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Big Game Animals and Other Mammals of Minnesota

As a result of its varied habitat, Minnesota is home to several different species of big game animals and smaller mammals associated with the mixed evergreen and hardwood boreal forest of Canada, the tall grass prairies of the Western Plains, and the hardwood forest of the Midwest.

To see tracks of these animals click here.

To view scat (droppings) of these animals click here.



The American subspecies of the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana americana) may be infrequently found in far western Minnesota. Although they are often referred to as "pronghorn antelope" they are not antelope, and are not related to the African or Asian antelopes or any other family. They are the last survivors of a once widespread North American family known as Antilocapridae. Many of their ancestors had pronged horns on both the top of the head and on the upper nose.
Adult Pronghorns may be from 4-4 1/2 feet long, 3-3 1/2 feet high, males weigh 100-150 pounds, females 75-100 pounds. Live 5-10 years, mate from September through October, gestation 7-8 months, generally have 2 fawns born in May or June. Color is light tan to reddish tan, with white cheek patches on chin, neck, chest, sides and rumps, ears are trimmed with black. Males have a dark patch under the lower jaw. Both males and females have horns; the males are larger. Their pronged horns, which range from 15-19 inches, are shed annually. Tracks are 2 3/4 - 3 1/2 inches long and they have no dewclaws.


The American subspecies) of bison (Bison bison bison, or buffalo as they are commonly called, once inhabited Minnesota. But, as a result of over-hunting they were exterminated from the state in the early 1900's. A small herd can be found at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern portion of the state. Males may reach 5-6 feet at the shoulder, 12 feet in length and weigh 1,000-2,000 pounds, females 800-1,000 pounds, live 20-25 years. The have a dark brown shaggy head and beard, dark brown body and legs of short hair, except for the shoulders, which are shaggy and often lighter brown. Breed from July to August, gestation 9 months, generally 1calf born every 1-2 years in May or June. They often make saucer-like depressions or wallows 8-10 feet wide, which they roll in. Tracks of the front hoof are 6-7 inches long, hind hoof slightly smaller, hind hooves fall behind and slightly outside of front prints. Droppings look like cow droppings, flat round patties. Both sexes have horns that are round and curve out and up. Males generally have a wider head when viewed from the front than females and have a noticeable penal projection hanging down from the middle of the belly.


White-tailed Deer

The northern woodland subspecies (Odocoileus virgianius borealis) of the white-tailed deer is found throughout Minnesota. It reach lengths of 4-7 feet, heights of 3-4 feet, males weigh 100-400 pounds, females 75-250, live 5-10 years. Breed October through January, gestation 6-7 months, 1-4 fawns each year, usually born May to June. Both sexes grunt, snort and blow, fawns bleat. Males carry antlers with one main beam, with 2-6+ points on each beam. Tracks are 2-3 inches long, hind hoof slightly smaller, hind hoof often lands in or near front hoof when walking. Droppings are often clumped or segmented cylinders in the spring and summer, and pellets during the fall and winter. During the fall/rut males rub trees and thrash brush with their antlers, and chew low-hanging branches over scrapes on the ground that older males often urinate in after pawing them with their front hooves. They use these signs as a means of expressing dominance and leaving a sign for females in estrous.

T.R. Michels' Deer Activity Studies


Mule Deer

The Rocky Mountain subspecies (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) of mule deer may be infrequently found in the far western portions of Minnesota. It may reach lengths of 4-7 1/2 feet, shoulder heights of 3-4 feet, with average male weights of 150-400 pounds, females 100-150 pounds, live 10-15 years. Breed late October through December, gestation 6-7 months, 1-2 fawns born in May or June. Color is reddish brown in summer, gray in winter, with white chin, throat and rump patch; white tail with black tip. The Black-tailed subspecies have a solid black tail. Front hoof 2 1/2-3 1/4", hind hoof slightly smaller, hind hooves fall near or in front hooves when walking, fore hooves fall in front of hind when bounding (stotting). Droppings are often clumped and/or segmented in the spring and summer, pellets in the fall and winter. The antlers of the males generally fork into two main branches and these two branches branch into two tines each, giving the buck a total of four or more points. Brow tines are seldom evident and if they appear are often quite short.



The woodland subspecies (Rangifer tarandus caribou) of caribou may be infrequently found in the far northeastern corner of Minnesota. The Reindeer of Europe and Asia is a domesticated version of the Caribou. Height 4 -4 1/2 feet, length 5-8 feet, males 275 to 650 pounds, females 150-300, live 10-15 years. Breed October through November, gestation 7-8 months, 1-2 calves born in May or June. Coloration may range from gray to brown and white, or chocolate. Tracks of both front and hind hooves are 5 inches long, and wide with a crescent shape to each hoof, the outline of the tracks are often round, with dewclaw marks appearing as two dots behind each hoof, hind hooves often fall directly in front hoof. Droppings are cylindrical segmented masses in the spring and summer, and bell-shaped pellets in fall and winter. Caribou are unique among the deer family because both sexes commonly have antlers; antlers on females are smaller than those of the males, and in some herds up to 95 percent of the females have no antlers. The antlers of bulls may have main beam lengths from 40 to 60 inches, and be 4-5 feet wide. The upper main beams are often palmated or flattened, as are the brow tines (called shovels) and bez (second) tines. Both the bez and brow tines are often split into several points. Racks of large bulls often score between 400 and 500 Boone and Crockett points and may have as many as 60 points. Preferred forage includes lichens, reindeer moss, grasses, willow and birch.



The eastern subspecies (Alces. Alces americana) of moose inhabits northern Minnesota. Moose may reach heights of 7 1/2 feet at the shoulder, lengths of 7-9 feet, males weigh 700-1,200 pounds, females slightly smaller, live 15-20 years. They usually rut in from late September through early November, gestation period is 8 months with 1-2 calves born May-June. Their color is dark reddish brown, lighter in summer, nearly black legs and belly. They have a bulbous nose, obvious hump at the shoulder and males often have one or more dewlaps or "bells" hanging from the neck. Front hoof tracks 5-6 inches, hind hoof slightly smaller, hind hooves fall near or to the side of fore hooves; two dots may appear just behind the hoof marks in mud or snow as a result of the dewclaws touching the ground. The antlers, which are palmated, may reach widths of 4-5 1/2 feet. The males often thrash shrubs with their antlers, and make wallows in wet or muddy areas during the rut, to get urine and mud on themselves as a sign of dominance and to attract females. During the rut males bellow, grunt and grown; females often use long, drawn-out moans.


The eastern subspecies (Cervus elaphus canadensis) of North American elk were originally found in Minnesota. But, due to excessive hunting, they were exterminated in the 1800's. Transplants of the Rocky Mountain subspecies of elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) by private parties including James J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railroad, brought elk back to the state, estimations ran as high as 150 animals in the early 1900's. Elk are currently found in one or two areas in the northwestern potion of the state. Extensive poaching and illegal reductions due to crop depredation have kept the population below 70 animals in recent years.

Rocky Mountain Elk reach lengths of 7-9 1/2 feet, heights of 4 1/2 to 5 feet; males weigh 600-1,100 pounds, females 450-650, live 15-20 years. Color is brown to tan with darker head, neck, belly and legs, with a rump patch of light tan to yellowish. Breed September through November, gestation 7 1/2-8 months, 1-2 calves each year born from May to July, usually late May to mid June. Tracks of the front hoof are 4-4 1/2 inch long, hind hoof slightly smaller; hind hoof generally falls in or near front hoof, dewclaw point marks may appear behind the hoofs in mud or snow. Droppings are usually clumps in the spring and summer, and large pellets in the fall and winter. During the fall/rut the males rub trees and thrash brush and evergreens with their antlers, often make scrapes on dry ground with their antlers when they get up out of their beds, and make wallows with their antlers in muddy or wet areas. They often urinate in the scrape or wallow and urinate on themselves, then roll in the scrape and wallow express dominance and attract females. Males generally carry antlers of from 1-6 points on each side during their first year, 4 or more points during their second year, and 5 or more points after their second year; with the main beams getting heavier, longer and wider apart until the seventh to eight year, when they lengths of the tines may begin to get shorter.

T.R. Michels' Elk Activity Studies

Black Bear

The American subspecies (Ursus americanus americanus) of black bear inhabits the northeastern two thirds of Minnesota, south to just north of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They may reach lengths of 5-6 feet with exceptional bears reaching 8 feet, shoulder heights from 2-3 feet, males weigh 100-400 pounds with large males reaching 900 pounds, females 90-525, live 5-30 years. They usually hibernate during the winter under fallen trees, in a cave or rock crevice, may dig a den 5-6 feet deep; sometimes hibernate on the round. Breed June through July, with delayed implantation of the egg until November, gestation 60-90 days, 1-5 cubs usually born in the den in January or February. Although black bears may be colored black, brown, cinnamon, blond, silver-blue or white, the normal colors in Minnesota are black and brown. Front tracks may be 4 1/2 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide with five toes turned slightly inward, rear tracks 7-9 inches with five toes; fore and hind prints are parallel, with hind paws falling several inches short of front paws. "Bear trees" often show signs of claw marks as high as the bear can reach, and may have hair on it. Droppings are often large dark cylindrical scat or piles containing berries and nuts and animal hair, plants and stems. They may huff, puff, grunt and groan while walking, use loud snorts from the nostrils, roar when fighting, and hum when content or feeding.


Mammals of Minnesota

Following is a list of the 68 common and 3 rare mammals that may be found in Minnesota.


Order Artiodactyla

Family Antelocapridae

Pronghorn (accidental, extreme west central)


Family Bovidae

Bison (captive at Blue Mounds State Park)


Family Cervidae

White-tailed Deer

Mule Deer (accidental, extreme west central)

Caribou (accidental, extreme northwest)


Elk (limited, near Argyle and Grygla in the northeast corner of the state)


Order Carnivora

Family Canidae



Gray Wolf (northern 1/3 of state)



Red Fox


Gray Fox


Family Mephitadae

Eastern Spotted Skunk

Striped Skunk


Family Mustelidae

American Badger


American Pine Marten




Least Weasel


Long-tailed Weasel




Northern River Otter (north, and southeast corner)


Short-tailed Weasel




Family Procyonidae

Northern Raccoon


Family Ursidae

Black Bear


Family Felidae



Lynx (limited, extreme north)


Mountain Lion (rare, probably escapees)


Order Chiroptera

Family Vespertilionidae

Little Brown Bat

Eastern Pipistrelle

Northern Myotis

Big Brown Bat

Red Bat

Silver-haired Bat

Hoary Bat


Order Didelphimorpha

Family Didelphidae

Virginia Opossum


Order Insectivora

Family Soricidae

Least Shrew

Masked Shrew

Pygmy Shrew

Arctic Shrew

Water Shrew

Northern Short-tailed Shrew


Family Talpidae

Star-nosed Mole, Eastern Mole


Order Lagomorpha

Family Leporidae

Eastern Cottontail


Snowshoe Hare


White-tailed Jackrabbit



Order Rodentia

Family Erethizontidae

North American Porcupine


Family Dipodidae

Meadow Jumping Mouse

Woodland Jumping Mouse


Family Geomyidae

Plains Pocket Gopher

Northern Pocket Gopher


Family Muridae

Southern Red-backed Vole

Meadow Vole

Prairie Vole

Northern Bog Lemming

Southern Bog Lemming


House Mouse

Norway Rat

Western Harvest Mouse

White-footed Mouse

Deer Mouse

Northern Grasshopper Mouse


Family Castoridae

American Beaver


Family Sciuridae

Least Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

Southern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Richardson's Ground Squirrel

Franklin's Ground Squirrel

Red Squirrel


Eastern Gray Squirrel


Eastern Fox Squirrel



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View and listen to the Birds of North America.

View and listen to the Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

View the Mammals of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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