April 28, 2010
Open Fire: QDMA’s Kip Adams Answers Your Questions (Part II)
By Dave Hurteau
I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting Kip Adam’s answers to your questions about QDM and the QDMA, and here they are—in spades. I originally planned to have Kip answer about half a dozen of the best queries, to keep it manageable. But he took it upon himself to respond to many more, and in greater detail, than I would have dared to ask. Kip posted his answers in the comments section of the previous post, but I wanted to make sure none of you missed them. So I’m posting them here, too.
You may agree with what Kip has to say or not. His answers might even change your mind. But in any case, let’s thank Kip for taking the time to do us this favor.
All right, here we go:
Kip Adams from QDMA here. You've posted some great question,s and I'm happy to answer them. I'll start by saying that while I'm fortunate to be a wildlife biologist, I am first and foremost a deer hunter. My lifelong passion for whitetails led me to become a biologist, and it's been a great ride for the past 18 years, but I've been a deer hunter for nearly 3 decades.
* SD_Whitetail_Hntr asked how QDM programs are integrated at the state level. There are many misconceptions about QDM, and one of the most common is that QDM is just about big bucks. In reality, QDM is a management approach that aims to balance the deer herd with the habitat and have balanced adult sex ratios and age structures. That is achieved by harvesting the biologically-appropriate number of antlerless deer and protecting young bucks. Many hunters focus on the "protecting young bucks" part, which is often accomplished through some type of antler restriction, and they misinterpret QDM as only being about antlers. Actually, QDM is first and foremost about having the right number of deer for the habitat. When the deer herd is in balance with the habitat, deer are healthy, the habitat is healthy and numerous other wildlife species benefit. The beauty of QDM is it can be implemented in any herd across the whitetail's range; it simply needs to be tailored to the specific location. For example, state agencies in New England can balance the herds with the habitat by harvesting a much smaller percentage of antlerless deer than agencies in the Midwest. Also, protecting young bucks without an antler restriction is easier in some areas of the Midwest (vs. most of the East) where you have lower hunter densities and a longer history of having bucks in multiple age classes. The bottom line is having the right number of deer for the habitat, having a balanced adult sex ratio, and having deer (bucks and does) in all age classes can be accomplished in any state, and this level of management is good for deer, habitat, other wildlife, and especially for us hunters.
* In response to ENO's questions about (1) antler restrictions leading to poor genetics, (2) antlerless bucks in earn-a-buck hunts, and (3) a system for aging bucks.
(1) There is often discussion about "high grading" the best bucks in antler restriction programs. The last national survey was completed in 2008, and at that time 22 state agencies used some form of antler restrictions (see page 50 of QDMA's 2010 Whitetail Report at www.QDMA.com for a complete discussion of buck management options) to protect young bucks. At the state level, all states (with the possible exception of Texas) that employed antler restrictions did so to protect yearling bucks while making 2.5 and older bucks available for harvest. A properly-designed antler restriction will protect the majority of yearling bucks so it reduces the opportunity for "high grading". Also, there is abundant research that suggests a yearling buck's first set of antlers is not a good predictor of his antler growth potential. Bucks that start small (and are easily protected by an antler restriction) can blossom into some of the biggest bucks in the herd.
(2) It's unfortunate anytime a buck with shed antlers or very small antlers is harvested as an antlerless deer. Each is counterproductive to the goal of the antlerless harvest program. However, the number of such bucks taken in the antlerless harvest program (earn-a-buck, early antlerless season, etc.) is small relative to the number of antlerless deer. As hunters, we need to continually educate ourselves and our hunting buddies to minimize such mistake kills.
(3) The best way to estimate the age of a buck in the field is to do so using body characteristics. "Aging on the hoof" is not an exact science but I can teach any hunter to separate bucks into 3 distinct age classes: young (1-2 yrs), middle aged (3-4 yrs) and mature (5+ yrs) using body characteristics. Like people, some bucks don't fit the normal characteristics for their age class, but with some practice you can estimate them correctly the majority of the time. See page 72 in QDMA's 2010 Whitetail Report (www.QDMA.com) for a complete description of body characteristics by age class.
* jfgann66 asked a great question about fawn predation. Coyote, bobcat, and bear predation have received much attention in the past couple of years. Coyote predation is especially urgent because coyotes now inhabit many new areas in the U.S. Multiple research projects (in AL, GA, SC) in the past few years have identified significant predation on fawns by coyotes (and bobcats to a lesser extent). In many habitats, fawn predation needs to be seriously considered with respect to establishing the annual target doe harvest. Great fawning habitat is one of the best defenses against predation. A well-timed predator removal (immediately prior to fawning) has also been shown to dramatically increase fawn survival in the three research projects identified above.
* Mike Diehl and Bryan01 asked how the QDMA defines quality deer. First, the QDMA is an international nonprofit wildlife conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of whitetail deer, wildlife habita,t and our hunting heritage. The QDMA specializes in education as we teach hunters, landowners, and sportsmen and women about deer biology and management, how to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife, and about hunter management to ensure the future of our beloved activity. Wildlife management refers to populations rather than individuals (zoos deal with individual animals). In QDMA's view every deer is a "quality" animal, but QDM refers to a healthy deer herd living in a healthy habitat. Healthy deer and healthy habitat can be measured by collecting ages, weights, lactation, and reproduction status, and antler parameters from harvested deer. You can also collect kidneys for a kidney fat analysis and the abomassum (4th stomach chamber) to do parasite counts. These are both indices to herd health. Forest regeneration and browse surveys provide indices to habitat health. So, a "quality deer" is one that comes from a healthy herd and a healthy habitat, not necessarily one with large antlers.
* muskiemaster asked if shooting the big bucks left the small ones to breed. We used to think that a few dominant bucks did the majority of breeding (like with elk and Alaskan moose). DNA analysis now allows researchers to identify paternity in deer herds—and the results are a bit surprising. Dominant bucks do not dominate the breeding in deer herds. Rather, a little of the breeding is done by a lot of different bucks. The vast majority of bucks sire very few fawns (1-3) each year that survive to 6 months of age! One study conducted in a deer herd where over 50% of the bucks were 4.5 years and older showed yearlings and 2.5 year-old-bucks still sired about a third of the fawns. The rut is pretty short and whitetails are solitary breeders; so this is nature's way to ensure the does are bred and to keep a lot of genetic variation in the herd. Also, many hunting seasons occur after the rut when the majority of breeding has already taken place.
* jsramsdell asked about moving the deer season out of the rut. Season timing is steeped in tradition and is very difficult to change. Few states have their primary firearm season during the peak of the rut, but one (MN) is discussing moving it in an effort to protect young bucks. The DNR is discussing it because a legion of MN hunters asked them to consider methods to protect yearling bucks. I'll bet the season isn't moved but hopefully another management strategy is employed to protect some additional yearling bucks.
* Swampy67 asked about getting the QDM ball rolling in NJ. There are two QDMA Branches in NJ that actively promote QDM, host educational events, and provide information to sportsmen and women. You can get involved with one of the Branches and/or you can contact your state agency biologist and give them your input.
* motyarrum asked how to practice QDM on a budget and on small acreage. Most folks would be surprised to learn that 1/3 of QDMA members do not own a single acre of land! Over 1/2 of QDMA members hunt on less than 250 acres of land. The perception is QDM and the QDMA are only for large landowners with big pocketbooks, but in reality, QDM can help the small landowner the most. Outside of the South, land ownership patterns are small. Many hunters own 40 or 50 acres and they can have great hunting on them. I work with folks all the time with these acreages and I tell them to make their land the best 40 or 50 acres in the neighborhood. Provide great cover and/or food and you can have great hunting. Even better, become part of a neighborhood QDM Cooperative and your opportunities skyrocket. QDM Cooperatives are the hottest thing going across the whitetail's range right now because so many hunters want to improve the deer herd they hunt, but they don't own (or have the opportunity to hunt) enough acreage that encompasses all of a deer's home range. QDM Cooperatives are the perfect fit because landowners can work together and improve the deer herd, habitat and hunting opportunities for everyone involved.
Walt Smith referred to QDM as doing "something unnatural." Actually QDM returns deer herds to a more natural state. Studies of Native American middens (trash piles) provides great insight into pre-European deer herds. Those herds had balanced adult sex ratios and advanced buck age structures. You can find similar sex ratios and age structures in unhunted populations today. It was our involvement that skewed sex ratios and produced very young buck age structures. These are both very "unnatural" and QDM helps correct them.
* dmayer4741 asked a great question about leveling the playing field. Much of my response to motyarrum regarding QDM Cooperatives applies here too. You need to keep in mind that much of what you see on TV is not QDM (it's trophy deer management), and most videos are filmed on properties not accessible to over 95% of hunters. Cooperatives are the answer, and they are growing like wildfire. Michigan likely leads the country with hundreds of thousands of acres in informal QDM Cooperatives.
* Buckhunter mentioned feeders and attracting deer. It's important to remember that QDM includes four cornerstones: herd management, habitat management, hunter management, and herd monitoring. Someone who places a feeder to attract deer and does nothing else is not practicing QDM.
* DennyF commented that QDMA is too political and advocated driving deer herds very low. These are both untrue. As a 501(c)3 organization, QDMA cannot lobby, and we stay completely out of politics. We are often asked to provide scientific information to deer managers, commissioners, or legislators, and we do that, but it doesn't always agree with the state or provincial agency. With respect to deer herds, we advocate balancing the deer herd with the habitat - not above it or below it. We help teach our members how to determine the appropriate antlerless harvest for their area so they don't drive the deer herd below what the habitat can support. This unnecessarily removes animals that provide harvest and/or viewing opportunities and we do not advocate that. For properties that we help manage, we determine site-specific antlerless harvest rates. Sometimes that is a lot of antlerless deer and sometimes it is none.