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QUALITY DEER MANAGEMENT Q & A

Text and Photos by Charles J. Alsheimer

As 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 movement.

QDM Basics
Q: What is quality deer management?
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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Chemistry for Quality Bucks
Q: What 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.

Q: What is considered a "quality" buck?
A: A quality buck is one that is reaching maturity or is fully mature 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 herd.

Where 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 practice.

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.

Organizing the Movement
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 plan

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.

Q: What if all local landowners don't wish to be part of the program?
A: This 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.

Q: 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 be harvested.

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.

Q: 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.

They Are What They Eat
Q: Once a QDM plan is in place, what should be provided in the way of habitat?
A: 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.

Q: 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.

Challenges of QDM
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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Quality 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.

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