Our various deer are North America’s most widespread and numerous big-game animals, so it follows that deer hunting is the most popular pursuit among American hunters. In fact, we have at least 10 million deer hunters on this continent — the largest hunting culture on the face of this earth. We SCI members who frequently travel to hunt are a bit different from many. In fact, the majority of American hunters pursue game close to home. That means the white-tailed deer, some 35 million strong, are the most popular game on this continent (and in the world). But exactly which whitetail? Biologists aren’t in total agreement, but there are at least 38 subspecies between Canada’s treeline and the Amazon Basin.
Whitetails occupy virtually every habitat type, and the races vary widely in size and antler development. The largest whitetails are the northern races, getting gradually smaller as you work south. Traditionally, we lumped most of them together, separating out only the small Coues whitetail of the Southwest. That was actually based on a mistake. When U.S. Army Quartermaster Lt. Elliott Coues identified “his” whitetail he thought it was a separate species. Today we know better, but that separation remains universal. It would be totally impossible to separate out three dozen whitetail categories, but lumping them all together also doesn’t make sense. Many years ago,when I was the North American chair for our then-fledgling record keeping system, we established regional groupings: Northeastern, Southeastern, Northwestern, Midwestern, Texas, as well as Coues.
Record-keeping systems evolve with both knowledge and hunting opportunity. When hunting resumed, the isolated Columbian whitetail was added and Anticosti Island whitetail are also separated. However, Mexico is part of North America. Holding more habitat diversity than most countries in the world, nearly a third of the recognized whitetail subspecies are found in Mexico. When I was involved with the records committee, there was little knowledge of deer in interior Mexico. We knew there were Texas whitetails in the northeast and Coues whitetails in the northwest, and of course, the Central American whitetail in the far south, but Mexico’s “other” deer got short shrift.
Thanks to a lot of effort by our records committee and members from Mexico, this has been corrected. The small Carmen Mountains subspecies of the Big Bend region is now recognized on both sides of the border. Coues deer are still recognized in both the U.S. and Mexico, and Central American whitetails are recognized in southernmost Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Now, however, there are four more Mexico-specific whitetail categories, essentially following the “regional grouping” model used in Canada and the U.S. These are: Mexican Texanus in the northeast, primarily the Texas subspecies in Mexico; the Mexican Central Plateau whitetail in the center of the country; the Mexican Gulf Coast whitetail along the Gulf between southern Tamaulipas and Yucatan; and the Mexican Pacific Coast whitetail on the Pacific side from Sinaloa to Chiapas.
Hey, this is great news for whitetail nuts (like me) — it means we have more hunting to do. If you haven’t already, check out the “browse by species” feature on our on-line record book, one the best hunters’ references there is (www.scirecordbook.org), free for members. Go to “North America” and type in as the keyword “white-tailed deer” and you’ll see all 25 whitetail categories (including typical and non-typical). Boundaries for the relatively new Mexican categories are very specific, representing a lot of work.
In several cases, current entries are few, especially the Gulf Coast and Pacific Coast whitetails. This is going to take some time to grow. Under Mexico’s current but relatively new system, permits are only available in established “UMAs” — private wildlife management areas. SCI’s rationale for establishing these categories was not only to recognize the deer, but also to place value on them. This will happen, but most deer hunting opportunity for visitors has been concentrated on Coues deer, desert mule deer and the big Texas whitetails in the north; and jungle hunting in the far south. In the vast region between northernmost Mexico and Yucatan there are relatively few outfitters and established UMAs. Recognition will create opportunity, and in time, the deer will prosper.
Mule deer have not been overlooked, but there aren’t nearly as many mule deer races. After you’ve browsed our whitetail listings you can check out mule deer and black-tailed deer. Years ago we separated desert mule deer from Rocky Mountain mule deer, and Sitka black-tailed deer from Columbian black-tailed deer. Some are still “regional groupings.” Our desert mule deer category runs on both sides of border on the Mexican mainland and includes southernmost California. Many Mexican hunters consider that their eastern mule deer—primarily Coahuila and Chihuahua—are different from the large-racked desert deer of Sonora. And the mule deer of southernmost California are most probably of the California mule deer race.
In California, drawing a boundary would be difficult, but the Mexican border and the Baja Peninsula offer opportunity—and the peninsular deer are different. So, under the black-tailed listings, meet the Baja blacktail, yet another “new” Mexican deer. This is a smaller mule deer (or blacktail), dark in color and blocky in build. Densities are low and permits are limited, but several SCI members have taken this deer and more will in the future.–Craig Boddington