Brocket Deer: Americas’ Most Mysterious Deer

Brocket deer

When you ask the question “How many kinds of deer are there in North America?”, everybody immediately remembers whitetail, mule deer, and black-tailed deer. Many people realize that the elk and the moose belong to the deer family, too. But few people think, or even know, about the little representative of the deer family called the Brocket Deer.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even the even biologists don’t yet know much about these animals, even though the Brocket Deer may challenge the Whitetail for the title of the most widespread and numerous American deer, if by “America” you mean both South America and North America. Various species of Brocket Deer occupy the two continents from Argentina to Mexico and everywhere in between. Their significance as a game animal for the local populations can hardly be overestimated: according to one study, that recorded the harvest of 155 Mexican families of subsistence hunters for the period of three months, half of the approximately 10 tons of wild meat of 13 game species came from brocket deer (source).

The Deer that Still Puzzles Science

The genus Mazama, which is the official Latin name for Brocket Deer,consists of an uncertain number of species. Different authorities single out between six and nine, with many subspecies, and it’s still work in progress – because much of the brocket deer range is still primitive wilderness or rainforest, with only a few samples available.

Imagine an alien with a mission to collect samples of various earthly creatures. The UFO lands in North Dakota and abducts a German Shorthaired Pointer, then jumps on to an affluent New York suburb and picks up a Welsh Corgi. Later, on the home planet, the “Earthologists” have perfect grounds to believe there are two species of North American Dog: the Prairie and the East Coastal – until another scout arrives from British Columbia with a Chihuahua.

Jokes aside, this was how it worked in the early stages of research for many species, especially since a person who finds a new type of organism had his or her name written in history. Many new discoveries await us, as brocket deer studies is still in the early stages. In fact, some authors admit that if they know anything about the animal’s lifeline and habits, it’s mostly from the stories told by local hunters.

Brocket Deer and their Life

All species of brocket deer are small and wary creatures. They range in size from slightly bigger than a rabbit (just over 15 lb.) to almost as big as a small whitetail. They never form herds, and in fact the only time they abandon their solitary habits is during the mating period, when the buck and the doe stick together for a while. The bucks of brocket deer carry short, straight, non-branching antlers. The does carry one fawn at a time, but the period between births can be as short as 7 ½ months, because the doe can be lactating and pregnant at the same time.

As they walk through the forest, they tend to carry their head low. Similarly to other North American deer, the brocket deer, when alarmed, can stomp the ground with their front feet, give a snorting alarm signal, and when flee they raise their tail up. Another curious trait is that they defecate in latrines (source). Brocket deer do not apparently have any fixed mating period: like with many tropical-dwelling deer, a female may be in estrous at almost any month of the year. Some studies, however, indicate a peak of mating activity in March – May and September – November, especially in May and September (source).

From a Hunter’s Perspective

Of prime interest for international hunters are three species of brocket deer: Red Brocket Deer, Grey (a.k.a. Brown) Brocket Deer, and Yucatan Brown Brocket Deer; and two destinations: Argentina and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

The Red Brocket Deer (Mazama americana) is the biggest representative of the Brocket Deer family. It can grow as big as 60 kg. in Argentina, and as small as 10 kg. in Guatemala, but mostly weighs about 30-40 kilograms (65-90 lb). A browser and frugivore, it inhabits tropical forests, cloud forest, woodlands and cerrado (a kind of tropical savannah landscape found in Brazil) in South America east of the Andes, and up to the northern part of Argentina and Brazil, about from the Rio Grande to the north.

The Grey Brocket Deer (Mazama gouazoubira), also known as the Brown Brocket Deer, is somewhat smaller. It tips the scales at about 50-65 pounds (20-30 kg), and dwells in the forests, woodlands, dry deciduous forests and cerrado habitats. Grey brocket deer is described as “a habitat generalist” and a highly adaptable animal good at escaping hunting pressure. Its range almost coincides with that of Red Brocket Deer, but the two species have different habitat preferences and behaviors.

Brocket deerThe Red Brocket Deer is a frugivore; it relies on fruit and seeds of trees for its nutrition. Consequently, it sticks to denser, woodland and forest habitat. Grey brocket deer, by contrast, tends to avoid dense woods, and prefers scrub and bush type covers. It often feeds in the open, would visit agricultural plantations if any in the area, or fruit trees that are ripe and dropping heavily. Where red and grey brocket deer share the same territory, they often feature different behavior. One is mostly nocturnal, while the other is mostly diurnal, that is, active at dusk and dawn.

The Yucatan peninsula in Mexico is home to the Yukatan brown brocket deer (Mazama pandora). Some authors treat it as a variation of the red brocket deer, and others a kind of brown brocket deer. Only recently it has been considered an independent species. As far as hunters’ reports can be trusted, in terms of behavior the Yucatan Brown Brocket Deer is definitely closer to the Red than to the Grey Brocket Deer: it prefers dense cover offered by tropical semi-deciduous and flooding forests, and is a dedicated frugivore. It weighs even less than the regular brown brocket deer, between 15-20 kg.

Are Brocket Deer Rare or Endangered?

ICSN lists Grey Brocket Deer as Least Concern, and they’re not included in CITES Appendices. In Argentina, however, hunting most native species is restricted, and is possible only in a number of provinces. Some local restrictions on trophy export may be in place, so discuss the issue with your outfitter before booking a hunt. The Red Brocket Deer is listed as Data Deficient, indicating there is not enough information to list the animal in any category. This is also related to a wide range of habitats and countries it exists in. The Yucatan Brown Brocket Deer is listed as Vulnerable, with the main threat to populations believed to be deforestation. People who are quick to blame hunters for any extinction should perhaps ponder on the question why is that in Brazil, where almost all hunting except by indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes is banned, many local subspecies and populations are endangered.

How to Hunt Brocket Deer

Grey Brocket Deer Hunting is offered by some Argentinian outfitters. As mentioned above, the animals are diurnal and browse on the edge of shrub and bush and open places, occasionally visiting fields and gardens. The method employed is stalking at dusk and dawn when the animals come into the open to feed. All kinds of brocket deer are extremely wary and cautious. Small wonder, if we consider that they’d been hunted non-stop ever since humankind reached the Americas. 

Stalking a brocket deer is a challenge, but the routine is not too different from the methods used for hunting other big-game animals in Argentina, most notably Red Stag. In fact, many international hunters come to Argentina for a combination hunt with more than one species including in the trophy list. Big-game hunters usually use the same rifle they will hunt other Argentinian big game animals, such as Blackbuck and Water Buffalo, to hunt the Brown Brocket Deer. 

Hunting the Yucatan Brown Brocket Deer is distinctly different. With deep underegrowth of the tropical forest, stalking is possible only when the animals feed on fields. But, as mentioned before, the preferred food source for brocket deer is fruit. So, if you find a tree that’s dropping fruit like crazy, you can set up a blind or a tree stand over it, and wait for the brocket deer to show up. In fact, this is the surest way of brocket deer hunting, if you don’t take into account the nature of local stands, which are often nothing but hammocks tied to the tree in question. Of course, you’ll have to know what species of local fruit are in season at the time of your hunt, and where in the borderless jungle to find these trees. Brocket deer hunting is all but impossible without a good local guide.

In the dense jungle, they are usually shot at short range. That’s why most local outfitters in the Yucatan supply their clients with shotgun loaded with a charge of buck shot, rather than rifles. Bowhunting presents an additional challenge: the creature’s small size makes it a difficult target to connect with. Many hunters combine hunting for Brocket Deer on the Yucatan with hunting for the Ocellated Turkey and other local indigenous species.

Historically for the Maya people of the Yucatan the best season for deer hunting was the end of the dry season, from January to April inclusive. In other parts of the peninsula, May to July was considered the best time for brocket deer hunting, the hunting being done at the fields, where brocket deer came to feed on maize.

Why hunt Brocket Deer

Brocket Deer are native American species, that existed here long before the first humans crossed the Great Continental Divide. Records of brocket deer hunting on the Yucatan, in particular, date to the earliest days of the Maya empire. The Maya used many techniques to hunt deer, including big driven hunts that were sometimes a part of a ritual with the goal to procure a deer for the rainmaking ceremony. The blood of Brocket Deer was also believed to have healing properties (source).

It’s a shame that don’t get the attention they deserve from both scientific and the hunting communities. Many sources state that while overall population of most species of brocket deer are stable, some local populations may be heavily pressed and even go locally extinct due to population growth, increasing hunting pressure, and habitat loss to plantations of various crops. In such scenarios, sports and trophy hunting can be an efficient conservation tool. A hunting concession provides a way to generate income out of the wilderness, without the need to convert it to a soy bean farm. Money that the local communities receive from tourism compensate for the loss of subsistence hunting as a food source, and revenues from hunters finance game wardens who enforce game laws. However, this only works if there’s sufficient demand for the species in question, and judging from scarcities of brocket deer hunting supply, there doesn’t seem to be much of that.

Hunting opportunities for Brocket Deer are few and far between, but you may still find something directly from trusted outfitters on

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