QDM Part IIBy C.J. Winand


Future Deer Management: Are we on the right track? (PART II)

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 Station’s Silviculture Research Unit has determined through research that one-third of Pennsylvania’s 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 Pennsylvania’s hardwood industry (the nation’s 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 Leopold’s 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.

QDM - Do you have what it takes?
Is 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 whitetail’s 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 future. 


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 can’t 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, it’s 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 doesn’t 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 Leopold’s (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 practices.

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.


For more information on Quality Deer Management, contact the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) a nonprofit organization dedicated to sound deer management and ethical hunting. Call 1-800-209-DEER or write to P.O. Box 227, Watkinsville, GA 30677. The $20.00 annual membership fee entitles you to their quarterly journal, Quality Whitetails, and access to a wealth of other educational materials such as their latest video "Let Him Go So He Can Grow: Understanding Quality Deer Management" and their book, Quality Whitetails: The Why and How of Quality Deer Management, written by 24 nationally recognized biologists and edited by Dr.'s. Karl V. Miller and R. Larry Marchinton. Membership in the QDMA is a hunter’s first step in achieving a quality deer herd and improving the quality of their hunting experience.


CJ Winand is a whitetail biologist from Randallstown, MD. He is a staff writer for Bowhunter and writes the "Huntin' Whitetails" column.