Mule Deer Migration
by Monte Miles of Earned Media and Earned-The DIY Journal
I am fortunate to live right next to some of the biggest migration routes of ungulates in the lower 48, this includes the pronghorn, elk and mule deer. This article will focus on the mule deer migration and how we as photographers and outdoorsman can witness this event without effecting the deer in a negative manner.
First and foremost lets talk about the largest migration route of mule deer in the world. This is located literally out my front door in Western Wyoming, where I call home. This migration route was just recently discovered in early 2014 after a 3 year project that was funded by the BLM and Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. These deer travel a 1 way course of just over 150 miles and a round trip of 300 miles! The migration route includes numerous barriers both natural and man made. Some of these include sand dunes, lakes, river crossings, highways and more then 100 fences. The route begins in the high elevations surrounding the Hoback Basin (Just south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming) and they will end their migration in the low elevation area of the Red Desert (east of Rock Springs, Wyoming). Round trip this migration will last approx 4 months of the year. I will let these astounding numbers settle in with you for a bit…..300 miles round trip and 1/3 of a year making this migration route. I can only imagine the hardships that lie in waiting every year for this route. This is where we as people come into play.
Im a wildlife photographer by heart so I look forward to this migration every year but more importantly I am an outdoorsman and conservationist. We as conservationists need to have the safety of the mule deer in our mind at all times. The combination of the hardships of the migration, the mule deer rut and of course of the cold/snowy weather of Western Wyoming the mule deer are up for quite the battle even before human interaction. We as people should be able to view this natural wonder but we need to be mindful of our surroundings and the deer that inhabit them during the process. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department among others have done a great job of limiting traffic in high density travel routes and winter ranges. For example my home town of Pinedale, WY has several under/over passes designed specifically for the migration routes of both pronghorn and mule deer to limit the number of car vs deer/pronghorn accidents. Excellent idea and has worked well since the implement of this a few years ago. There is also several areas around my home town that have very limited access and some that have zero access during the winter range periods of the mule deer. I have heard stories from people before these limitations were in effect that would blow your mind. For example, I have heard people would actually “chase” mule deer bucks on their snowmobiles until the bucks would drop their antlers. And of course the other big thing that led to implement of these laws was that of poaching. Poaching will never be resolved but it can be controlled. Less traffic=less poaching.
Here are a few tips I have for people that want to enjoy this migration in a responsible manner.
- Distance is your friend. Observe from a distance that wont spook the deer.
- Stay on the roads, or very close too. Of course most of us wildlife photographers want to get that 1 in a million shot and we like to pursue the game. This is a different environment then most filming cases. These animals are under a lot of hardships and stress. During the rut the filming/viewing can be incredible even without spooking the deer.
- If you want to view/film from a safe distance invest in a good spotting scope/camera combo.
- Have the local Game and Fish officers phone numbers handy with you at all times. This will come in handy when you find injured deer or possible poaching activities.
- Do not put yourself in a dangerous situation. Most of the filming/viewing will be done in adverse winter conditions. No photo is worth your safety.
- My number 1 tip is just use common sense. If you think its wrong, trust me its wrong.
- Some great resources to view more info on this migration and similar ones in Wyoming are:
- In conclusion, get out and view the great outdoors. If you get a chance to view this migration or anything similar I highly recommend it but be responsible while doing it. Nature is amazing and we as hunters/photographers/outdoorsman/conservationists need to help preserve this. Remember hunters are the #1 Conservationists. Be mindful of our surroundings, including the wildlife.