DEER MANAGEMENT Q & A
Text and Photos by Charles J. Alsheimer
mentioned earlier, my first exposure to quality deer management came in 1989 when
I met Al Brothers while hunting and photographing in Texas. I asked a lot of questions
during my meeting with Brothers, and the answers he provided convinced me that
QDM was a superior alternative to traditional deer management. Since then, as
I've attempted to spread the QDM message in my writings and at my seminars, I've
had the chance to field numerous questions on the subject from interested sportsmen.
What follows is a synopsis of the previous chapters, presented in question and
answer format. Knowing the answers to these questions will increase your understanding
of the quality deer management concept and make you a better advocate of the QDM
Q: What is quality
A: In a nutshell, QDM is a form of deer management that produces
quality bucks, does, and fawns. The harvesting of yearling and two year old bucks
is restrained in order to produce mature males. The harvesting of does is emphasized
in order to control the whitetail population's adult doe to antlered buck ratio.
In addition, the practice strives to keep all deer habitat at a high level. Finally,
quality deer management should strive to improve landowner relations and increase
the quality of the hunter in the field. The end result is a quality hunt.
Why is quality deer management becoming so popular?
A: The popularity of quality
deer management is due largely to the fact that hunters are becoming better educated.
The demographics of the hunting population also play a role. As hunters grow older,
they begin to look for ways to improve their hunting experience, and one of the
best ways is better management of the land they use and the deer they hunt.
Does "quality" deer hunting differ from "trophy" deer hunting?
A: Yes. In many cases, trophy hunting pays little attention to the habitat and
the overall composition of the deer herd. Quality deer hunting is more comprehensive.
It addresses both habitat creation and harvest management. Many trophy hunters
set out to harvest the biggest buck they can with little regard for carrying capacities
or adult doe to antlered buck ratios. QDM emphasizes the development of mature
bucks, as well as habitat creation and balanced sex ratios.
for Quality Bucks
components are necessary to produce quality whitetail bucks?
A: Age, genetics,
good nutrition, and herd management. Of the four ingredients, age and nutrition
are the most important. Once bucks reach maturity, "they are what they eat"
in most instances, so the two go together like hand in glove.
What is considered a "quality" buck?
A: A quality buck is one that
is reaching maturity or is fully mature Ð one that is approaching his prime or
is already in it. Bucks generally need at least three years to get to this point.
During the first three years of life, a buck's nutritional intake enables him
to build bones and muscles. Only after their bodies are fully developed will bucks
produce their best antlers.
Are spikes genetically inferior?
A: No. In most cases, spike bucks are not
inferior. The old adage "once a spike, always a spike" could not be
further from the truth. There are seven primary reasons why a yearling buck grows
spike antlers and only one of the seven involves genetics. A one-year-old spike
buck is equivalent to a twelve-year-old boy. The fact that his body is still in
its early stages of development makes it very difficult to predict what he might
one day become. It won't be until age three or four that you will have a good
idea of what his potential is.
What is an acceptable antlered buck to adult doe ratio?
A: Most biologists
agree that a ratio of one antlered buck for every one or two adult does is an
appropriate goal. However, most would also agree that one antlered buck for every
three adult does can provide good QDM results. Once the buck to do ratio goes
beyond one adult buck to three adult does, any semblance of a quality deer herd
begins to slip away as the bucks become more worn down and the overall health
of the herd begins to suffer.
Many hunters think that it is wrong to harvest does because more does will result
in more buck fawns? Is this wrong?
A: Unfortunately, this is a flawed assumption.
Each deer eats between one and two tons of food per year, so the land can only
support a certain number of deer. When the doe population is protected, it generally
means that the buck population is over-pressured and over-harvested. This often
forces yearlings to do most of the breeding because there are fewer older bucks
in the herd. When there are too many does in an area and the buck population is
limited, all of the does are not bred when they come into estrous the first time
and they cycle again twenty-eight days later. Consequently, the rut is drawn out
and fawns are born a month later than normal. Also, because bucks are severely
stressed, their antlers tend to be stunted the following year. To prevent these
things from occurring, does must be harvested in order to maintain a balanced
Will QDM Work & Where Won't It Work?
Q: Where will quality deer management work?
A: QDM will work in nearly every
corner of the whitetail's range, although some areas are better suited than others.
In many parts of America, state game departments are reluctant to implement QDM.
Therefore, private landowners must organize and work together to carry out the
Q: Where will
quality deer management have a difficult time working?
A: The QDM concept
is difficult to implement without government help in areas where there are large
tracts of land that are open to the public. Hunters who use public lands tend
to be more reluctant to pass up smaller bucks, because they believe that someone
else will harvest any buck they pass up. Also, because they are not landowners
and do not have a vested interest in the deer herd, hunters who use public areas
are less likely to care about the herd's quality.
Q: How do you
get a QDM program off the ground?
A: There are several ways. If you own enough
land (more than 150-200 acres) that has good food, water, and cover, you just
have to convince yourself to get started. However, there is power in numbers and
much more can be accomplished if there are others who want to join you in starting
a program. So, the best way to get a QDM program off the ground is to meet with
local landowners, present the vision, establish guidelines, and implement the
Q: How much land
is needed for QDM to work?
A: A rule of thumb is to have 1,000 contiguous
acres. However, quality deer management will work with much less. There are many
examples of QDM being successful on as little as 125 acres. Very few people own
1,000 acres of land, so cooperation among neighboring landowners is key.
What if all local landowners don't wish to be part of the program?
is not a problem; QDM will still work. Actually, the bulk of QDM land is not contiguous.
This is especially true in the Northeast. In the area where I live, some land
is under QDM and some is not. This creates a checkerboard-like appearance in an
aerial photo where the QDM properties are clearly marked. The key to success for
landowners that practice QDM in an area with a "checkerboard landscape"
is the ability to hold deer on properties they are managing. This can be achieved
by planting nutritional food sources on at least two to five percent of the property,
setting aside at least one-third of the property as a sanctuary, and adopting
low-pressure hunting techniques. Access to certain parts of the property (the
area designated as a sanctuary) should be extremely limited during the season
and drive and still-hunting should be abolished.
What rules should be used to determine whether a buck is big enough to harvest?
A: The guidelines will vary from one landowner to the next. Some QDM groups protect
all bucks smaller than six points. Others say that a buck must have at least eight
points before it can be harvested. On my property, a buck must have at least eight
points and a sixteen-inch inside spread. For our area a buck will probably be
at least three years old before he will have a rack that meets my criteria. This
is the age class I prefer to hunt. If my minimum were just eight points, I would
run the risk of killing an eight-point yearling (one-year old). A yearling of
this size has superior genetics. He is the "golden goose" of the deer
herd and needs to be saved so his full potential can be realized and his genetics
can be passed on. By adding a minimum spread rule, I can make sure he will not
Q: Are there
any exceptions to the minimum for bucks?
A: Again, every group has its own
rules. However, in most cases, groups of landowners give young or first time hunters
the option of harvesting any legal buck. It is important for new hunters to experience
success before imposing tough rules on them. After harvesting a buck or two, they
will be in a better position to understand what QDM is all about.
How important is record keeping?
A: Very important. If you do not know what
you are killing or cannot estimate how many deer you have on your property, it
is difficult to successfully manage your herd. For this reason it is critical
to age the jawbone from each deer harvested. In addition, deer sightings should
be monitored, making special note of the sex and approximate ages of the animals
seen. Doing this will make you a better manager.
Are What They Eat
a QDM plan is in place, what should be provided in the way of habitat?
Whitetails consume large amounts of food, so it is important to provide a balanced
diet for them. The best supplemental foods will vary by region, but it is tough
to beat top-performing clovers and other deer-oriented forages when it comes to
planting food plots. Along these lines it's critical that the forages be of such
a nature that they provide a nutritional year round source of food. Also, a supplemental
mineral mix is very important, especially during the critical antler-growing season.
Q: Where should the food
plots be located?
A: Try to keep your food plots away from neighboring land,
especially if the owner of the adjacent property does not practice QDM. The plots
should be long and narrow and provide deer with nearby cover so they will feel
safe in coming to the plot during daylight hours. Also, try to position the plots
so they run north to south.
Is anything required in addition to food plots?
A: Yes. Because whitetails
need food throughout the year, it is important to develop a management plan that
provides adequate browse during the winter months. On my land, for example, I
selectively cut some areas (leaving the mast-producing trees) to provide deer
with the browse they like best, which is apple, basswood, ash, white cedar, aspen,
maple, oak and sumac. It's always best to contact an independent forester or your
state's conservation department for assistance. You may also want to plant some
trees (mast and fruit producing species) for the future.
Q: What are the biggest
obstacles for quality deer management hunters to overcome?
A: The tendency
to harvest too many immature bucks and not enough does is probably the biggest
hurdle. For QDM to reach to its full potential, the doe segment of the population
must be kept in check.
Are there any other problems?
A: Public perception is a significant obstacle,
and it comes in many forms. You will always be faced with non-QDM hunters trying
to take advantage of those who are practicing QDM. This usually comes in the form
of hunters setting up their stands on or very close to the boundaries of QDM land
and shooting anything they see. Such hunters completely disregard the program
practiced on the neighboring property; instead, they view the situation as a golden
opportunity to shoot a buck at the QDM landowner's expense. All too often, such
hunters wind up killing one- and two-year-old bucks that the QDM landowner is
trying to protect. The end result is hard feelings between neighbors. Such situations
often escalate into what I call border wars.
Will QDM still be around twenty years from now?
A: Absolutely. As we move
further into the twenty-first century, quality deer management is arguably the
hottest topic in the whitetail world. In the quest to make deer hunting better,
hunters across America are embracing the concept. It is exciting, challenging,
and makes hunters better stewards of the land God has entrusted to them.
Deer Management: The Basics and Beyond, Charlie Alsheimer's newest book, is
loaded with valuable information on QDM. More details about this title and Charlie's
other books are available in our online store.