Both mule deer and whitetail deer bucks grow antlers, but apart from their tails, their racks are what sets them apart.
There is no set rule on which deer has bigger antlers because the size of the antler depends on so many factors it is hard to compare like for like.
However, the mule deer antlers usually grow taller and wider than whitetails with smaller or non-existent brow tines, but the whitetail rack can have more mass (and more tines), compensating for the lack in length.
Depending on the age, diet, genetics, and health, the inner spread of whitetail antlers is from 3 to 20 inches. The average is about 17-19 inches for a fully mature buck, with 24 inches being a hunter’s dream trophy.
Whitetail deer’s brow tines are usually longer than mule deer’s, although there is no set average size, as the length of each tine depends on many factors in deer’s life.
On average, whitetail deer reach the full antler size potential between 5.5 – 7.5 years of age, depending on their nutrition and genes.
One in 10 000 whitetail does can grow antlers, too, due to a high testosterone level.
The average size for a mature (5.5+) mule deer antlers is about 20-24 inches, although the ideal trophy rack would be at least 30 inches on the outside spread.
The biggest antlers found on a Rocky Mountain mule deer measured 42 1/2 inches (inside spread) and had 12 points on one antler and nine on the other.
It was believed that mule deer could reach their full potential later than whitetails, but a study showed that it’s not entirely true.
Mule deer can reach their antlers’ peak size as early as 4.5 years old, but an average is calculated at about 5.5 years of age.
A typical whitetail grows its antlers symmetrically on a single beam from the pedicle and bends to the back before extending towards the deer’s nose. From that main beam, a typical whitetail extends tines (or points). There is no forking on a typical whitetail rack.
One can count between one to seven points on each main beam of a typical whitetail antler set. The most commonly seen whitetail buck rack is an 8-pointer, which means that each main beam has 3 points (the fourth counted is the point of the main beam).
The first point is always a brow tine (eye guard), and sometimes, it is as long as other points.
The non-typical shape varies from deer to deer. Although it is more difficult than a mule deer to determine whether the whitetail is non-typical, it is still not too complicated.
Because whitetails can have more tines than mule deer, one more tine on one side compared to the other can make the whitetail antlers non-typical.
The non-typical tines on whitetail can grow in any direction.
The antlers of a mule deer are bifurcated. It means that the tines that grow from the main beam grow tines of their own, creating a fork.
The typical mule deer would have a main beam and three points, plus an eye guard (brow tine or first point) on each beam. The third tine would usually grow out of the second one, creating the aforementioned fork.
Typical mule deer can also have a few small abnormal points without being considered non-typical.
The mule deer’s main beam grows similarly to whitetail’s – it comes out from the pedicle towards the back and curves forward to the nose.
The brow tines (or eye guards) are the first points on the main beam above the eyes, and they are usually small, if present at all.
Mule deer antlers are considered non-typical when they have enough abnormal points. There are no set rules on how the rack should look to be considered non-typical, but usually, it is self-explanatory when one sees the symmetry and the general shape of the whole rack.
The more abnormal points, the easier it is to classify antlers as non-typical. It is easier still to do that with mule deer antlers because a mule deer’s typical rack generally has fewer points than a typical whitetail deer’s.
There is generally no distinction in antler growth between mule and whitetail deer. The antlers on both species can grow as fast as 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches every week, starting as soon as two weeks after shedding the old antlers.
Younger bucks would grow their antlers slower than older ones because of the energy they spend on growing their body simultaneously.
The growth usually slows down at the end of the growing season, just before the rut around August and September, to let the growth harden from cartilage to bone.
Many people believe that mule deer drop their antlers later than whitetail deer, but the antler shedding is usually parallel to each buck’s testosterone levels and general health, and therefore there is no set rule.
However, deer living in colder climates struggling to find enough nutrition usually drop their antlers earlier than well-fed deer from warmer temperatures.
In the Western US, whitetails are known to shed antlers as early as the beginning of December, and the shedding sometimes lasts until the end of March. In the East, they hold on to their rack until January through as late as April.
It is common in the US to enter one of the nationwide deer trophy Clubs with either mule deer or whitetail deer antlers.
Boone & Crockett Club
Many people use Boone and Crockett’s scoring system to determine the size of the antlers on a deer before they shoot it, even if the deer is not going to qualify for the club.
It also makes it easier to determine whether the deer is typical on non-typical:
- mule deer has typically four to five points on each side (main beam and three to four tines, depending on the presence of the eye guard); the abnormal points usually face down or come off of the other tines,
- whitetail deer can have from two to eight points on each side, but a “mild” non-typical one is usually harder to spot before shooting than a mule deer – the abnormal tine can be small or nondistinguishable from a certain point of view.
Pope and Young Club
P&Y Club is similar in scoring to B&C but admits only scores for bowhunters. They also have similar scoring sheets. A bowhunter has to score a certain amount of points with the rack of his deer to get into the club.
Even within the club, there are distinctive differences between mule and whitetail deer antlers:
- The minimum for whitetail deer is 125 inches for typical deer and 155 inches for non-typical.
- For mule deer, the minimum scores are 145 inches for typical and 170 inches for non-typical. All abnormal points are deducted from the total score if the rack is entering under the typical class.
The measurements are taken as an added length (in inches) of all the beams and points, the inner spread, and thickness at certain places after a 60-day drying period.