Even if a group is well-organized and motivated by a clear mission, it seldom travels far before being slowed by distortions, false hopes and faulty assumptions.
And that’s just help it gets from friends.
The 50,000-member Quality Deer Management Association is no exception. By day it’s rebutting detractors who accuse it of glorifying trophy bucks. By night it’s counseling allies who pick and choose which QDM principles to follow.
But those burdens are simply signs of success, says Brian Murphy, QDMA’s longtime CEO. Murphy is the man most responsible for explaining QDMA’s mission and long-term goals to North America’s deer hunters.
Murphy’s work often starts with the basics — QDM means “quality” deer management, not “quantity” deer management. After that, he explains that QDMA is a national nonprofit wildlife conservation organization. Its goal is to promote sustainable, balanced, high-quality whitetail herds, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences. It carries out these missions through education, research, and hands-on management with hunters, landowners, natural resource professionals and the public.
QDMA began in 1988 in South Carolina as a state-based organization. It expanded its mission nationwide in 1990 after drawing supporters from other states and foreign countries. Still, success didn’t arrive on the first train. When Murphy became CEO in October, 1997 — nearly 10 years into QDMA’s existence — its membership stood at merely 3,400.
In 1998, Murphy moved its headquarters to an upstairs bedroom in his Georgia home. Soon after, the QDMA found its stride. Membership increased 12 of the next 13 years, usually growing by double-digit percentages. It took the recent economic global crisis to push QDMA’s pause button. Even so, it recently surpassed 50,000 paying members, with followers in all 50 states and several foreign countries.
When asked to explain QDMA’s sustained success, Murphy cites its scientific foundation. QDMA’s membership includes nearly 800 of the nation’s top deer-management professionals. This knowledge base helps QDMA maintain a high profile in deer biology, research and management. It also features a network of about 180 branches of volunteer members in more than 30 states. These branches promote the QDM philosophy and QDMA missions, holding educational and social events to unite local sportsmen in their shared goals.
Whitetail Journal recently tracked down Murphy to discuss QDMA’s challenges, accomplishments and long-term goals as he begins his 14th year at the helm. He no longer works from home, but from an office with support staff at the QDMA National Headquarters near Athens, Georgia.
See page 2 for more.
WJ: Why is QDM, and the QDMA, so popular with deer hunters?
Murphy: The QDMA philosophy is biologically sound, and it works. It was created by some of this country’s best minds in deer hunting and biology. It might be difficult to implement at times, but it’s straightforward and easy to understand. Hunters appreciate direct discussions.
We also offer hunters a source of consistent, reliable information. We answer their questions and offer advice they appreciate. Certainly, some state wildlife agencies are good at that, but others could extend more appreciation. We want to be an information source hunters can count on.
WJ: Define QDMA’s growth and explain its surge in recent years.
Murphy: More people are maturing as hunters and seeking better hunting experiences. Quality deer management fits them. They’re ready for a change and looking for a new approach. For much of my first 13 years here, QDMA averaged double-digit annual growth of 10 to 30 percent. We came down off our peak for 2010, but we think we’ve hit bottom and that our numbers are starting to click back up. The decline we saw last year was experienced by most, if not all, conservation groups.
We rode a QDM crest for most of the 1990s and early 2000s when QDM was a buzz phrase. The QDMA was partly responsible for that, and lots of people jumped on board, but some of them did so more in concept than in reality. So, we’re getting out of the fad stage and into the staying stage. We’re attracting a core group who understand what QDM really means.
WJ: How do some bandwagon jumpers twist QDM principles?
Murphy: A lot of people use the term “QDM” just because they’re planting food plots. QDM is more than that. Others pass up yearling bucks but seldom shoot does. They aren’t committed to comprehensive deer management. They take bits and pieces of QDM without really buying in. Or they thought QDM would produce record-book deer under every bush without much work. As they realize it requires commitment and real change, they step back and say, “Maybe it’s not for me.”
WJ: But you often say QDMA cannot be all things to all deer hunters.
Murphy: That’s right. We try to be consistent. Yes, we want to keep growing, but continued growth is not the goal. If we learn one day that 100,000 members is where we need to be, so be it. But, I believe there’s at least a couple hundred thousand people out there who are perfect fits for QDMA. They’ll appreciate what we offer, they’ll benefit from it, and we’ll keep trying to reach them.
Stay Tuned for Part II!