It’s a catch phrase we hear all the time, Quality Deer Management , or QDM. If you want bigger bucks, participate in QDM. What more deer? QDM’s the answer.
The basic principle to the average deer hunter when it concerns QDM is simple — let the smaller bucks go so they can become bigger bucks. It isn’t a new notion, but it seems that it has really taken off in the past few years.
So, what’s the problem? What’s the catch?
QDM works, but it has to be done right. There are many factors that are often not taken into account when it comes to QDM.
The first and foremost is the very definition of a quality deer. What makes a quality deer? Is a solid 8-point buck with good mass and long tines a quality deer? I think we could agree that is the case. But what about a 4-pointer that could use a little more headgear? Now you or I might pass on such a deer, but what about the hunter that doesn’t? To him or her, that deer may have been the largest buck he or she ever saw. Maybe it was a first buck? We need to take into account that the definition of a quality deer is in the eye of the beholder. It’s ok that some deer get taken that don’t fall into the “shooter” category for some hunters.
In my humble opinion, when you take an animal, you must respect that animal. The hunter taking a smaller buck has his or her own reasons for doing so, and as long as the respect and reverence for the animal are there, it is a quality animal. Other things we must look at when referring to QDM are the practices that go into it. Deer biology must be understood for QDM to work.
So what makes a buck grow antlers?
Hormones are triggered each spring that pull nutrients from the blood to grow bone mass. One of the areas we need to look at is diet and forage base. A few years back, I had an opportunity to hunt a piece of land owned by a group of guys who professed to participate in QDM. I had high expectations, as the invite came from my buddy’s dad, who was a known taker of big bucks. The standing rule was that no buck smaller than a 6-point could be harvested. It sounded like a good plan.
In my pre-hunt scout, I was dismayed at the forage base I found. I found very little of the typical foods that yield big antler growth. In fact, I found very little food for the deer period. Over several days of hunting, including one day spent over bait, the largest buck I saw was a spike. Each night we would gather around the card table and talk about the day’s events over a few serious hands of poker. The largest deer anyone had seen was a small fork horn. When I spoke up that maybe it was due to diet, I got everyone’s attention.
Deer need a certain amount of nutrient-rich food to grow antlers. There are other factors, which we’ll get to, but deer need a solid food source. This location was obviously a transition area, meaning the deer would mostly pass through it. Why? There was nothing to keep them there. The deer that we had been seeing were also small. When this occurs, the first and easiest solution is food plots. And not just the quick-fix, keep-the-deer-in-the-area fall food plots.
The only real solution was a year-long food plot system. And food plots need to be done right. Soil samples must be taken, and your local soil conservation office can help analyze the soil sample to see what types of seed will take hold and what fertilizers are needed to boost the soil to optimal growing capacity. You can also go to many of the manufacturers of seed products and get assistance in soil quality and seed selection.
So with a little coaxing, my buddy’s dad and his partners invested in a food plot system. They purchased an ATV just for this purpose, and within a year had a noticeable increase in the number and size of deer they were seeing when the field. But after a couple of years, I got a call from them asking me what else they might need to do as they still weren’t seeing many big bucks.
The answer was genetics.
As you recall, this was a transition area — the majority of the deer were passing through. The bucks that did stay were the less dominant deer with the inferior genes. My suggestion was to do a cull during the upcoming season. Fill the freezers and spare the does. Every hunter took a small buck that following season. The next season, the food plots had pulled a few of the transitional deer into the area, and now the guys are seeing bigger bucks.
It’s another aspect of QDM that you should look into. You need to know the deer you have. It is difficult, nearly impossible, to base QDM on what you see solely from the stand. You need to actively scout, year-round. One of the best things to come along for QDM is trail cameras, which allow you to take a photographic record of the deer you want to hunt. You can witness the progress of antler development, social hierarchy and population numbers.
An even better advancement is the digital trail camera, for example the Bushnell Trailcam. You can instantly view pictures and store them in a file on your home computer. This is the future of deer hunting. It will help you also to determine the age class of the bucks you’re viewing.
A deer’s antler growth is dependant on many things and age is one of the factors. But it isn’t the most important. A deer can be a mature animal and have a small rack. If that buck is genetically predisposed to a smaller rack, or has a poor food base, he may be old enough, but still not be the one you want to take as a trophy. These are good bucks to cull. You will not want these deer to pass on their genes, and there’s nothing wrong with a little meat in the freezer.
There’s one more thing to look at, and that is your neighbor.
One of my favorite places to hunt is a small, 40-acre tract of land my family owns. It has fields full of corn, apple trees, swamps, hills, ridges, trees and thick brush for cover. Basically it has everything you’d want to produce big deer, and produce it does. My neighbors love it too. It draws deer in from miles around. We all know deer have a range and will move to cover that home range. My family’s land has produced quite a few big deer over the years, and they’re hanging on the walls of the neighbors who intercepted the deer before they got to my stand. That’s the way it goes, and I accept that.
Quality deer management only extends to your property line. If you can’t accept that, don’t bother. Only by working together will you grow big bucks.
I keep looking for the one real big one who is wise enough to sneak in. He’s mine!
One of the problems though, is that it isn’t just the big bucks that are getting intercepted. I cannot control whether or not my neighbors take the spikes and fork horns that could grow up to be wall-hangers. The only thing I can do, and you too for that matter, is talk to everyone and try to get on the same page. I’ve got most of them to go along with me and eventually, there will be big bucks for all.