It was one of the worst-kept, best-kept secrets in the outdoors.
The Quality Deer Management Association was planning to unveil a new type of organization focused on deer hunting.
It seemed that everyone who attended the first-ever North American Whitetail Summit this spring knew it was coming. And those who didn't were asking for just such an organization to be created.
Well, the proverbial cat is now out of the bag. And the National Deer Alliance has launched. Its tag line: "The Voice of the Deer Hunter."
The creation of the NDA is significant for a couple of reasons.
First, and most important, it is the first-ever organization focused specifically on tackling issues facing whitetails on a grand and national scale. Sure, there have been other deer-focused groups -- QDMA being one of them. But QDMA was not -- and is not -- focused on the "big picture" world of whitetails. The QDMA was created to foster understanding and implementation of a specific style of whitetail management.
And if we're being honest here, that management style has caused an awful lot of friction among deer hunters. And, being even more honest, the premise and concept of Quality Deer Management has been grossly misrepresented by an awful lot of people -- including some leaders of local QDMA branches to the point that it's had a negative impact on the QDMA as an organization.
I truly believe that the folks who started the QDMA and who continue to work there have the very best interests of deer and deer hunting at heart. Guys like Kip Adams and Lindsay Thomas and Matt Ross -- they are high-quality folks. Hunters. Dads. People who care an awful lot about the future of deer and deer hunting.
But the QDM philosophy is one that's not always easy to understand. And when it's being pushed and touted by folks who, themselves, do not fully understand what it's about, well, it makes it very difficult for QDMA to create a unified voice for whitetails. That's not the fault of QDMA or its leadership. Those hunters who have chosen to try and push their own agendas and hide it as "QDM" shoulder the burden there.
The National Deer Alliance is not about a specific style of deer management. It's not about shooting does. It's not about passing young bucks. It's not about nutrition or mass or mandatory regulations.
It's about habitat. And politics. And understanding. And unification.
There are somewhere around 14 million hunters in the United States. And roughly 11 million of those are deer hunters.
And yet, at last count, QDMA's membership was hovering around 50,000.
And that brings us to the second-most important aspect of the NDA: It's not a "traditional" conservation group. There are no membership dues. No special decal or members-only magazine. No secret handshake. No cutesy address labels.
NDA membership is free. And it's digital.
That makes all the difference. And a ton of sense.
Having spent nearly a decade working for a non-profit conservation organization, I feel quite confident in this statement: The days of hunters "joining" are over. It's simply unrealistic to expect that significant percentages of the hunting population will be "members" of anything.
For younger hunters, the concept of filling out some paperwork and waiting for membership materials and correspondence to arrive in the mail is as foreign as cassette tapes. Paying for the right to "belong" in the Facebook era? They didn't grow up such concepts. And they won't adapt to them now.
The NDA requires only an e-mail address for membership. Which means the coalition has the potential to become exceptionally big and calls to action are instantaneous. Large numbers mean a very effective lobby. Instant action means results.
I hate politics more than most people. But lobbying is exactly what's needed. We've seen all manner of issues facing deer over the past 10 years or so and very few of them have been dealt with in an effective manner. From CWD in Wisconsin to habitat loss throughout their range to nonsensical gibberish and blame coming from the ag lobbyists, whitetails are perhaps the most ignored and de-valued game species on the planet. Which seems incredibly odd given that they are also the most valuable and popular of any game species in existence and generate billions in revenue for this country.
But here's one more note about the NDA: It's not a subsidiary of the QDMA. In fact, the folks at QDMA made certain that it was a separate and independent organization.
Why? Because they want to see it thrive. And they understand that some might think it's nothing more than a shill for the QDMA. Right or wrong, some folks likely would.
Noted deer manager Craig Dougherty has been heavily involved with the launch and planning of the NDA. I think he's an excellent choice. He's got a ton of experience. He's a solid communicator. And, perhaps most importantly, he has no ax to grind. He loves deer. Loves deer hunting. And understands that the world of deer and deer hunting is at a crossroads.
As a deer hunter, I think the QDMA deserves a ton of credit for helping to push the creation of the National Deer Alliance forward. And even more credit for not trying to make it all about QDMA. That took guts. And I think it shows very clearly where their hearts lie.
They lie with the deer we all love to hunt.
And it's time we start taking care of them.