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Deer Whitetail

Is Quality Deer Management Ruining Hunting?

by Mike Schoby   |  June 30th, 2011 27

In 2010 I hunted whitetails across several states. All of the hunts had some sort of management program in place, and to be perfectly honest, I’m tired of it.

I understand the philosophy of Quality Deer Management. I get it, I really do. I understand that by passing up younger deer, we can shoot mature, bigger deer. It is a simple concept and one I believe works…but I have to ask: is quality deer management ruining hunting?

I have hunted deer since I was old enough to carry a gun. Over those past 25 seasons I have tagged my fair share of spikes and forkies. Eventually, I graduated to what some would call trophy hunting. I don’t search out big deer for the bragging rights; I do it for the challenge. I pass up deer because it allows me to stay in the woods. I do it because deer hunting has gotten so good in most places that I have the luxury of holding out to see what else comes by. I fill the freezer with does, and I’m at a point where I’m OK going home empty-handed, but I like that decision to be my own.

In Missouri my outfitter enforced a 135-inch minimum. I have no problem with minimums being set, but in my mind you should see lots of deer just below this minimum. We were filming an episode of PHTV, and in six days of hunting from daylight till dark, I didn’t see one buck that would even come close to approaching the 135-inch benchmark, nor did anyone else in camp. On the final day I pulled the trigger on a mid-120s buck, packed my truck and went home. We got a show. The cameraman was happy. The outfitter was not.

Later I went to Texas—the holy grail of managed deer. The outfitter had a cap instead of a minimum. Deer had to be less than 145 inches (gross), and if points were broken off, they estimated and added them in. Interesting science, isn’t it? OK, simple enough—it should be easy to find a deer under 145 inches, but to make it tougher, the deer could only be eight-pointers and had to be at least 4½ years old. However, if a deer had 10 points and was still under 145 and at least 5½ years old, it was also fair game. It was confusing enough to require crib notes in the blind. I examined buck after buck for six days and second-guessed myself time and again. With much trepidation, I pulled the trigger on an old eight-point buck. He was big in body and had a

Roman nose and a small rack—exactly what the ranch wanted removed.

When I brought it back, the outfitter agreed with my assessment. So did the ranch biologist—until he looked at the teeth and proclaimed the buck only 3½ years old. So was this buck a genetic abnormality? Would he have been huge next year or just so-so? Was he older than his teeth indicated? Who knows. All I know is that it was the most frustrating hunt I have ever been on and likely will be my last heavily managed deer hunt. I enjoy deer hunting; I enjoy making decisions on my own, mistakes and all, and I don’t care for hunts where you are too scared to shoot a deer.

The final straw occurred in Pike County, Illinois. I was hunting on a friend’s 800-acre family farm, which has stunning whitetail habitat. Thick brush sanctuaries that never get penetrated are surrounded by man-made food plots and native grasses—it is whitetail Mecca. The owners are committed to improving the size of the bucks and consequently practice QDM. If you ever want to come back, you don’t dare squeeze the trigger on a buck less than 135 inches and/or younger than 3½ years old.

The first morning I watched a half-dozen 125-class eight- and 10-pointers on the lush food plots. One was close to the minimum, but close doesn’t count. He eventually fed past my stand and jumped the barbed-wire fence that marks the property. He hadn’t gone 50 yards into the neighbor’s property before I heard the shot. The deer would be a 130-inch buck forever.

The rest of the day I heard shots from all the surrounding properties. Of course, they could be shooting does, but my guess from what I had seen in pickup beds was that the 2½-year-old eight- and 10-points were getting hammered.

That night when I return to camp, no one had a deer hanging. We all had similar stories of letting the young ones walk. We felt smugly superior for our restraint, even though it probably didn’t make a bit of difference to the young bucks hanging from every meat pole in the county.

Shortly after dark, my buddy pulled up in his truck with his 13-year-old son. You didn’t have to look in the bed to know there was a buck there; you could see it on the boy’s face. As he grinned from ear to ear, his story rolled off his tongue in one strung-together, breathless, barely coherent sentence. He proudly told us about how he shot his deer, how he couldn’t get a shot at the bigger one that came by, but when this one came into his shooting lane he dropped it at 100 yards. It was his first buck, and it made me realize how exciting a buck—any buck—should be.

The buck was a basket-racked 125-class 10-point that was probably 2½ years old. You could tell from the looks on some of the hunters’ faces that this deer was too young for the farm’s guidelines. One hunter started to chastise the boy, but before he could get very far, I cut in and shook the boy’s hand. Others followed suit. “A hell of a deer. Congratulations. Nice shot.” The boy beamed with pride as his hand was pumped. As I walked inside I thought to myself, What the heck has this world come to? When a kid should pass up a 10-point buck to let it grow another year, I’ve had my fill of it. How many years does he need to sit and pass up deer before one comes along that meets what other hunters think is acceptable? Do we really think he

will stick around the sport, or will he simply gravitate to something that is more rewarding and exciting?

I will continue to hold out for bigger, older deer, but it is because I want to, not because some farm biologist tells me I have to. And I will never tell someone else what he should or shouldn’t shoot. Deer hunting is too personal for that.

  • Kevin Jester

    'Bout time someone came out and said what so many hunters think every day. It's nice to see those huge bucks on TV but I don't think I can stand some one telling me what I can or can't shoot. There is no superiority in allowing a deer to die of old age just because he doesn't meet some goofball biologist's imaginary standards. Accept the animal for what you see in present time and decide for yourself whether you want to take it home.

  • http://Explorer Freddy

    Sounds like you're always hunting someone elses private property or paying to hunt a deer ranch, do you propose to tell property owners what to do on their own property? Get your own property, then you can shoot all the spikes you want, besides does taste just as good and are a bigger challenge than a spike buck. QDMA here in Putnam county New York is producing good bucks and healthier deer.

  • David

    Although I practice QDM on the place I am priveledged to hunt, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. The focus of shooting the biggest deer possible has taken the thrill out of hunting for many of us, including those just coming into the sport. I think a first deer should be the first deer you see, no matter what it is. My first deer was a 185 lb field dressed weight doe that I took on my own with my dad's old 12 guage and 00 bucksthot at about 30 yds. Was I proud you bet I was it was a deer, and more than that the smile on my dad's face was worth all the hard work I put in to get that deer. I want my own children to feel the same way when they pull the trigger on their first deer, squirrel, rabbit or whatever…..the madness has to end.

    I will agree that there are more record book deer hitting the books since QDM took off, but to limit the enjoyment of hunting by imposing ridiculous standards such as those you describe is nuts in my book.

    In states where deer numbers are out of whack with the environment such as Missouri and others, point minimums are a vital part of management as they force hunters to shoot more does and limits the harvest of bucks to those that are at least 2 1/2 years old. I am not opposed to that type of system as long as young and new hunters are allowed to shoot whatever they see.

    If we are to attract and retain a new generation of deer hunters it is imperative that deer manager's rethink these rules and find a more user friendly way to achieve their purpose, such as shooting a doe before you shoot a buck or somehting similar. This allows meat hunters, myself included, to fill the freezer while passing up a younger or smaller buck to wait for a big boy before filling that buck tag.

  • Jim Gavitt

    My home state of Kentucky allows a hunter to shoot a single antlered deer per year. Thus, the hunter has the choice to pull the trigger on the first buck that walks by or to wait for something larger. To me, this is the way to go, allowing the hunter to make the decision.

    • Dave

      In Saskatchewan, we also get a single buck, and whatever you want to shoot is up to you. I like doe meat better, so I encourage my sons to only shoot a buck if its bigger than any they have ever shot before, or is unique in a way that is special to them. This way, if you pass up a 4×4, the look on your younger brother's face is worth it.

  • Johnny Guttry

    I agree,what has happened is we have all become so use to seeing the big bucks on the Tv hunting shows that we have lost sight of why we hunt.I'm 68 yrs old an can remember when if you saw a deer it was like christmas,where I was raised.Over the years I have taken a lot of deer,I use the meat,but I still let a lot of deer walk.That is my decision not QDM.Sure I like to take big bucks just like everyone else but some areas will not produce trophy animals due to genetics,mineral content of the soil .I enjoy seeing the young hunters take their first deer wether or not it is a huge buck or just a spike or doe.I do tend to take more does an let the young walk because it could be some young hunters dream .I am not so old that I have forgotten my first deer!

  • NY Dan

    May be I am just getting old but I remember when hunting and fishing was about bring fresh meat home to our families. I also understand that the DEC needs to establish guidelines so that there is a future in all this so we can continue to do what seems natural to many of us.

    When we make hunting a contest by creating minimum standards for antler size, we diminish our passion in the eyes of those who don't agree with harvesting game.

    I fish and hunt but I fish more than I hunt. When youngsters are on my boat I let them real every fish that is hooked on a line. As we get older we should be always ready to share our joys. The man who began to criticize that young man, although he may have been technically correct for the private land he was hunting on, has to also be mindful of sharing the joys we share and promoting the life long tradition that is so important to all of us.

    Lastly, who is being fooled by these private ranches? Your sitting in some stand with a guide who works for a ranch that gets to charge you more for antler…..When did this invention of the mind begin to be called hunting???

  • frank hicks

    my Grandson's first deer was a doe,i could not have more proud of him had he had harvested a 140 class deer.The trophy was his and mine to share that day.Iam in total agreement with sound management if your area is capable of producing deer of that size and quality,Here in South Carolina where many small farms leased are 100 acres or less it is very difficult to implement sound management when leasees on nearby property shoot what you regularly pass up.i have been involved in management since Joe Hamilton first began this, i have learned alot by this but i use my own judgement as to where i shoot or not.The hunt in itself should be a quality experiance, not wheather the deer you took was of quality standards…all of us want that great wallhanger, but when i saw my Geandsons face, the excitement, the pride, how can you ever ask more more on a hunting trip with an 8 year old.

  • http://msn.com Jim Pittman

    Mike Schoby is entirely correct in his assessment of QDM. I grew up in Wisconsin hunting deer long before QDM was even an idea except perhaps in how the DNR controlled the ratio of bucks and does. Now, QDM permeates just about every facet of deer hunting on private land, and it's not about the deer – it's about the money. People can defend QDM until hells freezes over, but luring deer onto property by acres of food plots, charging hunters by the inch, and genetically raising deer solely for bragging rights is not fair chase hunting. It's baiting and ranching that has taken the work out of hunting – nothing more. I'm also tired of TV shows where kids a third of my age and husband and wife teams fork out $10K to hunt on a game ranch to shoot a 200+ bucks and call THAT hunting. Give me a break. We're all entitiled to our opinion, and my opinion is doing the pre-season scouting, hunting natural habitat, and being able to take a buck or a doe based on common sense management. I've taken eight bucks on public land that would make all-time record books (if I had wanted to put them IN a record book), and I cherish the 150 plus spikers, fork-horns, and does that have also filled the freezer along the way. Hunting is an american tradition, but if we don't be carefull, it's going to turn into European style hunting where only the elite can afford to hunt and EVERYTHING is about genetics and the trophy.

  • John S from Florida

    The author does NOT get the point of Quality Deer Management. I believe in Quality Deer Management. It is not for everyone but it is what I have morphed into as a hunter. The author is unknowingly referring to Trophy Deer Management. In regards to the harvest of bucks, I believe QDM is the process of passing on younger bucks, allowing them to mature. When you start setting minimum rack requirements, you get into Trophy Deer Management. It is entirely different and not as fun as QDM. I unknowingly was a Trophy Deer Manager in the past, thinking I was more QDM, but when the fun gets taken out and more emphasis is placed on the rack size, that is more TDM, not QDM. There is a fine line but QDM is more about the experience and letting young bucks grow up, regardless of their rack size. There are always acceptable crossovers but when restrictions are being placed, that is more TDM. I love shooting mature bucks and have had more fun shooting old bucks with less than desirable racks than getting hung up on total size. Going out after only the biggest, gets boring and it really does take the fun away. Sure, it has its time and place if you want, but this guy confuses the two. QDM is a great practice and I wish more would do it than the Trophy Deer Management that most confuse and try to say is QDM.

  • http://worldwide Paul

    Yes, Mike is talking about Trophy Deer Management and that is the right of the private landowner/ outfitter to exercise. If you don't like the rules, don't book the hunt. I hope that you were assessed a hefty fine for knowingly shooting that Missouri buck! That was a man's livelyhood you were compromising by breaking his standards.

    • Mike Schoby

      Paul and John S. you are technically correct it is TDM not QDM – but I will still contect that 90% of the folks that think they are practice QDM really are practicing TDM. In fact, if QDM was just about creating a healthy deer heard, and big bucks were not the result would you see as many guys spending thousands to do it? Come on you're smarter than that.

      .

      • Bryan

        Mike I agree with you to some extent, but not all that much. As for hunting, it is suppose to be fun. If people in areas are constantly comparing their deer in an area with consistently smaller deer than places like western illinois and Southeast Iowa, than probably every year those people will be disappointed. People have to be realistic with their areas, whether the law allows them to shoot any size antlered buck or the deer are just plain smaller deer for any other reason.

        I ALSO BELIEVE YOUR COMMENT ABOVE IS MISLEAD. The word trophy means different things to different people. Yes TDM is about growing giant antlers but QDM is not. Quality deer management is not only about keeping you herd healthy and letting them grow, but keeping your numbers and ratios good also. If you practice QDM for long enough successfully, with a lot of quality land, you will undoubtedly at some point have an encounter with a trophy whitetail(you may not kill that deer). To me, a trophy is more than big antlers. Mature does are trophies(they are the nosiest of them all i think), and really old bucks no matter the antler size are trophies. To elude hunters for 5 or 6 or more years is really something and should be recognized.

        When it comes down to it, do what makes you happy while abiding by the law, and as someone else said, if you dont like the rules then dont book the hunt. It's the land owners preference and you have to respect that and if you dont get your own land and do what you please.
        With that said I agree with the way you do hunt. It's gratifying to pass on "smaller" bucks knowing you could have killed them for the chance of the bigger older bucks you know are there somewhere.

    • Andrew

      Plain and simple today's deer hunting is about $ not necessarily skill those like paul that have $ think it's a sin shooting small bucks, blue collars like me grew up hunting public land in pa would understand. I actually quit hunting for a few years because of this, fishing seemed more fair to me and not many could out fish me (equal playing field)

  • Steve Hogan

    I'm with your 100%. Good on you.

  • WZTIREM

    Freddy must hunt inside a high fenced area in Putnam County NY. The deer have decimitated the habit especially on State Land and few good bucks are shot or for that matter seen in such parts

    • Al

      Perhaps but in Orange County there are many. many deer and quite a few of those are bucks.

  • jimmyjames

    I agree with the author and my deer hunting philospohy has changed. I hunted private property with lots of deer and passed up young bucks and shot does until I moved. After moving I now hunt public land with few deer. Since there are few deer around I rather shoot a buck. Recently at the end of one season I shot my largest buck of 125" and the next season my first deer was a spike. I was just as happy to shoot that spike as my largest buck. I want to shoot a 150" plus buck, but I am ok if I don't and don't want the state telling me I can't shoot a buck because its rack is too small. Now my ultimate goal is to shoot a buck on opening day morning.

  • Grant Walch

    I agree with Quality Deer Management to a point. That point being "minor child" I have land I manage and my rule is there are guideline(not rules or limits) for grownups. Any child under 17 gets to shoot whatever deer they want. My son is 15 and enjoys hunting and shot his first "wall hanger" last year at age 14. Is it a monster? NO! But it is hanging on his wall. Outfitters and landowners need to let the kids take what they can!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1488914533 Jennifer Ice

    I agree with the author. Deer season in Missouri has changed for our family since the implementation of the 4 points or better on one side. This isn't herd management, it is trophy management. You are only able to take one buck already. In the four days I was able to hunt I saw more undersireable mature bucks with racks that were not legal than I have ever seen before. These will be bucks that are passing on their genes for next years crop.

    • Bryan NY

      Jennifer, half of what you are saying is true and the rest is is a bit more complicated than that. Yes thinking in logic, if you have a ton of small racked old bucks(4 years or more) than there is probably some need for culling these deer to make room for younger bucks with superior genes(if that is what you're going for). In reality though, not all of those bucks will breed the does. I am sure there are bigger more dominant bucks that you are just not seeing in daylight and those bucks will make up for a good portion of the does. They may not breed all of them but they will at least breed the ones they want before a smaller buck will. You also have to remember that just because a 2 year old or younger seems small and breeds a doe, it doesnt mean that their offspring will be small. That 2 year old could make big strides and be a giant some day and perhaps their offspring will get the dominant gene to grow a big rack where the 2 year old that gene wasnt dominant. To say that all the small bucks are going to produce small bucks isnt quite true, there is much more to it that a lot of people dont know. In theory it sounds good though.

      Another thing I want to point out is, what do you consider mature? If you think 3 1/2 year old bucks are mature and are discouraged with their racks and that they are breeding, you are sorely mistaken. A buck's body takes first priority in growth and their antlers follow. That is why 4 and 5 year are considered to be the actual mature age of a buck. Their bodies have filled out and that is why a deer rack will normally make a sizeable jump from 3-4 years old and even from 4-5 years. You also have to remember that many times a 3 year old with superior genes often has very big racks. Though they are a great buck sometimes at 3 1/2 with a giant rack, those deer are not mature and would likely be even bigger at 4 and 5 years old.

      With that said, if shooting older bucks is a persons goal, then really the skill to learn is ageing deer on the hoof.(not saying you dont know how to do that, just guessing that many people could do better at it)

  • Darby

    There's a huge gap between deer management and deer hunting in my opinion.

  • Sam Hathaway

    Again another person ticked off about the money someone lost on a gosh darn deer. Why because it broke someone's rule.. Wow. I promise you take out all of the QDM TDM and all the bull the goes with it and we won't continue to lose our way of life to the rich. Hunting is and always will be a way of life for country folks. Everyday we loose alittle more of our way of life to unbalanced opinions of simple minded beliefs. There was a time when dog hunters believed they would.never lose their way of life, now sadly that breed of dog and the hunter almost no longer exist, and for all you big buck hunters you trophy only idiots, get ready your going to find out or your children are going to find out hunting will be gone sooner than later for the average person. QDM is supposed to be about the deer overall health etc. But no matter where you look you find it to eventually be about horn size not herd health.

  • Bill

    Personally I think QDMA is the worst thing that has ever happened to deer hunting. Sure I like to kill a big buck but I'm a hunter first. To me every deer is a trophy. If you just want to kill a trophy buck you are not a hunter in my book. If you have the money then go to Texas or Illinois and kill one. Just leave us poor people alone to hunt plain old deer.

  • Nick

    Hmmmm. We could just pen them up, force feed them a scientific perfectly balanced ration, then shoot them in the pen! It would save all that "wasted" time we spend looking or "hunting" for deer!

  • Allen Matuszczak

    QDMA – it would be very interesting to look at the financial books of the association – my guess is there are substantial dollars to fund the organization that come from Insurance Companies and the Logging Industry – deer cause vehicle damage and deer eat trees. I fully support let them go so they can grow – but in the Northern relm of the Whitetail World (NNY) winter, cyoates, bears – nature takes care of populations and QDMA programs of reducing doe numbers do not enhance deer hunters chances of shooting a mature whitetail. Research indicates that buck to doe ratios mathematically can not exceed 5 to 1. So I do agree with the author and I also worry that our great heritage has been re directed by $ from insurance and logging industries.

  • http://twitter.com/DarcyTatsch Darcy Tatsch

    I am one such Wildlife Biologist. Part of the reason that everyone is shifting towards QDM is the fact that deer densities are far too high nowadays. Back in the early 1900s a buck, any buck, was a thing of rareity. Does were a thing to be treasured, not killed. Thus, we developed management programs that focused mainly on bag limits and bucks. Today more than ever, there are less hunters than before (and less huntable sites that deer still inhabit by the thousands, suburban areas anyone?) yet, we still have in place the management techniques of yesterday pushing for higher deer densities. Reversing this cultural momentum has proved difficult. Quality Deer Management programs are an important countertrend. They are the best way to maintain population control, while also promoting the growth of large trophy bucks. QDM favors the killing of does and young animals (if your hunting areas are not using this method, they are defeating the purpose of QDM). The taking of does reduces the population density on a local scale because does have a tendency to disperse less than bucks, and remain in family groups, so recolonization takes place slowly. Ultimately, we need hunting sites with longer seasons, liberlization of bag limits (especially for antlerless deer), and increased hunter participation to help reduce the deer densities and get carrying capacity back to where it should be. A bonus to this method for all hunters would be the increase in body size of all deer taken, be it a buck or a doe. Also, lower deer densities actually increase the fecundity of does and lead to larger litter sizes.

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