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Team Work -- Developing Successful QDM Cooperatives
Brian Murphy, Dean Stewart, Dr. Steve Demarais, & Don Bales,
Joe Hamilton, Dr. R. Larry Marchinton, Donald Wood & Dr. Karl Miller
Interest in managing whitetails for improved herd quality and hunting opportunities has increased greatly in recent decades. This interest has led thousands of landowners and hunters to implement deer management programs on the lands they own or hunt. However, the success of many of these programs has been limited due to the small acreage under management. This situation has been magnified by habitat loss, forest fragmentation, and a reduction in average property size. Some small property owners and hunters have simply given up, while others have erected high-fences. Other motivated hunters have elected to form Quality Deer Management Cooperatives. This article is a reduced version of the new QDMA publication, "Establishing Successful Quality Deer Management Cooperatives", now available from the QDMA.
What is a Quality Deer Management Cooperative?
A Quality Deer Management Cooperative (QDM Cooperative) is simply a group of property owners and hunters working together to improve the quality of the deer herd and hunting experiences on their collective acreages. Cooperatives vary in size, number of participants, and organizational structure depending on the needs and objectives of members. By forming a cooperative, members gain the management advantages of a larger landowner. Cooperatives are voluntary affiliations and in no way entitle neighboring hunters access to your property or diminish the landowner’s control. They are simply collections of landowners and hunters that establish and abide by agreed deer management guidelines to enable improved management over a larger area.
Benefits of a QDM Cooperative
Deer Herd Benefits
The benefits of a QDM Cooperative to a deer herd are numerous. They enable landowners and hunters with small landholdings to participate in QDM.
A Viable Population Management Alternative
In SW Wisconsin landowners and hunters have an additional reason to seriously consider a QDM program: a viable, science-based alternative to the all or nothing choice arising from the state wildlife agency's decision to pursue wild deer eradication as a means to control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. Landowners and hunters who recognize the value of reducing the deer population but who oppose deer eradication (or its operational equivalent) have been left between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Responses have ranged from boycotting hunting to nailing every buck with 6 or more points before the "sharpshooters" get them. The philosophy of "Let Him Go, so He can Grow" just doesn't exist in this environment. Enough landowners and hunters have either boycotted or restricted overall harvest - even with the addition of paid sharpshooters shooting over bait piles - that the overall harvest has been below the 15 year average, inadequate and imbalanced.
The result has been a lose-lose outcome: deer hunters and deer hunting traditions suffer and a sustainable, balanced population reduction is not occuring.
The Uplands Branch considers a Quality Deer Management approach the win-win solution that a broad range of interests can embrace. It obtains sustainable control over the deer population to the benefit of the deer and the land - while preserving a quality experience for the deer hunter.
--Ross Reinhold, editor
Research has shown that the average home range of adult bucks varies from several hundred to a few thousand acres. Home ranges of adult does are slightly smaller. Research also indicates that most young bucks disperse one to several miles from their birth area between the ages of six and 24 months. These findings show several thousand acres are required to contain the normal movements of whitetails. A larger area under management enables a greater percentage of the “neighborhood” deer herd to be encompassed under a single management program.
Does this mean a QDM Cooperative must be several thousand acres to be successful? Not necessarily. Experience from those involved in smaller cooperatives has shown that in some situations positive results can be achieved on less than 1,000 acres. Obviously, the more land under management the better, and any increase in acreage likely will improve management success. Ultimately, QDM Cooperatives can lead to increased deer herd quality, improved hunter satisfaction, and enhanced recreational value of all wildlife resources.
A second benefit of a QDM Cooperative is the opportunity to better manage the density, distribution, and physical characteristics of the local deer herd. It is more difficult on small properties to establish and manipulate deer density, sex ratio, or age structure because many of these deer spend much of their lives on adjacent lands. This makes it nearly impossible to control deer density and improve buck age structure and a leading reason why many QDM programs on small properties fail. By implementing a QDM program across a larger area, it is possible to effectively manage these herd characteristics.
Another benefit of a QDM Cooperative is the ability to pool harvest and observation data. In most cases, the number of deer harvested on small properties is so small and variable that harvest data are of limited value. This forces managers on these properties to make management decisions based on limited information. The pooling of harvest and observation data provides a more complete “picture” of the local deer herd and enables more precise management recommendations to be established.
Hunters may be reluctant to provide harvest and/or observation data because they do not wish to reveal locations of deer sightings or harvests. One way to address this problem is for hunters on each property to collect their harvest and observation data and supply it to a state or private wildlife biologist after the hunting season for analysis. The biologist can then remove any hunter- or property-specific details and compile a generic report for the entire cooperative. Such a report should include the total number of does and bucks harvested by age class, their physical characteristics, and how this information compares to the established goals of the QDM Cooperative.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of a QDM Cooperative to hunters is the opportunity to hunt a high-quality deer herd containing numerous adult bucks. However, there are many benefits not related to harvesting deer. One of the most important is improved relationships with surrounding landowners and hunters. As groups unite in a common goal, they develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their collective effort. This requires the establishment of honesty and trust — the two most important ingredients in a successful QDM Cooperative. This will not happen overnight and occasional setbacks will occur. Over time, this trust will result in the establishment of lasting friendships and a mutual bond. These relationships will allow the sharing of information and expertise that will improve the hunting for all involved.
Management costs also can be reduced through QDM Cooperatives. Typically, it is more cost-effective to purchase lime, fertilizer, food plot seed, and other items in bulk. This will require some coordination, but can result in substantial savings. Another possible benefit is the sharing of equipment and other resources. One member of the QDM Cooperative may have a tractor, dozer, or other piece of equipment to loan, rent, or trade for some other item or service. Other items that could be shared include a refrigerated deer cooler, shooting range, meeting facility, dove field, or even a tracking dog.
Another important benefit of a QDM Cooperative is the ability to better control trespassing and poaching. As groups of hunters from adjoining properties unite to produce quality deer, they will have an increased interest in preventing unauthorized or illegal access. In many cases, trespassers and poachers go unnoticed because area hunters do not know who is authorized to hunt on the adjoining properties.
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