Snowflakes floated to the ground as I made my way from the parking lot to the school entrance. I found the auditorium where I was to set up my projection equipment for a seminar I’d be doing. Before I could get set up several men approached and introduced themselves. They were part of a group of landowners who hoped to generate interest in quality deer management by hosting an antler round up. My role in the evening’s event was to share with attendees how a quality deer management program could provide better deer and better hunting.
When my show prep was complete, I made my way into the gymnasium where vendors’ displays were set up. Throughout the room, people were mingling around displays, enjoying the evening. Working my way around the gym, I stopped to chat with people who had come early to see the variety of archery, taxidermists and food plot displays before taking in the seminar I’d be doing. In one corner of the gym the New York State Big Buck Club’s antler measuring tables were drawing a lot of attention as officials measured racks that attendees were bringing in to have scored. The sight was festive.
When my seminar was finished and the room had cleared, I had a chance to sit down and discuss with the show’s sponsors what had taken place. One of their goals was to introduce the public to a better form of deer management. All agreed that the night went well and hoped the evening’s events would be a springboard to get hunters and landowners interested in QDM.
During my two-hour drive home, I compared what I had just seen to Winter 1991, when landowners in my part of New York state decided to form an organization with a goal to have better deer and better hunting. In that year, seven other landowners and I formed the Steuben County Quality Whitetail Group. By the Winter 1992, we were able to put together a QDM brochure and conduct our first Antler Round Up, in Avoca, N.Y. The event was a huge success, prompting us to turn it into an annual event.
In the years that followed, our Antler Round Up drew hunters and landowners from across New York and northern Pennsylvania who came to learn about deer management, food plots, forest management, hunting strategies and so much more. In retrospect none of us had any idea that what we had started would one day morph into the quality deer management movement our part of the Northeast has experienced. Now, 20 years after The Steuben County Quality Whitetail Group was formed, other groups across the Northeast and Midwest have formed and flourished, thanks to the efforts of dedicated sportsman and The Quality Deer Management Association.
WHAT IS QDM?
If you are reading Whitetail News for the first time, I’ll bring you up to speed on traditional deer management and the concept of quality deer management, and why so many sportsmen are embracing the QDM philosophy.
For decades America’s whitetail populations have been managed under a concept known as traditional deer management. In a nutshell, TDM was used to rebuild America’s whitetail herds after the market-hunting era (1880 to 1910) and is still practiced today in many areas. Basically it lets hunters kill any legal antlered buck while protecting all or part of the antlerless population.
Quality deer management differs greatly from TDM. It is a philosophy/practice that unites landowners, hunters and biologists in a common goal of producing biologically and socially balanced deer herds. It produces quality does, fawns and bucks. Yearling and 2-year-old bucks are protected to produce mature males, and doe harvesting is emphasized to control the adult-doe-to-antlered-buck ratio. In addition, the practice strives to keep deer habitat at a quality level. QDM, if done right, also improves landowner relations and creates better hunters. The end result is better deer, better habitat and better hunting—a win-win program.
One might ask after reading the last paragraph, “QDM sounds great, so why doesn’t every state agency and hunter want to embrace the concept?” The answer can be complex but basically some view it as threatening and others simply resist anything that smacks of change.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Approaching the public with the QDM message can be a touchy affair. I’ll never forget the first two seminars held by our fledgling Steuben County Quality Whitetail Group in New York, soon after we organized. The first seminar went smoothly, and no one in the audience voiced their disapproval with what we were proposing.
A couple of weeks later, the group was asked to speak to a gathering in a bordering county. During the question and answer segment of the program, several individuals were vocal in their disapproval of any type of quality deer management. One person accused us of trying to turn New York into an Illinois, where the common man could no longer hunt because all the land was leased to the wealthy.
Another called quality deer management the worst type of deer management ever devised. When we asked the person to elaborate, he went off on a tangent and never addressed the issue. Two other attendees chimed in with negative comments, as well. I’m sure the opinions of those four individuals left many in the audience scratching their heads.
One of the frustrating things for QDM organizers is the snail’s pace at which the public accepts the concept. I can share from experience that you often feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. There will always be dissenters, but a little planning can keep them to a minimum.
Being organized is the gold standard when it comes to selling a concept. The best sales people are those who not only have a vision but also a plan to make the vision a reality. Having your ducks in a row is critical when selling quality deer management to hunters and landowners. For starters, QDM’s benefits must take center stage. And one of the biggest benefits is that the concept has always worked where it was given a chance.
In my travels as a seminar speaker, I’ve worked for many QDM cooperatives the past 15 years, and few do it as well as the Thumb Area Branch of the QDMA, located in the eastern Thumb area of Michigan. Made up of a cluster of smaller co-ops, this branch has put together two very informative booklets (QDM 101 and QDM 201) to help educate the public on the virtues of quality deer management. The branch distributes them free, at a cost to the branch of $1 each for printing. To date, more than 20,000 of the booklets have been made available to Thumb area residents.
One of the Thumb’s co-ops, the Rubicon coop, uses large roadside billboards to show the hunting successes their members are having. Concerning this, Rubicon organizer Paul Plantinga said, “The roadside billboards have been great. For the past three years the boards have run from June through December, with three to four new locations being posted each month. We have displayed as many as 33 locations in one season. Because this is a strong hunting area we’ve had no resistance from locals. As a result, area hunters have not been afraid to send us photos to be considered for the billboards. We also use permanent miniboards with great success. Currently we have about 20 locations for these mini-boards around Huron County and have a waiting list of property owners who are willing to display them. So, the billboards and the QDM 101 and 201 booklets have allowed us to reach the public with the QDM message.”
Certainly, great things can be done through an organized QDM branch, but it’s safe to say that many QDM practitioners are not part of an organized group. In the past 20 years, I’ve seen hundreds of QDM programs formed by individual landowners who chose not to organize. Many landowners in Bradford County, Pa. (in the rich natural gas region known as Marcellus Shale) have a very successful quality deer management program, without any organizational structure. They’ve been successful through selfeducation, sharing ideas, and benefiting from the Bradford County Trophy Deer and Bear Club, which was founded by farmer and avid deer hunter, Roger Kingsley. I first met Kingsley when he and several other Bradford County landowners attended our Steuben County Whitetail Group seminars in hopes of finding out more about the practice of quality deer management.
Through the years, I’ve been intrigued by the success of the quality deer management movement in Bradford County. In discussing this with Kingsley, he said, “Many landowners here in Bradford County have seen tremendous success growing better deer by being better educated on what it takes to have a quality deer management program. Though we are not officially organized we have a great network among landowners here in the county, so we’ve been able to learn from each other.
“The Bradford County Trophy Deer and Bear Club does not go out of its way to promote quality deer management, but I feel it has an indirect impact on the QDM movement in the county because of what the club does to encourage sound wildlife management. One way we do it is by having an annual banquet to honor the trophies that have been harvested in the county. Showcasing the quality of animals harvested here has influenced many landowners to manage their property for better wildlife. So, I’d have to say that what the club does has had a significant impact on the QDM philosophy.”
The success my immediate area has had growing better deer is a direct result of the Steuben County Quality Whitetail Group. The information the group disseminated got the ball rolling and kept the fire lit for more than 20 years. It birthed numerous small QDM co-ops here in my part of New York State, including our farm and three surrounding properties. Together the four farms encompass about 750 acres. Though all of us manage our land a little differently, we all strive to have better deer, habitat and hunting. The bottom line is that success never happens in a vacuum. It’s a process. We’ve been able to do it in part by the information Whitetail News provides, other media dedicated to quality deer management, and the cooperative that got us started.
Keys to Cooperative QDM
1. Be organized: Failing to plan is a plan to fail. So before forming a QDM cooperative set goals.
2. Think long term: Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s important not to hurry the process. Win the public’s trust with facts, results, and a heavy dose of kindness.
3. Keep the fire lit: Keep QDM and its virtues before the public by hosting seminars, field days, etc.
4. Set a good example: “More is caught than is taught.” Setting a good example for fellow hunters can be far more convincing than lecturing them on whitetail management.
5. Don’t be pushy: Never try to force the QDM concept on people. By breaking down the concept and presenting it in bite-size pieces, you’ll be more successful.
6. Love your neighbor: To have a successful cooperative requires getting along with neighboring landowners. Treat them like you want to be treated.
7. Share ideas: Education is power. Sharing what works for you will help to sell the QDM concept with interested parties.