In Part I we contrasted two deer management
strategies, Quality Deer Management (QD) and Traditional Deer Management
(TDM). QDM involves restraint in harvesting young bucks combined with
an adequate harvest of female deer to maintain a healthy deer herd in
balance with existing habitat conditions. Byproducts of this approach
are healthy deer herds, increased opportunities to harvest quality bucks
and opportunities for hunters to take an active role in deer management.
In contrast, the TDM approach typically involves no restrictions on
buck harvest and limited or no doe harvest. Historically, the TDM approach
has resulted in herds with skewed adult sex ratios and few, if any,
mature bucks. In many parts of the country, QDM is rapidly displacing
TDM as the most common management approach.
In most areas, deer populations can be controlled effectively
by hunters if a concerted effort is made. However, most hunters are
too conservative in their doe harvests and unknowingly allow herds to
exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat. When deer populations reach
these levels, the habitat can be severely damaged and take decades to
recover. Over-browsing of oak/hickory forests (generally the best mast-producing
deer habitat) results in fewer saplings and begins the transition from
oak/hickory to the less desirable popular/maple/beech forest composition
which is inferior in its ability to support healthy deer populations.
This forest type will support far fewer deer for the next generation
of hunters...our children.
The Northeast Forest Experimental Stations Silviculture Research
Unit has determined through research that one-third of Pennsylvanias
woodlands are at risk from deer overbrowsing. Presently the annual economic
loss to the timber industry in Pennsylvania is 65 million. Other studies
have suggested that deer may completely wipe-out Pennsylvanias hardwood
industry (the nations largest) within the next 20 years. Other states
around the nation are compiling similar statistics.
The father of wildlife management, Aldo
Leopold said, Since game management boiled down to its essentials is
the control of game population density, it becomes apparent that an
understanding of density limits is essential to successful practice.
All too often, however, success is measured in terms of record kills
and not Leopolds goal of maintaining deer populations within the carrying
capacity of the habitat. The challenge is to encourage hunters and managers
to recognize this trend and adapt their management strategy accordingly.
Unless this challenge is accomplished swiftly, many ecosystems upon
which deer depend could be severely and irreversibly damaged.
Can individuals really take charge of the
deer on the properties they manage and/or hunt? Absolutely. Across the
nation, thousands of hunters are learning more about deer biology, ecology
and management through groups like the Quality Deer Management Association
(QDMA). This information makes them more knowledgeable hunters and
more effective deer managers.
The essentials of deer management are relatively simple. Textbooks
on wildlife management tell us that there is often more art than science
involved in integrating wildlife populations with habitat conditions.
However, the unstated key to successful wildlife management is people
management. This includes hunters, non-hunters, landowners, biologists
and others who interact with the land and its resources.
Dr. Grant Woods, President of Woods & Associates, Inc.,
a private wildlife consulting firm focusing on deer and deer hunters
across the country, has some interesting survey results. Dr. Woods has
found that the majority of hunters who have hunted under both QDM and
TDM programs prefer QDM. In fact, hunters responded that they participated
in QDM because it provided a better quality hunting experience, improved
deer herd quality, increased their chances to harvest a quality buck,
improved hunter ethics and presented a positive image to non-hunters.
It is interesting to note that many of these hunters had hunted under
TDM programs most of their lives prior to the evolution of QDM.
Initially, many hunting groups are opposed to harvesting large numbers
of female deer. However, within a few years, they are amazed at the
differences they witness in their deer herds. In fact, many of the seasoned
hunters state that they have seen more good bucks in one
year under QDM than they had in the past 10-20 years combined. Comments
like, I just want to thank you for sharing your management techniques
because I know my grandchildren will have the chance to hunt quality
bucks as I did so many years ago, are not uncommon.
Quality Deer Management the way of the future that will be widely
implemented throughout the 21st century? Many would
say yes, most definitely, while others argue it will be the downfall
of our beloved sport.
Changing from TDM to QDM requires a change in philosophy and values.
The needs of the deer herd, not the deer hunter, become the primary
focus. This transition requires a commitment to becoming more than just
a deer hunter - a deer manager. This involves learning about deer biology
and management and applying this information "on the ground"
on your hunting area. This said, patience is also a necessity because
traditions cannot be changed overnight.
QDM will increasingly gain acceptance as hunters become more informed
about the needs of whitetails. Additionally, evidence suggests that
hunters will support changes in deer management practices if they are
provided with the facts. Impressive and consistent QDM data are sprouting
up throughout the whitetails range and "average" hunters
are making it happen.
Although QDM had its beginnings in Texas,
its concepts have become widely accepted throughout the country. For
example, Mississippi and Arkansas have implemented statewide antler
restrictions and other states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan,
Illinois, New York and others have specific areas operating under QDM
guidelines. In addition, many other states are in the process of establishing
QDM areas. Without question, QDM is the management approach of the
This article was prompted by numerous conversations
with hunters who want more from their time afield. Although QDM is
not for everyone, it does offer an alternative to TDM. When I hear
hunters reminisce about the good old days and complain about present
day conditions, I cant help but make them aware of QDM. It is important
to note that QDM is not a panacea and has costs such as letting young
bucks walk and focusing the harvest on female deer. But, to those who
desire a quality hunting experience and an opportunity to become a deer
manager, the benefits of QDM far outweigh the costs.
It is important to point out that some wildlife
professionals do not promote QDM. Although their rationale is varied
and diverse, a common criticism is that QDM will lead to increased privatization
and leasing of lands. Although there are no data to support or refute
this assertion, there is no question that increasing privatization is
occurring. However, if you take a moment to reflect on where you hunted
as a child, chances are these areas are shopping centers, housing developments
or are now closed to hunting. Widespread privatization of prime hunting
areas is occurring at an alarming rate regardless of whether you hunt
under a QDM or TDM program. High lease fees for hunting, which were
unheard of just a few years ago, are now commonplace.
Before believing that QDM will increase privatization,
it should be pointed out that, in many areas, QDM has actually increased
hunter access. One reason is for this is that many landowners prefer
QDM hunters on their properties because they know they have a group
of dedicated and responsible hunters who follow sound management principles.
Another argument quoted by some TDM proponents
is that, "We already have quality deer in our state." Biological
records from these areas show yearling bucks weighing 120-ponds plus,
with multiple points. While this is true, what about the hunters who
want more from their hunting experience than just an opportunity to
harvest a yearling buck? QDM provides this option whereas TDM generally
does not. Obviously this is where the two camps differ. QDM is not
for all hunters, but why not give these hunters the option. As a management
tool, QDM is a viable alternative that satisfies both the management
objectives and the hunters needs. Studies conducted on the human dimensions
of wildlife management have shown that the hunting experience, more
than taking a deer is the primary factor determining hunter satisfaction.
Some TDM proponents argue that QDM will destroy
deer hunting as we know it because all QDM hunters care about are antlers.
Without question, in many circles, the big buck mentality has given
hunting a bad name. They believe this will cause the downfall of hunting
because many non-hunters disapprove of hunting for trophies only while
they support hunting for food. And lets be honest, the carrot for
QDM hunters are quality bucks. But, to get there we must make proper
harvest decisions. If you remember anything from this article, it's
that QDM is NOT about racks, its about more natural age structures,
sex ratios and healthy habitats...the way Mother Nature intended. QDM
educates hunters to have a vested interest in deer and to be good stewards
of the resource.
There are some who point out that TDM may
be reducing the genetic vigor of our deer herds. Wisconsin Department
of Natural Resources, wildlife biologist, Arlin Loomans, states that,
"Although there is no research that specifically shows a decline
in deer genetics for northern climates under TDM, common sense would
dictate otherwise." Loomans believes that QDM is here to stay
and that state wildlife agencies should partner with QDM groups to help
steer this effort. Otherwise, these groups will go it alone. Hopefully,
state wildlife agencies will heed his timely advice.
As the previous two articles have stated,
when given the facts, an increasing number of hunters are choosing QDM
over TDM. To know that every time you enter the woods there is realistic
chance of harvesting a quality buck is something some people under TDM
will never experience. This is unfortunate because it doesnt have to
be that way. Until hunters participate in the QDM "experience,"
the status quo will have to do. As for my daughter and me, we embrace
the QDM approach because we want the opportunity to give back to the
resource and to fulfill our role as wildlife managers.
If I have learned anything through my career as a wildlife biologist,
it is that we have an obligation to inform hunters on the basics of
wildlife management. Although there are many deer biologists who have
done some fantastic work, much more work remains. I, for one, believe
QDM is the first step in progressive deer management throughout the
country. I know from personal experiences that the QDM seed will grow
and prosper. Many hunters I work with explain the QDM philosophy as
a virus that simply can not be cured.
In conclusion, I would like to leave you
with this thought. Just like Aldo Leopolds (father of wildlife management)
first years, he fought many battles with little public support. Over
time he prevailed through research and his high morale character. I
often think about the ups and downs of his career and get inspiration
from his teachings. If we have learned anything from Leopold it is this,
whether you prescribe to a QDM or TDM philosophy, we should never cave
in to political pressure and let science dictate wildlife management
You too, can be a part of the excitement. Join the QDM movement and
become one of thousands of hunters/managers, landowners and biologists
who are proud to be working together toward a common goal -- ensuring
the future of the noble whitetail through quality management.