By this point, it should be obvious that the participants in a Quality Deer Management (QDM) program should be of a like mind, equally dedicated, and able to cooperate toward a common goal. After so much hard work, it is not uncommon for some QDM participants to “fall in love” with their cherished and protected bucks. A return to harvesting bucks can be emotionally jarring. At the same time, more pragmatic members may start to take the view that all that work should have a payoff in terms of trophies. Many QDM groups that have enjoyed good success can fall apart at this point.
The Reality of It All
Several natural realities must be faced. Not all areas are capable, because of food availability, soil type or fertility, or the genetics of the native deer, of producing monstrous bucks. Remember, the base goal of QDM is to produce the best quality deer possible on a given tract; there are no guarantees of Boone & Crockett candidates.
Another natural reality is that mature bucks normally constitute the smallest component of the overall deer population. QDM seeks to increase the cohort of maturing bucks by protecting young bucks and removing excess does. However, beyond a certain point, it is the quality of the bucks rather than their quantity that is more usually improved.
A final reality is that bucks die. Dr. Karl V. Miller, professor of wildlife management at the University of Georgia addresses this, “Every yearling that is passed by in a QDM program is not going to be available for harvest two or three years later. Many yearling males will disperse from the area where they were born, whereas others will succumb to disease, accidents, vehicles and predation. However, one thing is for sure – no buck is going to be available for harvest as a 3- or 4-year-old if it was put in the freezer as a yearling.”
The Results of Your Work
In addition, increasing the number of quality mature bucks in a given area may result in more dominance battles which also may increase buck mortality.
It is up to each group of cooperating QDM participants to decide at what point they reap the harvest that they have worked for. Somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, bucks begin to reach their potential and these age classes are a reasonable goal. However, this may be affected by the size of the managed area and the possibility of maturing males being shot on neighboring properties.
The concept of culling inferior bucks should be approached with caution, particularly in new QDM programs. The so-called “management bucks” which are taken on some properties in Texas and other places are an example of such culling. However, those areas have fully matured management programs and are often under the eye of either a full-time or consulting wildlife biologist.
“I wouldn‘t suggest culling bucks until a QDM program becomes very advanced,” says Dr. Miller. “Particularly not on less intensively managed, smaller and less controlled properties. In general, culling bucks should not even be considered until the deer herd and the deer habitat are in very good shape.”
In the early years of QDM, there was the notion that all spike bucks were inferior and could be culled. That feeling has changed. It is now felt that with quick and successful population control and re-establishment of a good forage base, a young spike can overcome his initial disadvantage and grow into a quality buck.
“Young bucks can be spikes for a variety of reasons,” according to Dr. Miller. “Poor quality habitat is the most common cause, but other factors such as a late birth date, may be important causes as well. In most areas, particularly when starting a QDM program, there are too few bucks in the population, and all yearlings, whether spikes or branch-antlered, should be allowed to survive.”
More on Cull Bucks
Identifying and aging cull bucks on the hoof is pretty much the high art of QDM and should not be undertaken unless one has taken the time for serious study and has confidence in his abilities. Once again, standards for culling inferior bucks must be defined and allowed for by a consensus of the QDM participants.
Quality Deer Management has come a long way since the ground-breaking publication of Producing Quality Whitetails by Al Brothers and Murphy Ray Jr. Their science was basic and like all scientific approaches, it has been refined and improved. The most important innovations were contributed by wildlife biologists from other areas that allowed the basic concepts championed by Brothers and Ray to be effectively exported all over the country.
No less important has been the development of user-friendly tools, equipment and techniques that have allowed the average Joe deer hunter to take an active hand in habitat management. Today, there are people several generations removed from the farm zipping around food plots on 4-wheelers pulling miniaturized bush hogs, disk harrows, seeding equipment and other agricultural implements. They are generally doing a pretty good job improving wildlife habitat across the board, not just for white-tailed deer but for a whole host of wildlife species, both game and non-game alike. This is resulting in an exponential increase in acreage with enhanced wildlife values.
The growing interest in Quality Deer Management has been warmly received by many state wildlife agencies and their professional biologists. These professionals have long known that the most deer were usually not the best deer and the growing understanding of that fact by their deer-hunting constituency has allowed the institution of QDM-like management on many public hunting areas. That would have been very difficult only a few years ago.
Finally, it seems that Quality Deer Management is not only upgrading the quality of the white-tailed deer but also the quality of the deer hunter. The exercise in restraint and self-discipline that is required by a QDM program can not help but encourage these same qualities in other aspects of an individual‘s behavior. In a very practical sense, the requirement to determine both sex and age of the deer before shooting demands deliberate target identification and this can prevent accidental “mistaken for game” hunting accidents.
Restraint, self-discipline and the attitude of caring more for the deer beyond just shooting it, especially when evidenced by the effort and expense of hands-on management, are valuable virtues for hunters to hold forward in a world increasingly populated by people who do not hunt.
"We owe it to our children, and our children‘s children, to leave this resource in better shape than we found it. We also owe it to the deer themselves, and the wildlife that share the deer woods."
Dr. Miller concludes, “We owe it to our children, and our children‘s children, to leave this resource in better shape than we found it. We also owe it to the deer themselves, and the wildlife that share the deer woods. God has blessed us with this resource, but He has also given us the responsibility to manage it wisely.”
Editor's Note: This was originally published January 18, 2004.