photo essay of sorts. As I arrived home this evening, the road was blocked by a fine-looking stag and two young does. I’ve mentioned the scientific name for mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus, but I haven’t really said what it means, nor have I made much of a distinction between the word stag and the term buck. On the last point, buck is used more often than stag, but there are regional and national differences. The British call a male red deer — which tends to be quite large — a stag or a hart (a female is a hind); Americans will sometimes use the word stag for a large deer as well, but buck is more common generally and applies more widely: all male deer are bucks, but not all bucks are stags.
Odocoileus comes from combining odonto-, tooth, and -coelus, hollow (adjective form —coelous out of Greek, -koilos hollow, concave): hollow toothed. Which ends up being very expensive for mule deer, lacking a good dental plan, at 32 cavities per grown set of teeth, with orthodontia and follow-up visits. Hemionus, also from Greek, means “half-ass” — hence, mule. Therefore, half-assed deer with lots of cavities. I’ve said this before, but it really is unfair that animals are at the mercy of human naming systems. I’m sure they could come up with something better. To make matters worse, Rocky Mountain mule deer are Odocoileus hemionus hemionus, twice as half-assed.
White-tailed deer and mule deer are both in the genus Odocoileus, but physical characteristics differ: notably, in male mule deer the antlers are bifurcated (forked or dichotomous) with the dominant section generally at the back; in white-tailed deer the antler points grow off a strong main stem, with smaller branches often facing the rear, although there can be individual differences and sometimes asymmetrical arrangement.
Anyway, this stag was an eight-pointer, with each primary fork bifurcating once more. No idea how old, since only teeth are reliable indicators and all of his had fallen out, replaced by dentures. Most of the time early in the rut, the stag follows a group of female deer. He stalks them, they move away. But somehow they never move far, and as the weeks go on, the group seems to get larger, more intent (you can sometimes move within 10-15 feet and they’ll ignore you), and more tightly knit. This particular evening, the one doe who was the primary object of the stag’s attention gave the smaller doe a bit of a kick. Nothing violent, just the usual raised-knee push-off deer sometimes use to chase away more submissive members of the group, when they’ve horned in on a favorite shrub. Clearly, the pecking order and potential hook-ups were being established, though there was nothing to suggest the buck was interested in being that discriminating.
Among the larger group of 7-8 there was another male, a young guy with a pair of spikes. Not a rival, really. It would have been no contest, and he seemed to be happy to browse in the area, glancing around occasionally and picking up tips.
[Good online source: The Mammals of Texas – Online; has detailed info on physical characteristics, behavior & feeding, although date ranges and feeding preferences will be slightly different for CO Rocky Mountain & Front Range. http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/tmot1/odochemi.htm]