The Evolution of QDM A Michigan Success Story

By Charles J Alsheimer

If you haven’t noticed, deer management models are changing rapidly across America. Though traditional deer management models of selective doe harvests and unlimited buck harvests are still the norm, more landowners are working hard to produce a better deer management model. No longer are hunters and landowners content with deer herds heavily skewed toward does and yearling bucks. From Maine to Florida to Wisconsin, the trend is shifting toward better deer and better deer hunting.

In 1991, I was a part of a group of landowners in western New York who decided to try a relatively new concept of deer management (at least for our area) called quality deer management. It took a while to gain the attention of local hunters, but the results have been nothing short of amazing.

Evergreen’s dream has become a reality. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Not only are more landowners in the Thumb area becoming interested in it, but the quality of the deer herd and habitat is increasing. For example, Evergreen’s 2006 census reports revealed a 121 percent increase in the number of bucks that were 2-1/2 years old or older from 2003 to 2005. That’s pretty impressive for any part of the country.

As a writer, I was able to chronicle our area’s progress and successes. After I started writing about our area’s QDM journey, I began receiving inquiries from other parts of the country, asking me to come and share how our group got such a successful QDM program running.

A month after 9/11, Michigan’s Thumb Area Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association brought me to the Great Lake’s State to share with hunters and landowners my deer hunting seminar, which is geared toward all aspects of quality deer management, including how to get a program started. While there, I met a group of landowners who not only had the QDM vision but were putting that into action. Their story is worth sharing.


Sanilac County is about 100 miles northeast of Detroit, Mich., in some of the most productive farmland in the United States. To Michiganders, this area is known as the Thumb Area. The region’s topography is relatively flat, and the habitat is made up of about 80 percent farmland and 20 percent woods. With abundant cash-crop farms and adequate cover, this rich farm belt teems with whitetail deer. As you might expect, the deer hunting tradition in this part of Michigan runs deep.

Until the last decade, the deer harvest in this area fell within the traditional deer management model. In short, the buck harvest was pretty much, “If it’s brown and has antlers, it’s down.” Yearling bucks made up more than 90 percent of the yearly harvest. In addition, does were underharvested throughout the area.


Ray Hendrick is a carpenter from Cass City, Mich. and one of a handful of hunters and landowners who caught the quality deer management vision in the mid-'90s. “I had hunted whitetails allmy life,” he said. “I had shot quite a few small bucks and really wanted to raise the bar but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

“In the early 1990s, some fellow Thumb hunters and I began reading about the QDM movements that were taking place in other parts of the U.S. and believed we could have the same kind of deermanagement programhere. Our goal early on was to be able to hunt better bucks and bring our doe population down.”

In 1995, Frankenmuth dentist Frank Piesko got the ball rolling by approaching one of his neighboring landowners, Phil Nichols. His plan was to see if Nichols’ hunting camp would consider letting small bucks walk during the upcoming season. They came to an agreement to put most yearling bucks off limits on their land and a couple of other properties that wanted to participate. That represented 1,080 acres.

Unfortunately the agreement began unraveling before it could gainmomentum. During the first hunting season after the agreement, one of the camp’s hunters shot a buck that was supposed to be off limits. The kill left some with a sour taste in their mouth and jeopardized
the agreement Piesko and Nichols had made.

The agreement took an even bigger hit in 1997 when several small yearling bucks were harvested. At that point, things began unraveling quickly. Not wanting to see the agreement end, Piesko and Nichols decided to have a meeting. This time, they sought outside help in an attempt to educate their hunters by having a local conservation officer with a background in quality deer management speak. Rather than confine the meeting to just their hunters, they invited a few surrounding landowners to the event. By the time the gathering ended, additional landowners came on board, swelling the acreage to 1,280 acres.


From the beginning, everyone involved made it clear the program was voluntary. The guidelines allowed young, handicapped, older or first-time hunters to take a legal buck of their choice. After the first buck, they were asked to follow the cooperative’s recommended guidelines, which meant a buck had to have a minimum of eight points and a 15-inch ear-to-ear spread. In addition, button bucks were off-limits.

The 1998 hunting season was a bit difficult for some. Though voluntary, the recommended guidelines forced hunters to pass up bucks, something most had never done in their life. Throughout the season, only three bucks were hung on the various camps’ deer poles. However, the cooperative more than made up for the lean buck harvest by killing 35 does, a number unheard of before the group was formed.When the 1998 season had ended, most within the cooperative believed they had turned the corner, and the future looked bright. That was confirmed in 1999.

When the 1999 season opened, hunters within the group were excited by what was happening. In addition to the yearling buck sightings, there were many nice 2-1/2-year-old bucks roaming participating properties. In 1999, the co-op killed four bucks and 35 does. The program was about to blossom. Year three of the cooperative, 2000, was a real eye-opener to members and surrounding landowners who were not a part of the group. Now there were 3-1/2-year-old bucks roaming the landscape, and the sight of these brutes began getting a lot of attention. Six 2-1/2- and 3-1/2-year-old bucks were killed in Fall 2000 by cooperating members, along with a 9-pointer that didn’t quite hit the recommended guidelines. As in the previous two years, the hunters killed 35 does.


Big antlers have a way of getting a hunter’s attention. By the time the third season was in the bag, several landowners bordering the cooperative began asking how the cooperative was doing things.With interest increasing, it was decided to have another informational meeting to see if others wanted to be part of the group. Groupmembers decided to invite additional landowners within Evergreen Township, with the core area covering eight square miles, or 5,120 acres.

The meeting was held at the local town hall, with 35 landowners attending. The gathering generated much discussion, and by the time word had spread from the meeting, more landowners in the township wanted to be part of the group’s quality deer management movement, swelling the total acreage to 10,000. The properties owned by the participators varied from 10 to 400 acres. The group officially became known as the Evergreen Deer Management Cooperative.

Although the original members were enthusiastic to have new members participating, they wouldn’t know of the newcomer’s commitment until the 2001 hunting season rolled around. Based on the limited amount of shooting during the season and the reported kill, it was obvious the participators were serious about their commitment to Evergreen.

Because everything was voluntary, it was difficult to determine the exact deer kill in 2001. However, many fine bucks and more than 100 does were taken. As near as can be determined, the kill was in line with the 2000 harvest but larger because three times as much acreage was involved.


To take its deer management program  to the next level, Evergreen started taking a deer census in Summer 2001 that determined how many does should be targeted for harvest. Though not a science or perfect, it was decided the study would be done once a week for eight weeks each summer, starting in early July. To accomplish that, two to four co-op members cruise township roads the last two hours of the day and count the number of mature does and bucks they see. This lets them get a handle on whether they are higher or lower than the estimated 46 deer per square mile the Michigan DNR says their area has. In turn, they use their census numbers to help plan the doe harvest each year.

The group works hard to determine accurate harvest numbers within Evergreen Township. Because the program is voluntary, harvest numbers are not exact but close. It is estimated that about 15 to 20 mature bucks (2-1/2-plusyear-olds) and nearly 100 does are killed each year.


To keep the excitement level high, Evergreen hosts an Antler Round-Up each year at a local church. The event has become a “must attend” for local deer hunters. Evergreen provides free salads, venison brats and nonalcoholic beverages, all donated by local meat processors and grocery stores. To defray costs, the group does 50-50 and muzzleloader raffles. But there is more to the Antler Round-Up than food and giveaways.

At each Antler Round-Up, there are seminar speakers who provide cutting-edge concepts on food plots, quality deer management and what is going on within Michigan’s deer hunting community. Official measurers from the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan are also present at each round-up to measure racks.


The bottom line is that Evergreen’s dream has become a reality. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Not only are more landowners in the Thumb area becoming interested in it, but the quality of the deer herd and habitat is increasing. For example, Evergreen’s 2006 census reports revealed a 121 percent increase in the number of bucks that were 2-1/2 years old or older from 2003 to 2005. That’s pretty impressive for any part of the country.

Perhaps Evergreen’s success can be summed up best by Hendrick. “What we’ve seen go on here is impressive," he said. "I always dreamed of having deer hunting like Illinois, Iowa and other places can offer. We now have it, thanks to the hard work of our cooperating members. You know, when this all began, we had a lot of doubters. Well, no more. I see things only getting better because we have so many dedicated landowners and hunters involved in the process. It’s been wonderful to be a part of it.”