Management (Part I)
Are we on the right track?
Last years hunting season
was one of immense intrigue and excitement. By the end of October,
I had more bucks within 20 yards than I have in the past three
years combined. This dramatic increase in buck sightings did
not occur due to a change in my hunting tactics, camouflage clothing,
cover scent or even from increased time afield, it resulted from
a change in our approach to deer management. After years of shooting
little bucks and letting herds of does walk by, our hunting group
had become frustrated because none of the bucks on our property
were reaching the 15-inch outside spread guideline desired by
our group. As a result, four years ago we opted for a new approach
and implemented a Quality Deer Management (QDM) program.
What exactly is QDM? Brian Murphy,
Executive Director of the Quality Deer Management Association
(QDMA), defines QDM as "A management philosophy/practice
that unites landowners, hunters and biologists in a common goal
of producing biologically and socially balanced deer herds within
existing environmental, social and legal constraints." According
to Joe Hamilton, wildlife biologist and QDMA founder, "QDM
typically involves the protection of young bucks combined with
an adequate harvest of female deer to maintain a healthy population
that is in balance with existing habitat conditions." In
other words, the goal of QDM is to produce quality deer (bucks,
does and fawns), quality habitat, quality hunters and quality
Years ago, harvesting any deer
with a bow or gun was an accomplishment. This still applies in
some parts of the country, but with burgeoning deer populations
and liberal bags limits, many hunters have become dissatisfied
with traditional deer management practices and want more from
their deer hunting experience than just an opportunity to put
a young buck in the freezer.
Likewise, until recently, the
thought letting a young buck pass would have never been considered
by most hunters. However, this trend is changing as an increasing
number of hunters are becoming interested in learning more about
deer biology and management. The evolution of QDM, particularly
in the last few years, has provided hunters with this opportunity.
QDM focuses on deer herd quality instead of the total number
of bucks harvested and emphasizes active hunter participation
in management. In effect, it provides an opportunity to give
more to the resource than what is taken.
Nowadays, our hunting group takes
does as our main menu item. By shooting more does, we not only
help the environment, but increase our chances of taking quality
bucks in the future. We now realize that we are not simply "consumers"
of wildlife but are in fact "managers". In other words,
whenever we decide to take a doe or buck we make a conscious
management decision. Collectively, these management decisions
dictate the overall success (or failure) of our management program.
Most hunters realize that it
is not the hunter, but where the hunter hunts which dictates
his/her success. If the truth be known, many of the so-called
"celebrity hunters" are no more accomplished than the
average hunter. The main difference is that they have the opportunity
to hunt some of the best whitetail areas in the country. Without
question, the average hunter could take similar quality animals
if they had the opportunity to hunt some of these fabled "hot-spots."
If there is any real secret to
harvesting quality bucks like these well-known celebrities...it's
implementing (and following) a QDM program. The good news is
that, armed with a basic understanding of deer biology and management,
you too can participate in QDM. Although we all have different
objectives and abilities when it comes to deer management, many
hunters have been unsuccessful at improving the quality of their
herds simply because they do not understand basic deer biology.
Since many agency biologists
do not or are not allowed to dedicate much of their time to conducting
educational seminars, "What is a hunter to do?" For
starters, I would strongly suggest joining the Quality Deer Management
Association (QDMA). The QDMA is made up of many of the countrys
top deer biologists who document their latest findings in the
QDMAs quarterly magazine, "Quality Whitetails".
This publication is only available to members and not sold at
After becoming more informed
about deer biology and management through the QDMAs educational
materials you may ask, "What are we doing to our deer herds?"
Presently, most state wildlife agencies allow hunters to harvest
any antlered buck during the legal season. This approach substantially
depletes young bucks, particularly those just 1 1/2 years old,
and results in skewed adult sex ratios and a young buck age structure.
With no thought to the social ramifications, many herds are subjected
to a harvest regime that causes a herd's social mechanisms to
become highly stressed. In other words, Mother Nature never intended
1 1/2-year-old bucks to be the primary breeders in the herd.
Dr. David Guynn from Clemson
University asks these questions: "Is a given deer population
living well or is it suffering social misery due to imbalances
in herd structure" and "Why should we concern ourselves
with maintaining a natural social balance in a managed deer herd?"
His answer; "Because, to survive as long as they have, deer
long ago developed social rules or mechanisms that would keep
deer herds and their individual members fit and competitive."
There is little doubt Dr. Guynn has developed a great deal of
foresight regarding the future management needs of white-tailed
For years many private biologists
and wildlife researchers have been urging governmental game agencies
to consider the social mechanisms of big-game populations in
their management approach. While some agencies have listened,
the majority have not. As a result, many landowners and hunters
have accepted the responsibility of harvesting the correct sex
and age of deer on their property by implementing a QDM program.
For example, in 1993 the landowners
and hunters in Dooly County, Georgia, voluntarily implemented
a county-wide QDM program. The three-year trial program began
with a 66% public (landowner and hunter) approval, but just three
years later, a follow-up survey revealed that 74% of landowners
and 89% of hunters approved of the program. Imagine nearly nine
out of 10 hunters in an entire county in total agreement! Impressively,
the number of 3.5+ year old bucks in the harvest increased by
156% in three seasons. Even with a very liberal doe harvest,
the deer population has not disappeared as some hunters initially
feared. Dooly County hunters have passed the test and now practice
what they preach. Credit for this success goes to the landowners
and hunters of Dooly County. The Georgia DNR has agreed to allow
Dooly County to continue their QDM program and has established
procedures for other counties to do the same. As a result, another
county has implemented the program and several other counties
are currently going through the process to do likewise.
It is amazing what landowners,
hunters and biologists can do when they work together for the
future of white-tailed deer. Although many traditions are hard
to change, according to Dr. R. Larry Marchinton, noted whitetail
authority and Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia,
"QDM is a management philosophy whose time has come."
Like some biologists, many hunters
do not understand what QDM is all about and simply discount the
philosophy. Instead, they advocate the traditional deer management
(TDM) approach of shooting almost all of the yearling bucks and
insufficient numbers of does. What typically results are large,
poor quality deer herds containing few, if any, adult bucks.
Dr. James Kroll from Stephen F. Austin University writes, "A
study of population trends, harvest age and sex structure of
white-tailed deer provides concern for the future of the species
and creates serious questions about the efficiency of modern
deer management principles."
While TDM was successful in restoring
deer herds across much of this country, increasingly, this approach
is becoming obsolete. Since we face so many deer problems today,
there must be an alternative to TDM. The need to embrace a new
deer management paradigm has come and the answer is QDM! Dr.
Kroll urges "all agency biologists to develop strategies
immediately, which are aimed at dampening white-tailed deer population
growth", specifically, using QDM principles!
In conclusion, it is clear that
today's hunters are more knowledgeable about deer biology and
management than ever before and, armed with the right information
and assistance, most are capable of effectively managing the
deer on their lands. We must recognize that biologists make management
recommendations and hunters make management decisions.
This is not to say that the services of qualified wildlife biologists
will no longer be required. On the contrary, wildlife biologists
have and will continue to play an integral role in scientific
Furthermore, we encourage governmental
agencies to recognize the benefits of QDM and become active participants
in directing the future of deer management. Ultimately, our children
and grandchildren will have to live with our decision...do we
stay with TDM or turn over a new leaf called QDM?
Prominent wildlife biologist,
John Ozoga says it best, "Generally speaking, we have a
choice. We hunters can either lead the way with progressive QDM,
in an effort to create more natural deer populations, and show
our true concern for the long-term welfare of the whitetail,
or we can wait until we're literally forced into action - just
to save our sport." Clearly, the future of deer hunting
is in our hands. In Part II, we will look at hunter attitudes
under a QDM program and discuss habitat impacts associated with
too many deer.