Many hunters unfamiliar with Quality Deer Management (QDM) incorrectly assume QDM is only about large-antlered bucks. Many also feel antler point restrictions (APRs) are synonymous with QDM. Pieces from both of these beliefs can be parts of QDM programs but QDM is about much more than just antlers or APRs.
Quality Deer Management (QDM) is a management philosophy/practice that unites landowners, hunters, and managers in a common goal of producing biologically and socially balanced deer herds within existing environmental, social, and legal constraints. This approach typically involves the protection of young bucks (yearlings and some 2.5 year-olds) combined with an adequate harvest of female deer to maintain a healthy population in balance with existing habitat conditions and landowner desires. This level of deer management involves the production of quality deer (bucks, does, and fawns), quality habitat, quality hunting experiences, and, most importantly, quality hunters.
Quality habitat is important for bucks and does in all age classes. Does need nutritious forage to raise healthy fawns, bucks need it for large bodies and antlers, and both sexes require adequate cover to escape predation. Given the average deer eats 2,000 pounds of vegetation annually, it’s easy to see a tremendous amount of forage is necessary to support even a low-density deer herd. Larger herds and herds managed to maximize body and antler growth and reproductive capacity require even more high-quality foods.
In simplest terms QDM involves balancing the deer herd with the habitat and having deer - bucks and does - in multiple age classes. Determining and achieving the right number of deer for the habitat is a topic for another discussion and this article will focus on multiple age classes of deer. Most areas have a good age structure for the doe population as it is common for hunters to harvest does 1.5-6.5+yrs. This age structure exists because of traditional deer management practices where hunters focused much of their harvest pressure on bucks and allowed does to survive and fill multiple age classes.
The big question then is what is the best way to protect yearling bucks? Antler point restrictions are a common technique and they involve establishing a minimum number of points a buck must possess to be eligible for harvest. The disadvantage of APRs is the number of antler points is a poor predictor of animal age. Yearling bucks can have a rack ranging from short spikes to 10+ points. Therefore it can be difficult with APRs to protect the majority of the yearling age class while still making other age classes available for harvest.
Quality Deer Management isn’t about protecting bucks until they are 5.5yrs old - that’s trophy management. Quality Deer Management, in simplest terms is about protecting yearling bucks. Yearling bucks are the easiest adult deer to harvest, but if hunters pass them and allow them to reach 2.5yrs, they become a little smarter and some will avoid hunters and reach 3.5yrs. Pretty soon you end up with a deer population that has bucks in multiple age classes even while allowing bucks 2.5yrs and older to be harvested. A complete age structure is good for deer and great for hunters.
Written By: Mike Girolami, President of WorkWear1, www.workwear1.com, a Local Distributor of Carhartt Clothing, Redford MI