White-tailed deer organization helping change hunters' attitudes
By David Ching - firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The stereotype may always exist that hunters are backwards types, but that depiction isn't exactly true.
At least not where the Athens-based Quality Deer Management Association and like-minded outdoorsmen are concerned.
Spurred partially by changing technological times and an emphasis on science, as well as by the conservation movement's emphasis on herd and land management, many hunters' attitudes have evolved in time.
"I think there's been a total attitudinal change to deer hunting altogether," said Randy Bowden, the QDMA's director of marketing and corporate relations. "It was a male, macho, Bubba sport for so long - and it might not be far from a male, macho, Bubba sport now - but as hunters, we've all matured. And the younger set coming up has a totally different attitude toward hunting than I did when I was coming up. They're taught a different way."
For instance, it wasn't until about 10 years ago that deer hunters harvested more does - once considered a no-no among the macho hunting set - than bucks. But today, hunters increasingly realize that maintaining some element of balance between the deer's age and sex ratios is essential to the overall health of the herd.
Still, some old-school hunters will always stick to their guns, so to speak.
"We all know some people that will never kill a doe in their lifetime - it's just philosophically not gonna happen. They can't bring themselves to shoot a female deer," QDMA chief executive officer Brian Murphy said. "The youth of today don't have a problem with it as a whole because they've been brought up under a different mindset. We've seen huge changes in hunter attitudes in Georgia."
That, essentially, is why the QDMA exists. The non-profit organization - which has been headquartered in the Athens area since 1997 and has 50,000 members in all 50 states and several countries - wants to educate hunters and land owners as to the most effective ways to hunt and contend with white-tailed deer.
Georgia has approximately 4,000 members in the organization, including about 2,000 within a 60-mile radius of Athens. A $30 annual adult membership is open to anyone with an interest in white-tailed deer hunting and management.
QDMA data shows that its members reside in 90 percent of the counties in the United States that contain white-tailed deer, and that those members own or manage more than 15 million acres of land.
"That's a significant footprint for conservation," Murphy said. "And on most of those acres, it's safe to say that they're better managed today than they were a decade ago."
Murphy's statement is likely true if those landowners follow the conservationist tactics that have become more popular in the last 15 years - much like those stipulated in the QDMA's principles.
The movement isn't simply about enriching the herd through maintaining a balanced age and sex ratio, it also focuses on land owners providing a quality habitat to support the deer and other wildlife who reside in the area.
"If you wrapped it all up and ask what QDM is really all about, balance is a good summary," said QDMA director of communications Lindsay Thomas. "Balance between the number of deer in the habitat, balance between the numbers of bucks and numbers of does, balance in the numbers of bucks of different ages through the structure."
It requires a different approach than the old days where hunters would visit their camps for a couple weeks per year and then not come back until the next deer season. QDMA principles encourage hunters to engage in a year-round practice of planting plots to support the deer and wildlife population - which benefits both the animals and the hunters.
Like-minded hunters have taken their concerns to state natural resource agencies, 22 of which have instituted guidelines to reduce the harvest of younger bucks since 1994 - all in the name of maintaining balance within the population, which leads to a healthier herd and higher-quality bucks once they're allowed to reach a greater age.
"Most of those have come at the request of hunters, not agencies," Murphy said. "It's hunters saying, 'Hey, we've got a lot of deer. We've gotta do something. We've gotta protect these younger bucks and shoot some does to balance the herd.' They have demanded a quality hunting experience versus a quantity hunting experience."
In Georgia, hunters are allowed to harvest 10 antlerless deer and two antlered bucks each year, although Murphy said very few hunters shoot that many. And that creates an issue, as the deer population numbers around 1 million in Georgia, while the number of hunters has declined - as hunting is the most effective means of population control.
"(The bag limit) has changed, and that trend has broadly occurred across the country as white-tailed populations have gone up and hunter numbers have either stayed stable or declined," Murphy said. "You go, 'All right, how does a wildlife agency control this when you've got a set number of hunters?' You give them more opportunity and let them shoot more of them. But there's a point of diminishing returns."
That's why - in addition to their educational and youth outreach missions - some of the QDMA's 85 national branches support charitable causes like paying processing costs to provide venison to homeless shelters and related entities.
Many regular hunters have more deer meat available than space to put it, so they are happy to donate to those in need. But processing the venison is a pricey proposition, which affects their charitable intentions.
That's where the branches' annual fundraising banquets - like the joint effort between the QDMA national office and Georgia Piedmont Branch, which will be held April 8 at the Georgia Center on the UGA campus - come into play. The branches can use the funds generated to provide food for those in need and help further their mission of education and advocacy for deer hunting causes.
"If I'm a hunter, I want to know that I'm getting the best cutting-edge information on deer hunting and management, and we can clearly say we have that," Murphy said. "We're biased, but I believe you can check your references and confirm that. I think we have a long history of doing just that, so we can make them a better deer hunter or manager, period.
" ... If there's someone else from society, if they're looking for some support or guidance on any other deer-related issue, we're for you."