Today I am very excited to share with you all our interview with the founder of the Quality Deer Management Association, Joe Hamilton. Being that Wired To Hunt is the blog for the next generation of deer hunters, it’s natural that an emphasis has been put on educating and informing our readers about quality deer management and today is one more step to do that. Joe Hamilton’s work has had an astounding effect on hunting across the country for all of us and because of his work, he has been nominated and chosen as a finalist for the Budweiser Conservationist of the Year award. The winner of this award will be given $50,000 to donate to the organization of their choice and I would love to see that money put towards better deer and deer hunting! So in discussing this with Joe, he was kind enough to share with us the story of how the Quality Deer Management Association came about, what role he imagines the next generation of hunters will take in the future of deer hunting and a few suggestions he has for us all to start making a difference with QDM. To honor and thank Joe for promoting quality deer hunting the way he has and to ensure that this donation goes toward our favorite pastime, visit the following link and vote for Joe Hamilton!

Vote Here: http://budweiserconservationist.young-america.com/Register.aspx

W2H: At what time in your life did you realize quality deer management was necessary and something that you wanted to promote?

Joe: Beginning in the late 1970s I was conducting deer research in a penned facility and working with private hunting clubs in southeastern South Carolina.  Within several years I was impressed by the changes in antler development and body size among the bucks in my research facility.  Also, many of the hunters from local hunt clubs were expressing concern that their bucks were smaller than in the past.  After aging the jawbones of their harvested bucks I identified one of the problems — all of the bucks were yearlings (1.5 years old).  A quick glance at their harvest records revealed that the average weight of yearling bucks was on the decline.  These were classic symptoms of a deer herd subjected to traditional management.  The 4.5-month-long deer season, no limit on bucks, and the reluctance among hunters to harvest does had set the stage for an undesirable situation.  Deer populations had exceeded the capacity of the habitat to support their numbers, the buck age structure was extremely young due to overharvest, and the adult sex ratio was skewed in favor of females.  These conditions were not favorable for the deer, their habitat, or the hunters.  The solution was found in a book published in 1975 and entitled Producing Quality Whitetails by Texas biologists Al Brothers and Murphy Ray, Jr.  Their approach became known as quality deer management (QDM) and the basic premise was to allow bucks to reach the older age classes before being harvested, to shift the harvest pressure to the female segment of the population to balance deer numbers with existing habitat conditions and create a better balanced adult sex ratio.

W2H: What drove you to start the Quality Deer Management Association? How did it all come together?

Joe: Charleston, SC hosted the annual meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group in 1982 and we needed a keynote speaker for the event.  Al Brothers was invited to deliver the opening address.  He agreed on one condition, that we have as many local deer hunters in the audience as professional wildlife biologists/managers.  We did our homework and there were over 300 people in attendance including at least 150 deer hunters.  Al’s approach toward the proper management of whitetails was novel to all of the deer hunters and many of the professionals.  But, that was the spark that started the fire of QDM in southeastern South Carolina.  Following that monumental meeting the number of participating clubs in QDM increased each year, and they were happy with the results.  Good news spreads quickly and the number of clubs involved numbered in the hundreds.  There was a dire need to maintain better contact with these folks so regional meetings were held to discuss the possibility of creating a formal organization.  In the fall of 1988 the South Carolina Quality Deer Management Association was founded.  Good news continued to spread south into Georgia, north into North Carolina and beyond.  Because of this increased interest among dedicated hunters the name of the organization was changed to the Quality Deer Management Association.  We now have nearly 50,000 members in all 50 states, Canada and several foreign countries.  Check out our website (www.QDMA.com) to learn more about the many educational activities and products that are available to our growing membership.

W2H: Where do you see Quality Deer Management in 10 years?

Joe: Quality Deer Management spread throughout the Southeast in the late 1970s and early ‘80s at a slow but deliberate pace.  Now, 30 years later, this once-novel approach to managing deer has become commonplace, reaching throughout the whitetail’s range in the United States and Canada.  In fact, QDM is being applied to fallow deer herds in the Australian state of Tasmania.  Their program is in its 15th year and fallow stags are larger on average than at any other time since they were stocked in Tasmania in the mid 1800s.  Many state wildlife agencies have altered their harvest regulations, thus allowing more bucks to reach the older age classes while liberalizing the harvest of antlerless deer to control population growth or even reduce herd density.  Hunters are more educated about the needs of deer and their habitats; therefore the involvement in QDM has increased markedly.  These changes in hunter attitudes and management have occurred over a relatively short period of time.  Barring any unforeseen diseases among deer populations, major changes in habitat, or strict gun control it appears that the popularity and application of QDM will continue to increase.  A primary concern, however, is the low recruitment rate of hunters.  In fact, for every 100 deer hunters that quit hunting for a variety of reasons there are only 69 hunters to take their place.  This attrition rate can not be allowed to continue for another 10 years.  We must embrace programs that promote youth involvement in hunting.  The QDMA is launching full-scale into youth hunting programs in 2011 and we already have a Mentored Hunting Program in effect.

W2H: What role do you look for the next generation of hunters to take in the continued progress of QDM across the country?

Joe: The National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) began in Kentucky in 2002.  This program, designed to teach archery to 4th – 12th grade students, has swept the nation since its inception.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of students involved in this new sport each year.  The intention of the originators of NASP was not to create hunters, but a surprising number of students have expressed a desire to hunt after being exposed to the program.  Obviously, programs like NASP will strengthen hunter numbers in the future, but the next generation of hunters will have to work cooperatively to protect the future of hunting by recruiting their friends into the ranks of hunters.  The next generation of hunters will have at their disposal an array of educational materials (i.e., books, videos, internet, and other electronic media) to help guide them in the right direction regarding deer management.  QDM is here to stay and our next generation of hunters will receive the benefits of this tried and true method of management.  Deer herds will be healthier and habitats will be more diverse and productive than ever.  The next generation will have the responsibility of ensuring that deer and other wildlife populations are managed in a sound, scientific manner devoid of political intervention.  Future hunters must understand and support their state wildlife agencies.

W2H: What is one small step that any hunter, young or old, can take to start practicing Quality Deer Management in some fashion?

Joe: Education is the key to the future of hunting.  The educational process involves a series of interrelated steps from awareness to enlightenment to understanding and finally to respect.  The one small step any hunter can do to start practicing QDM is to become a dedicated member of the Quality Deer Management Association.  The QDMA’s mission is to ensure the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage.  By becoming a member of the QDMA each hunter will be individually working to fulfill the mission of the organization, and that is the first step toward practicing QDM.

Once again, I’d strongly suggest you head on over to the link below and vote for Joe Hamilton for Budweiser Conservationist of the Year. He has worked tremendously hard to promote quality deer management and hardcore hunters like us are reaping the benefits today all across the country.

Vote here: http://budweiserconservationist.young-america.com/Register.aspx