FAIRBANKS — Michael Houx was driving Tuesday evening between Eielson Air Force Base and Salcha when he saw an animal that he at first thought was a caribou.

It turns out it was a mule deer, an animal common in Canada and the Lower 48 but seldom seen in Alaska.

Houx grew up in North Pole and knows the Interior’s large animals well. As he got closer to this young buck, he knew it was something unusual.

“I know caribou and moose, all of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I pulled over and said ‘Is that a decoy?’ Holy cow, what is that? I don’t even know my deer; I can’t tell what it is.”

So Houx posted a photo and video of the animal on the “Fairbanks Guns, Ammo, and Parts,” Facebook page, which was initially met with skepticism from other group members.

Area wildlife biologist Don Young, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, doesn’t think Houx’s photo is a hoax. Several reports of a young male mule deer have come in recently from the Eielson area, he said.

“I think it’s a valid report, we’ve got pictures, multiple reports from independent sources,” Young said.

Mule deer in the Interior are unusual but not unheard of. A population lives in Canada’s Yukon, near Whitehorse. There have been a handful of reports of them near Tok. They’ve been seen as far west as Minto Flats, Young said.

Mule deer are a different species than the deer most Alaskans know — the Sitka black-tailed deer found in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Mule deer are distinguishable by their large ears, which are said to look like a mule’s ears. Mule deer also have black-tipped tails, different than Sitka deer tails, which are black along their entire length.

Mule deer are popular with hunters in the Western United States, but in Alaska it’s illegal to shoot them because there are no regulations that allow for a mule deer hunt. The visits of occasional mule deer to Alaska don’t mean a population has established itself on this side of the border.

“A lot of these bucks just want to get out of their mother’s home area,” Young said. “It’s mother nature’s way to make sure you don’t get inbreeding.”

Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: