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Stag 255, Wyoming’s famous long-distance lady, dies in the red desert

After traveling countless thousands of miles back and forth across Wyoming on record migrations and gaining worldwide fame, Deer 255 died and met her end in the Red Desert, likely taken down by a mountain lion, the Wyoming Migration Initiative reports.

Deer 255, a mule deer, was just 11 years old, a remarkably old age for her species in the wild.

She was best known for her epic journeys, covering an average of 200 miles as she migrated between her usual summer range in Jackson Hole and her winter range near Superior in the Red Desert.

Her longest recorded run was 242 miles.

For much of her life, Deer 255 was fitted with tracking collars so researchers could monitor her movements and gain insight into the challenges facing Wyoming’s treasured mule deer herds.

“Through her migrations, this deer has really shown us what an incredibly wild landscape we still have here in Wyoming. I hope that by telling her story people can gain a greater appreciation for these wildlife we ​​share the state with,” Gregory Nickerson, a writer and filmmaker for the Wyoming Migration Initiative, told Cowboy State Daily.

Probably killed by a mountain lion

Deer 255’s collar began emitting a “mortality signal” around noon on April 11, three days after her spring migration, Nickerson said.

He and another researcher tracked the signal to the carcass of Deer 255 about a day and a half later.

“We got up there around 10:30 p.m. It was calm and peaceful and there was no one up there but us,” he said.

It was clear that Deer 255 was likely killed by a predator, probably a mountain lion, he said.

“It was on a hill and there were a number of approaches where it (a mountain lion) could have been just over the edge of the hill and hiding,” he said.

They left the carcass as it was and installed a motion detection camera at the scene. The camera didn’t capture images of a mountain lion, but other creatures did appear.

“A golden eagle came, as well as a mouse, ground squirrel and magpie,” Nickerson said, adding that the end of Deer 255 and the recycling of the carcass back into the wild is appropriate.

“It’s kind of cool to think she was born in Idaho or Jackson Hole, way up north. And she lived a long life and did what she wanted. And ultimately, she was able to bring some nutrients back to the Red Desert,” Nickerson said.

Deer 255's migration map shows remarkable fidelity to its route year after year.  Although her summer ranges varied between Island Park, Idaho and Jackson Hole, her winter ranges were always in the Leucite Hills of the Red Desert near Superior.
Deer 255’s migration map shows remarkable fidelity to its route year after year. Although her summer ranges varied between Island Park, Idaho and Jackson Hole, her winter ranges were always in the Leucite Hills of the Red Desert near Superior. (Ian Freeman, image from the Wyoming Migration Initiative)

She was a sage

Mule deer rarely live longer than 9 years in the wild, but Deer 255 was still in good, healthy shape as of March, Nickerson said.

She was unusually large, about 170 pounds. Most mule deer weigh about 140.

She was also quite smart, Nickerson said, and was remarkably alert and difficult to sneak up on.

“She probably avoided a lot of predators in her life” until someone finally got her, he said.

She also beat the odds against other forces of nature that put many Wyoming deer into early graves. She avoided chronic wasting disease, which is 100% fatal, and deer.

She also endured the brutal winter of 2022-2023, which killed tens of thousands of deer in Wyoming.

Deer 255 has also passed on her superior genes. She gave birth to six sets of twin calves and one single calf that researchers know of, Nickerson said. She may have had other fawns that were not documented.

“She had a long life. She did her job as a mother and she did it very well,” Nickerson said.

From left to right, biologists Kevin Monteith, Samantha Dwinnell, Anna Ortega and Matt Kauffman work on Deer 255 during spring migration capture operations near Superior in March 2019.
From left to right, biologists Kevin Monteith, Samantha Dwinnell, Anna Ortega and Matt Kauffman work on Deer 255 during spring migration capture operations near Superior in March 2019. (Gregory Nickerson, Wyoming Migration Initiative Photo via University of Wyoming)

Nothing sad here

Deer 255 was born in June 2013. She was so named because she was the 55th deer captured during the second year of an ongoing study of several mule deer herds in Wyoming.

Researchers regularly posted animated maps of her travels online, along with some footage taken by video cameras mounted on some of her tracking collars.

This resulted in a wide fan base here, across the country and around the world. And while people might project their own emotions of loss and grief onto the news of her death, Deer 255’s end was just a normal part of nature’s cycle, Nickerson said.

“Every deer dies at some point, and there are many different ways this can happen. It’s hard to be a prey animal,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at [email protected].

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