Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
In the 1960's, deer management in Georgia consisted primarily of restoration. As deer numbers gradually increased into viable populations across the state, hunters harvested surplus animals (frequently bucks only)and began the initial phase of population control in some areas. Over the years, this management was fine tuned as the Department utilized bag limits, season length, and either sex hunting days to manage the deer herd. Hunters and their harvest continue to be the primary tool for deer herd management.
A slightly different approach to this traditional form of deer management is Quality Deer Management (QDM). In QDM, additional efforts are made to manage the age structure and sex ratio to improve herd and hunt quality. This management is accomplished by protecting young bucks while harvesting enough does to maintain the population below the carrying capacity of the habitat. As these protected bucks advance into older age classes, they produce a more natural age structure and opportunities for hunters to hunt for older aged bucks. As with any other management strategy, there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider before you or your club decides to implement QDM.
The combination of protecting young bucks while managing the deer population below the carrying capacity of the habitat creates a more natural and balanced age structure in the population. If herd restrictions are sufficient to improve habitat conditions, the results are more available food for increased body weights, reproduction, and antler development. As more bucks advance into the older age classes, chances of taking a quality animal increase. For this reason, QDM is often referred to as "trophy deer management." Actually, older bucks are more of a by-product of a properly practiced QDM program. In true trophy management, the goal is to produce some substantially older bucks for harvest typically from a low deer population.
QDM philosophy encourages hunter participation at the management level. Instead of being primarily resource users, hunters have increased control over deer herd development. Hunter/managers become more involved with land and habitat improvement, which in turn benefits other wildlife species and often leads to economic benefits for the landowner.
The immediate and most noticeable effects experienced by hunting clubs or landowners implementing QDM involve the drastic reduction in total buck harvest. This reduction can be offset in some situations by increased doe harvests; however, once the population is lowered to below carrying capacity, the doe harvest will also need to be reduced. The bottom line is usually an overall reduction in the total deer harvest. This can often be prevented, however, by a concurrent increase in food supply.
QDM does not produce quick results. Often 5 years or more is required for enough bucks to move into the older age classes. Even then, despite the deer being larger, there will be fewer bucks to harvest as compared to traditional management. Additionally, a reduced deer population means that fewer total deer will be seen. Several of these negative factors can be overcome by habitat improvements which increase deer food supplies such as high quality food plots. These factors may lead to hunter dissatisfaction and ultimately decrease hunter participation. This could cause monumental problems within hunting clubs where it is essential that all members work together to realize QDM goals.
QDM will not work on all properties in all regions or all counties. There are many variables, such as surrounding hunting pressure current deer densities, and habitat that may prevent appreciable gains in deer quality even after setting buck harvest criteria and population goals. Attempts at QDM in these areas may lead to a frustrated hunting experience.
Over the last few years, there has been a tremendous amount of media coverage regarding QDM including TV programs, magazine articles, and private and state-sponsored information meetings. In spite of all these information outlets, QDM's biggest problem involves unrealistic expectations. QDM is no better than the effort individuals or groups put into the program. Often, a club or landowner will attempt to implement some type of QDM harvest strategy without considering basic background information such as the current condition of the deer herd and habitat. QDM is not the fast track to the Boone & Crockett record book. If so, it would be called Boone and Crockett Deer Management. It moves slightly higher percentages of bucks into the mature, trophy-producing age classes; but actual antler size is controlled by numerous other variables.
- QDM produces an older buck age structure than produced by traditional management.
- QDM increases chances of hunting for and killing a large buck which is important to many hunters.
- Aggressive doe harvests, which may be required for QDM, produce deer herds within biological and sociological carrying capacity.
- QDM encourages hunters to view themselves as resource managers as well as resource users.
- Hunter-managers are more likely to comply voluntarily with hunting regulations and to report observed violations.
- Improved hunt quality may have positive economic benefits for landowners and communities.
- Special management may renew interest in deer hunting for some hunters.
- QDM will reduce total buck harvest.
- Reduced populations resulting from aggressive doe harvests reduces hunter satisfaction for some.
- This technique will not work equally well everywhere, and consistent regulations will not be possible because of differences in habitat quality, genealogy, and herd condition between counties.
- QDM protection of 1.5 year-old bucks eliminates many biological tools for monitoring populations including current computer models. QDM requires more intensive and expensive biological data collection.
- Various antler restrictions decrease the public's ability to understand hunting regulations and increases law enforcement problems.
- Restrictive regulations reduce resource availability and hunter participation especially by casual and young hunters.
- QDM by state regulation eliminates other valid options hunters have for managing deer herds including maximum sustainable yield.
- The nonhunting public does not support trophy hunting. The distinctions between QDM and trophy hunting may be too fine for the average nonhunter to understand.
- QDM regulations may result in higher lease fees than otherwise would have been required.