Okay, so there really are no “secrets” to Quality Deer Management or QDM. There are many experts and books to outline how to grow big bucks and manage deer herds. The type of QDM that I employ would more aptly be titled “Fair Game” Management. The 2008 hunting season was a good year for hunters at our property (4 of us in total) even though many hunters reported poor harvests. Folks asked what we did to see so many deer. I feel inadequate to say I am any semblance of an expert, but I know a little bit about whitetails. “QDM secrets” reminds me of when people ask for a great recipe. Some cooks don’t give out their recipes, or intentionally change them so they can forever bask in their own culinary glory. I share all my “secrets,” whether recipes or hunting, because if we are all doing the same things, we all have success and fun - and that is “win-win” and makes for a Fair Game.
First, QDM on the mere 80 acres I own is virtually impossible. Deer have ranges of many miles, especially bucks, so you would really need to own a lot more land. Also, you would need the true cooperation of many fellow landowners with thousands of acres of woods to effectively implement ‘true’ QDM on any measurable scale. Good luck with that since there is always going to be a loose cannon hunter or two who does not buy into the QDM concept and who shoots everything that walks by. However, there are a few things you can do on small scale acreage, but I feel anything less than 80 acres is not realistic. We harvest deer every year, bucks and does, archery and firearms. Here is my year round Business Plan for hunting whitetails:
1. Minnesota DNR has a free (with suggested donation) Woodland Stewardship Plan for property. You can learn a lot, get advice on where to place food plots, do clear cuts, alter beaver dams, place tree stands, identify food sources, transition zones etc. - that you may not otherwise know.
2. In the spring – Scout like a maniac. Learn every bit of your property intimately. Identify where and when deer travel to and from bedding areas to food sources. A trail camera is helpful. Create new food sources like food plots no later than mid-summer. Identify Sanctuaries. This is Secret #1. A sanctuary is where deer like to hide but where humans never go. They are typically tall grass swamps, large clear cuts with popple growth, downhill wooded areas facing to the east that are sheltered from the prevailing weather. Think like a deer. Where would you go to have cover from dangers like people, wind, and bad weather?
3. Spring to Midsummer – Travel ATV or other trails regularly but do NOT EVER go into your ‘sanctuaries.’ This is Secret #2. Get the deer used to your presence and your scent with regular activity on standard routes on your land. Pretty soon the deer will be following you around out of curiosity. Staying out of their sanctuaries gives them a place to hide and where they perceive they will be safe.
4. Erect Hunting Stand Early - as well as checking them for safety, by early August and then stay AWAY from them. Regularly continue your routes to work your food plots. Occasional scouting is acceptable but keep your impact on the woods minimal after late summer.
5. For the last 2-3 weeks before hunting openers, Get OUT of the woods. This is Secret #3. You should know your deer patterns by now. Too much forest intrusion too close to openers is going to scare most deer from your area. Also, most other hunters will be IN the woods right before the openers so if you stay out of the woods, the deer will hang out at your place and in your sanctuaries because they feel safe there.
6. Don’t booger up the woods after hunting season starts. This is Secret #4. Get to your stand quickly and quietly and in the dark way before sunrise. Have your trails well marked so you don’t get off trail or lost. Walk like a deer: slow, fast, slow, stop, repeat. Leave your stand in the dark at day’s end. Try not to use a flash light. Don’t wander around too much leaving your scent everywhere and being seen by deer. Many more deer see you than you know, and once they do, they’re gone.
7. Burn your buck tag on a ‘Dink’ – This is Secret #5. A “Dink” is any legal buck that has a poor rack, the inferior genetics of which if propogated, would dilute the quality of your herd. I have been chided in the past for burning my buck tags on scraggly racked bucks, but removing them works in the long run. Let the nice boys live and produce more of the same.
Our deer camp harvested an eight pointer, a six pointer and three does. The six bullet points above were the basic plan we followed. If we all had followed similar plans, we might all have gotten equal numbers of deer which is truly my preference. The camaraderie of deer camp is great, but harvesting animals is why we are there.
To recap our small scale efforts at QDM:
1. Get a DNR Woodland Stewardship Plan done for your land
2. Scout extensively and identify sanctuaries before mid-summer and stay totally OUT of those sanctuaries
3. Systematically travel your woods on predictable routes so deer get used to your presence & scent
4. All hunting stands should be ready by early August and then left alone
5. Get OUT of the woods 3 weeks before the openers
6. Don’t booger up the woods after hunting season opens
7. Cull inferior bucks
The end result? A Fair Game where we all see and harvest deer.