WJ: Private-land ownership patterns have been changing, and more deer hunters are buying land. How much of that can be linked to QDM?
Murphy: From 1991 through 2006, the number of American hunters who own land and hunt their lands increased 56 percent. That’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data, not ours. Just look at the advertisements for realtors specializing in hunting land. That has skyrocketed. Our country enjoyed tremendous economic growth those 15 years. Those years also coincided with a bulge in the wealthiest generation our country has ever seen, the baby-boomers. Many of them had the opportunity, time and money to invest in things other than the stock market.
Meanwhile, the number of hunters leasing land declined. Large timber companies sold millions of acres. They increasingly manage timber on other peoples’ lands. Hundreds of thousands tracts of leased land became available to groups or individuals for the first time.
Maybe QDM had some influence on all that, but those are huge societal changes. At the same time, if your objective is to plant orchards and food plots, improve habitat, and design and shape land for hunting, it’s hard to do it on someone else’s land. That’s why land ownership becomes a goal for many hunters.
WJ: Are those who embrace QDM reducing traditional access to private lands?
Murphy: Anytime there are changes in a culture, someone or some group gets blamed or credited. That comes with the territory. We’ve been accused as the reason for more land being posted. We’ve been accused of reducing opportunities for small-game hunting when a landowner is so concerned about disturbing the deer that he won’t let rabbit hunters on his property. We’ve been accused of preventing kids from killing the animal of their choice; that they should hunt only trophy bucks. And we’ve been accused of trying to enact antler regulations everywhere, and that we want every doe killed.
None of those things are true. To understand QDM and what it’s about, you can’t just skim the foreword and think you’ve read the book. The QDMA has four cornerstones. You can’t get by with just one, two or three of them. A lot of people try to bake a cake but forget an essential ingredient like flour or sugar. When that happens, it isn’t cake.
Some accusations pop up because of things people do in QDM’s name. I understand that. People get excited about things that change their life. Their biases get intertwined in the QDMA message, and that can be difficult for us. We’ve seen many challenges and more challenges lie ahead, but anything that makes a long-term difference is never easy. We invite someone to pick up a year’s worth of Quality Whitetails magazine, or go to our website and show me where we promote things our critics allege.
WJ: Do public-land hunters have any QDM options?
Murphy: There are far more opportunities on public lands than some people realize. Years ago the hunting experience and opportunities to kill a deer differed little between public and private lands. It didn’t matter if you killed a yearling buck on private land or public property, because that’s all you were likely to see. With more private-land hunters practicing QDM, public and private opportunities now differ. Many public-land hunters know they don’t have an opportunity to kill anything older than a 2-year-old buck, if that.
So, how do we provide quality deer management for public-land hunters who want it, realizing not everyone wants it? Many of our branches, like in Pennsylvania and Michigan, have adopted wildlife management areas and work with the state to improve the habitat and work on other projects.
See page 2 for more.
Other states include public lands under QDM-type regulations. By 2008, 22 states had some form of antler restriction to reduce the number of young bucks in the harvest. Additionally, increasing numbers of hunters voluntarily restrict their buck harvest beyond legal requirements. QDM-type public areas are in demand. However, with increasingly smaller budgets, many states don’t have the resources to carry out QDM responsibilities. But if there’s a will there’s a way. I think QDMA groups will help wherever they can.
WJ: Why are food plots so controversial with some hunters and biologists?
Murphy: It’s a small subset of people trained in wildlife management who oppose food plots. Philosophically, food plots are one or two steps too artificial for them. One argument is that food plots introduce non-native plant species into an environment and they could become invasive.
Fair enough, but point me to one food-plot plant that has become problematic. Annual rye grass is problematic in some cases, but it hasn’t taken over the countryside. In contrast, the agricultural community and government agencies have recommended plants that became far more invasive, such as fescue, Bermuda grass, multiflora rose, and kudzu in the South.
Some biologists prefer all things “natural,” with no man-disturbed habitats of any kind. Where do you draw that line? Do you stop cutting trees, and quit doing wildlife burns and other practices that improve deer habitat? Rather than discourage food plots, we use them to steer hunters toward comprehensive land management.
WJ: How do you do that?
Murphy: The average hunter often thinks habitat means “food plots.” It doesn’t, but it’s a good entry door to move hunters into the much bigger house where deer live. We move them from a food plot to planting pear, apple, crabapple or other fruit trees. Then we introduce them to managing native vegetation. Maybe we discuss herbicide treatments, wildlife burns and logging. Ultimately, we show the big-picture view from above, where they’ve manipulated the habitat to resemble Grandma’s patchwork quilt. They understand not only the individual pieces of the habitat, but the time frames in which they change and need to be manipulated to benefit deer.
Those are deer hunters at their highest level of awareness. They’re avid hunters who are part farmer, part forester, part biologist and part ecologist. They wear about six hats and they wear them all pretty well.
WJ: QDMA prides itself on being a warehouse of useful scientific insights for deer hunters. How do you ensure your information remains fresh?
Murphy: Over the last four years alone QDMA has spent, often through grants, just under $300,000 on whitetail deer research. Some of it is very practical information on deer home ranges and movement patterns. We’ve also helped study factors affecting a buck’s breeding success. If QDM is protecting young bucks, how many fawns will they go on to sire? Conversely, if we cull deer from a population, does it make any difference? These are practical questions we’re starting to answer through research.
WJ: What are some long-term goals for QDMA?
Murphy: There’s still a lack of awareness among many hunters as to what we are and what we do. I still run into many people who have never heard of QDMA. We want to be known as an organization doing good things for the future of deer and the future of deer hunting.
We also need to strengthen our base while building coalitions with state and federal agencies. White-tailed deer hunting drives 53 percent of America’s hunting economy. It’s the backbone of our hunting economy and our hunting heritage. We have to get it right.
QDMA’s Building Blocks
All successful QDMA programs feature four cornerstones: herd management, habitat management, hunter management and herd monitoring. All must be tailored to each property.
Herd Management: This is perhaps the most important part of QDM. It’s essential to determine the appropriate number of deer to harvest by sex and age. Deer populations are at or above optimum levels in many areas, so herds must often be stabilized or reduced.
Habitat Management: This means improving available nutrition. A healthy herd requires a diet that contains 12 to 18 percent protein, as well as adequate calcium, phosphorus and other important nutrients.
Hunter Management: This is a critical, yet often difficult QDM component. Hunters must fully understand the benefits and costs of QDM.
Herd Monitoring: Harvest data and observational data are critical. Harvest data should be collected from every deer shot or found dead. These data include sex, age, weight, antler measurements and reproductive information. Observational data can reveal important details about the herd’s size, density, sex ratio, fawn survival, age structure and overall management success.