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Who Is In The Deer Family

Updated on April 25, 2012

I once spent fifteen years on the last farm on a dirt road, living two miles from our nearest neighbor, six miles from the nearest paved road, and many mountain miles from the nearest one stop light town. Some of my best friends were the deer who had possession of our seven hundred and fifty acres long before we came upon the scene. Aside from our daily communion with nature and the orphaned baby deer that I hand raised, I made it my business to learn about the deer family. They are an interesting family unit that might hold some surprises for you.

One of the things I found interesting is the knowledge that what we call elk, are not really elk and they are a kind of deer. Another surprise is that moose are also deer.

The deer belong to a separate family, the Cervidae. They have many things in common with the antelopes which, with the cattle, sheep, and goats, belong to the family Bovidae. Both the deer and the antelopes are ruminants, or cud-chewers. Both feed on grass, leaves and other vegetation. Both are the principal food of many of the large flesh eating animals, and for protection depend upon their ability to hide and on their fleetness of foot.

Deer antler dimensions, 1876
Deer antler dimensions, 1876 | Source

It's All About Horns And Antlers

The greatest difference between the two families is their horns and antlers. The horns of the Bovidae are made of the same materials as their hooves, fingernails, toenails and hair. that is, they are the hardened outer of the skin.

The horn grows over a bony core which is part of the skull, and is retained throughout life. After death this sheath, or horn, may be easily removed from the core. The old-fashioned powder horn is a cow's horn so removed. In most cases both the male and the female of the Bovidae carry horns, but there are many exceptions to this rule.

The "horns" of the deer are called antlers and are true bone. They are shed and regrown periodically, generally once a year, and are carried by the male only. an exception to this is the Caribou and the Reindeer, in which species of the females also carry antlers.

The growth of a deer's antlers is one of the wonders of nature. In northern latitudes, either in late fall or early winter, the antlers break off from their pedicles, or sockets, which is full of blood vessels. They are very tender and the animal is very careful not to hurt them.

Within these knobs a bony structure forms. This grows rapidly and soon the antler takes shape, still covered with velvet and filled with blood vessels.

For large deer, such as the Wapiti and the Moose, this growth continues for months, but by late summer or early fall the center hardens, the blood leaves the velvet, and the velvet dries and peels off, leaving the new antler hard and firm, and the owner full of confidence.

Deer antler parts
Deer antler parts | Source

All About Antlers

The antlers of the different kinds of deer vary greatly , and it is often by the type of antler that a deer can be most easily recognized.

Therefore, it is important that the different types of antlers be explained and the different parts named.

The main part of the antler, that is, the part extending up from the head, is called the beam. From this beam grow branches. These branches are called prongs, or tines. These tines are all named.

  • The first that comes out over the forehead is the brow-tine.
  • The next above it is the bez-tine
  • The third is the trez-tine
  • The smaller tines about the top of the antler are called royals or surroyals

Some deer, such as the European red deer, have all these tines, while others have more simple antlers.

Red deer stag (Cervus elaphus) with velvet antlers in Glen Torridon, Scotland
Red deer stag (Cervus elaphus) with velvet antlers in Glen Torridon, Scotland | Source

Red Deer

The Red deer of western Europe are perhaps the best known deer in the world. Much as been written about the hunting of the stag, as the male of this deer is called. the Red deer is still found in many of the forested parts of continental Europe. It is the most common deer found, for example, in Scotland.

A large stag will stand as high as four feet at the shoulder. It is reddish brown, grayer on the head and legs. There is a large patch of yellowish white about the tail. The antlers are generally large and often form a cluster of points near the end. There are usually three other points or tines along the main beam, the first or brow-tine extending out over the forehead.

The Red deer of Europe differ in minor details in many parts of the continent. In Sweden, the deer is large, with large antlers containing many tines. For example:

  • In Norway, it is smaller and of a lighter color in summer.
  • In Germany, it is large and the light patch about the tail generally has a black border around it.
  • The Spanish Red deer is of a grayer color.
  • On the islands of Corsica and Sardinia it is a much smaller race.
  • Additionally, the Red deer has been introduced into New Zealand where it has done remarkably well, grows to a large size, and has exceptionally fine antlers.

Wherever the Red deer is found, the habits are very similar. These deer prefer woodland, except in Scotland where they inhabit the open hills. They are generally found in small herds made up chiefly of hinds, as the female Red deer is called. The stags keep to themselves. The young, as is the case with many of the deer, are spotted at birth.

Persian Deer, Cervus Maral in a hand-coloured lithograph printed by McLean & Co., circa 1850. Plate from John Edward Gray's "Gleanings from the Menagerie at Knowsley," a comprehensive visual survey of one of the largest private menagerie's in Victori
Persian Deer, Cervus Maral in a hand-coloured lithograph printed by McLean & Co., circa 1850. Plate from John Edward Gray's "Gleanings from the Menagerie at Knowsley," a comprehensive visual survey of one of the largest private menagerie's in Victori | Source


Along the eastern border of the Caspian Sea, through the Caucasus Mountain region, and as far west as the Crimea, there is a found a close relative of the Red deer, known as the "Maral."

The Maral is a large, heavy-set deer with large, heavy antlers and generally fewer tines.

Barbary Red Deer

The only deer believed to be a native of Africa is the Barbary Red deer.

It is a large deer with a grayish brown streak down the center of the back, and spotting on the flanks and sometimes on the back also.

It is very rare and found only in certain parts of Africa.

Hangul Kashmir stag from the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary (on Kanpur-Lucknow road).
Hangul Kashmir stag from the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary (on Kanpur-Lucknow road). | Source

Other Red Deer

Other deer belonging to the Red deer group are the:

  • Hangul (from Kashmir)
  • The Yorkland Stag (eastern Turkestan)
  • The Bhutan (Tibet)
  • Thorold's Deer (central Tibet)

Eye of a Wapiti (Cervus canadensis). The photograph has been taken at Omega Park in Montebello, Québec, Canada
Eye of a Wapiti (Cervus canadensis). The photograph has been taken at Omega Park in Montebello, Québec, Canada | Source


Western North America and central Asia are the home of the Wapiti, which are among the largest of the deer, only the moose and the Old World elk being larger.

In North America, unfortunately the Wapiti is known as "Elk." Properly the name Elk belongs to the Old World Moose. The Wapiti in North America originally used to roam through most of the United States and well up into Canada, but with the advancement of civilization the Wapiti was exterminated in the East and also over much of its western range. It is now found in a limited area in the Rocky Mountain districts of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana.

It is also found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the coats of northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island, and in a few places in southern California.

A large bull Wapiti will stand over five and a half feet at the shoulder and may weigh six hundred pounds. In color it is a grayish brown, becoming darker on the neck, head, and legs.

About the tail there is a light-colored spot.

The Wapiti along the Pacific coast are much darker in color, and the one in the south-central California is much smaller. The outstanding characteristic of the Wapiti is its massive antlers with their numerous points or tines. The antlers may reach well over sixty inches in length.

At present there is a great concentration of Wapiti at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, werhe the animals are fed by the United States Government during the winter.

Interestingly, Wapiti have been brought back in the Adirondacks and in other places in the eastern Untied States, and introduced in New Zealand.

The Asiatic form of the Wapiti is found from the Tien Shan Mountians in northwestern China northeast to northern Manchuria.



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    • profile image

      Lucy Deer 

      9 years ago

      wow I was worried that my family secrets were to be exposed .... but very distant relatives these ones. haha

      Thanks for the TOTAL info - think I will pass on the cutting and gutting tho.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      OMG you bring so much information in your hubs and I learned so much from it. Thank you.

    • MtShastaWriter profile image


      9 years ago from Mt. Shasta Valley, CA

      This is a really great Hub!

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      9 years ago from USA

      Hi Jerilee - Thanks. Nice descriptions and very fine pix.

      Gus :-)~

    • sligobay profile image


      9 years ago from east of the equator

      Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy ,healthy, and prosperous New Year. Great and thorough Hub with more information about Deer than I ever thought existed. Cheers.


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