Cervids – The Deer Family (Deer, Elk, Moose and Caribou)

Family Cervidae

Deer (or cervids) belong to the order Artiodactyla, the hoofed mammals with an even number of toes on each foot, and the suborder Ruminanti, the cud-chewing plant-eaters. Deer have four toes on each foot. The two middle toes are well-developed and support all or most of the weight of the body, while the two small lateral toes (the so-called false hoofs or dew claws) do not usually touch the ground. The last bone of each toe is encased by a thickened, hard-edged hoof of keratinous material. Deer have a four-chambered stomach, one of which (the rumen) stores undigested food that is later passed back into the mouth, where it is chewed and swallowed a second time. (Ruminants have the ability to take in a large quantity of rough forage in a short time then retire to a safe hiding place to chew it thoroughly.) As in other ruminants, deer lack upper incisor teeth (most lack upper canines as well), biting off their food between the lower incisors and a hard pad on the upper gum, then grinding the cud with the premolars and molars. Most deer have 32 teeth; however, upper canines are present in red deer, wapiti, sika, sambar, rusa, Pére David, muntjac, tufted deer and water deer for a total of 34. Upper canines are present in caribou and reindeer and may (or may not) be present in brocket deer. The following external glands may be present, depending on the species: preorbital (in front of the eye), tarsal (inner surface of the hind legs at the hock), metatarsal (outer surface of hind legs between hock and hoof), and interdigital (between the hoofs). All cervids lack a gallbladder.

Cervids differ from other ruminants in that males (except in water deer) grow antlers of solid, dead bone. They are shed and regrown annually, increasing in size and complexity each year until the animal reaches its prime, after which they decline. Females do not grow antlers, except in caribou/reindeer, or the occasional freak in other species. While growing, antlers are covered by a furry skin (velvet) and nourished by blood vessels. Blood supply stops once full growth is reached, and the velvet dries out and comes off. Antlers are usually branched and sometimes palmate. They serve as sexual ornament and weapons and are used to determine dominance among males – and to guard females from other males during the mating season.

There are about 40 species of deer worldwide, most of which are found in Asia. Deer are the most common of the big game species in North America. There are seven species of deer native to North America, and many sub-species and varieties. They range from northern Canada all the way through Central America and from the east coast of the continent through the west coast. Deer are simply everywhere in this region, and the hunting opportunities seem countless. One could easily spend a lifetime hunting the different varieties of deer in their many habitats throughout North America.

See the listings below and follow the links for more information on each subspecies or variety and for information on hunting techniques and what to expect when pursuing this quarry.

American Elk or Wapiti

Roosevelt Elk

Tule Elk



Alaska-Yukon Moose

Western Canada Moose

Eastern Canada Moose

Shiras Moose



Alaska-Yukon Barren Ground Caribou

Central Canada Barren Ground Caribou (currently closed)

Arctic Islands Caribou (Peary’s Caribou)

Mountain Caribou

Quebec-Labrador Caribou (currently closed)

Woodland Caribou


Mule Deer

Black-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

Anticosti White-tailed Deer

Carmen Mountain White-tailed Deer

Central American White-tailed Deer (Tropical White-tailed Deer)

Columbia White-tailed Deer

Coues White-tailed Deer

Mexican Central Plateau White-tailed Deer

Mexican Gulf Coast White-tailed Deer

Mexican Pacific Coast White-tailed Deer

Mexican Texanus White-tailed Deer

Midwestern White-tailed Deer

Northeastern White-tailed Deer

Northwestern White-tailed Deer

Southeastern White-tailed Deer

Texas White-tailed Deer

Brocket Deer

Red Brocket Deer

Yucatan Gray-brown Brocket Deer

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