By Cody Altizer
I’ve been hunting whitetails since I was 6 years old. I vividly remember one of my very first hunts, because it was also one of the most painful. I was hunting with my dad and we didn’t leave camp until well after daylight for one, because I was 6 years old, and two, because it was much more safe for me to climb a tree during the daylight as opposed to pitch black. On the way to stand one morning I was aimlessly following my dad’s every move, walking in step with him, putting my foot in the exact same place he put his (surely I can’t be the only kid who ever did that?), and pretty much being completely oblivious to all that was around me when BAM! My dad stopped to watch the deer we spooked cross the power line in front of us and I ran face first into the butt of his rifle. I started to cry like a madman before my dad convinced me the world was not ending, and that we should continue the hunt. We didn’t see anything that I remember that morning, but I shot my first deer the very next day.
Since then I’ve spent countless hours in the whitetail woods, and with every different season seems to bring a different mindset. There were seasons when I was just happy to be in the woods due to other obligations. There were seasons where I had plenty of time on my hands, and targeted and attempted to kill a specific buck. Then, of course, there were seasons when I was younger when I was pulling the trigger as long as there was deer in my scope and the crosshairs on its shoulder.
However, in the last several years, I’ve definitely settled into a groove and become very comfortable with who I am as a hunter. Simply, I’m going to work my tail off to harvest the biggest, baddest buck in the woods, while doing my part to manage and conserve the whitetail and the habitat they call home. I’ll be completely stoked if someone else kills my target buck (like I was in 2011 when my brother killed Clyde, a 150” behemoth of a 15 pointer), I’ll laugh at myself when I miss and cut open my forehead on the scope (like I did during the 2009 late season), and I’ll express great humility and thanks when I kill a deer, or any deer for that matter, just like I have since I was 6 years old.
And, while I don’t believe the list above are the only reasons people hunt, I think, for the most part, people hunt for three general reasons; to simply enjoy time in the woods, to hunt for specific or mature animals, or because it’s fun and to fill their freezer. With that said, I believe that regardless of which of these groups you fall into – the philosophy of quality deer management, which I adhere to, has something to offer.
How Quality Deer Management Fits In
Now, all that said, many of you know that I’m a big proponent of Quality Deer Management. On the flip side, I know there are many that aren’t as big of fans. Naysayers confuse Quality Deer Management (QDM) with Trophy Deer Management (TDM), and have convinced themselves QDM is guilty of creating our antler driver, horn-porn hunting culture. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion. Here’s why …
First lets clarify what QDM and the QDMA is all about. According to the Quality Deer Management Association, their goal is to “promote sustainable, high quality white-tailed deer populations, wildlife habitats, and ethical hunting experiences through education, research, and management in partnership with hunters, landowners, natural resource professionals, and the public.” Additionally, at it’s core Quality Deer Management is dependent on four core building blocks; herd management, habitat management, hunter management, and herd monitoring. No where on the QDMA’s website do I see anything about only killing big antlered deer, or hunting just to grow and kill record book bucks.
That said, regardless of which camp you fall in when it comes to why you hunt, you may be surprised to know that the values of Quality Deer Management might match up quite well with many of yours. For example, if you’re a meat hunter and are just looking to feed your family during the fall, shooting a couple nice, fat does will do just that, and by doing this you’ll be helping balance your herd’s sex ratio as well as conserving habitat – an important value espoused by QDM practitioners. By harvesting adult does instead of young bucks (the does taste better anyway), you’ll in turn give those bucks another year to mature and reach their full potential. I think most of us can agree that’s a good thing, as I’m not sure there’s a whitetail hunter alive who doesn’t get a little extra excited when a dandy buck comes trotting through the woods!
If just spending time in the woods is your ticket into the whitetail’s world, then QDM again proudly answers that call. QDM, much to the dismay of those against the practice, is not just about killing deer. It’s about the preservation and conservation of the whitetail as a resource, and the habitat that whitetails call home. Improving and managing habitat not only for whitetails, but other game species, is one of the cornerstones of QDM. I can’t think of time better spent than that of spending all day on a tractor and ATV turning over dirt, planting a food plot and praying for rain all the while knowing that once the plot grows, I will have given back much more to the land and wildlife than could ever be taken from by killing a deer. So all that said, again if you’re enjoying time spent in the woods giving back to nature – again, you’re quite in line with the values of the QDM crowd.
Finally, if you’re in search of mature whitetails every fall like I am, then QDM is the most effective, efficient, and ethical method to ensure that happens. It takes a lot of time and effort to grow and hold mature whitetails, of course; but the knowledge gained about the outdoors, the time spent with family, and the lessons learned about wildlife makes it all worthwhile. Again, who doesn’t like the sight of a mature buck zig zagging through hinge cuts in hot pursuit of a doe leaving a vapor trail to count for his efforts on a frosty November morning? Wow, just gave myself chills just thinking about it. How many days until November?
We all hunt for different reasons, and most hunters I know accept that and encourage one another to hunt as long as it makes them happy, because we’re in this together after all. However, maybe contrary to what you’ve heard and regardless of what your reasons are for hunting, quality deer management may be more in line with your philosophy than you thought.
Before placing judgement on the QDM crowd, make sure you understand what Quality Deer Management is really all about rather than just assuming it’s what the guys on TV are talking about. Pull up QDMA.com and give it a read, and ask real hunters in your area who are practicing why they do it and what exactly they do. In the end, you may find that QDM is a better fit than you ever thought. Better deer and better deer hunting – who doesn’t want that?
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com