Virginia Hunt Club Takes QDM Challenge

By:  Jeffrey M. Swortzel

Our Beaver Dam Hunt Club was established in June 1997 in southwestern Virginia. The club was created after several members realized they were unsatisfied with the size and quality of the bucks they were hunting. The members realized that most of the bucks they were killing were young deer. Many of them were only one or two years old. At that point , the members began researching management styles, searching for one that would let them grow larger bucks while creating a healthier deer herd.    

The founding members of the club believed that the Virginia Game Commission had waited too long before transitioning to a strategy designed to maintain the deer herd, although they had done an excellent job at building the herd. Hunters were seeing many deer in areas where deer were once scarce. However, the herd had changed. Hunters were seeing deer that were young, and most were does. They believed the Game Commission, by continuing to encourage buck harvesting, was letting the deer herd grow disproportionately. The Beaver Dam Hunt Club needed a new strategy — one designed to maintain the herd size while ensuring a more balanced sex ratio.   

After a great deal of research, we decided that the quality deer management system appeared to fit its long-term goals. It offered the potential for the most benefits. Early research indicated that a balanced sex ratio was very important to realize the maximum benefits from a QDM effort. The club decided that a minimum size should be established, and that no bucks would be harvested until they reached that size. After a lengthy discussion, the minimum was set: Antlers had to extend to a point even with the tips of the ears or larger, and bucks had to have eight or more points.

The strategy needed would let young bucks survive while encouraging hunters to harvest enough does to keep the herd in check. In the new system, a minimum size was established to restrict the amount of bucks harvested. Only older bucks and does of any age, would be fair game. This harvest rule would allow meat hunters in the club a seemingly endless supply of tender venison while giving trophy hunters a chance at a truly large buck.  

These rules would help greatly but did not address the increase in protein required to increase the health of the herd. The buck-harvest rule would protect young bucks, but did it go far enough? Research indicated that protecting young bucks was just the first step. Members believed that an increase in the health of the herd would lead to a corresponding increase in antler size. We needed to find ways to increase the protein available to deer. A plan designed to enhance the protein intake of deer would be achieved in two ways.  

The first method was to plant food plots. Our first food-plot attempts were terrible failures. We had several members who had planted gardens, but none had a background in farming. Our members knew how to grow food plants but did not understand many important issues about soil preparation and other farming basics. Many of the garden techniques were applicable, but many did not translate directly to planting a one-acre or larger field. Some of our mistakes were easy to correct. We planted the seeds too deep or when it was too dry, or we did not conduct a soil test.

Finally, we learned from our mistakes. The club planted a field of Imperial Whitetail Clover the day before the arrival of a hurricane was forecast. The field grew beautifully, and we started seeing deer in numbers we had not seen before. Unfortunately, we had another problem. The deer liked the one-acre food plot of Imperial Clover so much they devoured it. So, club members determined they had to find additional acres suitable for planting. Agreements with neighboring property owners seemed to be the perfect solution.  

A beautiful field of clover is one thing, but it is not an entire management plan. To develop a plan, we worked with consultants at the Whitetail Institute, who were very helpful. By implementing their suggestions, we continued to make progress. We wanted to consider other plantings that would work well in rotation with our clover. We settled on Imperial PowerPlant, an annual mixture of plants that would fit nicely into our plans. The PowerPlant mixture contains peas, beans, grain sorghum and other plants to which deer are attracted.   

Our goal was to provide our deer with great nutrition for as many consecutive months as possible. We realized we needed to learn about crop rotation and its effect on a long-term food-plot strategy. We had not thought about weeds and their impact on the longevity of a food plot. There seemed to be an unending stream of problems. We were beginning to learn that a QDM strategy provides a solid foundation and framework. However, like most things in life, each day brings new lessons to learn and challenges to solve.  

The second method we identified as a viable solution for providing protein was found in a supplemental feeding program. Our program was designed as a winter supplement to our normal food-plot program in warmer weather. Providing continuous protein might be simpler in Southern states. We recognize it is much more difficult in the areas with a distinct winter.  

Our supplemental feeding program started out slowly and raised abundant questions. We answered these questions while attempting to implement the program:  How big should feeders be? Will wild deer eat out of them? How much feed should we buy? Will raccoons and other animals be a problem? How large should the roofs on our feeders be?   

The questions never seemed to let up. All were answered eventually, and our program continued on schedule. Again, we made many mistakes but continued to learn. As you can see, creating a whitetail paradise using Quality Deer Management techniques is a process of continuing challenges—a process that will result in larger deer and a healthier deer herd. Using the free resources at the Whitetail Institute and the expertise of club members, we have made great progress. We killed our first 10-point buck several years later. On that day, two 10-point bucks were shot. We were just beginning to see the benefits from our QDM strategy. Our largest buck to date was shot by Tommy Murray during the  muzzleloading season two years ago. This buck was the product of implementing a Quality Deer Management program.  

Don’t be discouraged by the many questions raised in this article. The answers to all the questions came to our hunt club with help from the Whitetail Institute and through trial and error. If you are patient, and the members of your hunt club have the discipline to pass on small but legal bucks, quality deer management might be for you. In the opinion of the members of the Beaver Dam Hunt Club, it seems to be the perfect solution. It is an outstanding whitetail management system and has the potential to produce amazing results.