When Joe Hamilton founded the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) in 1988, the deer world was very different than it is today. Trail-cameras, commercial food plot blends, and even modern camouflage were just arriving on the scene. Little did Joe know then the profound impact QDMA would have on whitetails and hunting over the ensuing three decades.
At the time, deer herds in most states were growing rapidly, harvest of young bucks was extreme, and a strong reluctance to harvest does existed. The result was large, often overabundant deer herds with skewed sex ratios favoring does and few bucks surviving beyond their first birthday. In short, deer herds and deer habitats were sick, and a strong dose of Quality Deer Management (QDM) was the perfect prescription.
Today, more 3½-year-old or older bucks are harvested nationwide than 1½-year-olds. Similarly, since 1999 hunters have harvested more antlerless deer than antlered bucks each year. These accomplishments are truly remarkable and reflect a complete paradigm shift from the days of traditional deer management. As further evidence, 82 percent of hunters in a nationwide survey in 2013 reported adhering to QDM principles where they hunt. To say QDMA has changed the face of deer hunting and management would be an understatement. With the help of tens of thousands of QDMA members, we tackled the unthinkable task of changing the attitudes of millions of deer hunters and even many professional wildlife biologists and were able to check this box in less than 30 years.
However, as we were busy accomplishing our initial mission, new challenges emerged. Deer hunter numbers fell to the lowest level in decades, chronic wasting disease (CWD) and epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) became more widespread and impactful, and predators and competitors began negatively impacting more deer herds than ever before.
These challenges call for an even stronger, more effective QDMA.
That’s why, over the past year, we reviewed QDMA’s mission of “ensuring the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage” and agreed it was still the best description of our mission – past, present and future. However, it became apparent we had not focused enough on the third “leg” of our mission – hunting heritage. This is a broad topic, but it starts with hunting because we are hunters, first and foremost. It’s everything we do that strengthens our ability to hunt today and for generations to come.
Given the above, I am pleased to announce QDMA’s ambitious goals for the next five years. While we will continue our work on the first two legs of our mission – whitetails and habitat – our focus will be intensified on hunting heritage. That is why you will notice only one new goal each for whitetails and habitat whereas there are five new hunting heritage goals.
The membership participation information provided in many of the goals below came from a QDMA membership survey conducted earlier this year in which more than 2,600 members participated.
White-tailed Deer: Protect
Goal: Contribute $1 million to research, on-the-ground management, and technical assistance for white-tailed deer.
Justification: Diseases such as CWD and EHD as well as predators and competitors threaten many herds. These and other threats and challenges require an increased commitment to research and practical, on-the-ground management solutions.
Baseline: The QDMA National Office has contributed $865,000 to research, management and technical assistance efforts since 2006.
Challenge: Double QDMA’s annual expenditures to an average of $200,000 per year over the next five years.
Wildlife Habitat: Conserve
Goal: Place 35 million acres into QDM Cooperatives across the whitetail’s range.
Justification: A growing body of research confirms that cooperatives not only improve deer herd quality and hunting experiences, they also connect critical landscapes and provide broad conservation and ecological benefits. In brief, they are the future of wildlife conservation in North America, especially on private lands.
Baseline: Currently, 30 percent, or approximately 17,500 QDMA members, are involved in a deer management cooperative. These cooperatives average approximately 1,700 acres each, or a collective 29 million acres. That’s roughly the size of Mississippi or New York!
Challenge: Increase the number of acres in QDM Cooperatives by 6 million over the next five years.
Hunting Heritage: Access
Goal: Strengthen partnerships with state and federal agencies to enhance deer herds and habitats on public hunting lands to provide enhanced QDM hunting experiences.
Justification: Lack of access is one of the most significant barriers to hunter recruitment and retention. However, access is more than just a place to hunt; it also is influenced by the quality of the habitat and game populations. Thus, improving habitat quality on well-distributed public lands improves the quality of the access for many hunters.
Baseline: A relatively small number of QDMA Branches, primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, currently partner with their respective wildlife agencies to improve habitat on public lands.
Challenge: Double the number of habitat improvement projects on public lands over the next five years.
Hunting Heritage: Recruit
Goal: Mentor 1 million new or beginning hunters through QDMA’s Share Your Hunt™ program, Field to Fork program, individual mentor program and partnership with Scholastic 3D Archery.
Justification: Hunter numbers are at the lowest level in decades and declining. This decline is expected to accelerate in the future as large numbers of Baby Boomers cease hunting (see page 36). With deer hunters being the largest component of the hunter population, QDMA has the potential to play a significant role in hunter recruitment and retention.
Baseline: Currently, 76 percent of QDMA members, or approximately 43,000, mentored at least one hunter last year, with an average of 3.7 hunters per mentor. Importantly, 58 percent of the new or beginning hunters were not related to the mentor. When combined with QDMA’s Share Your Hunt™ program and other mentor initiatives, QDMA mentored approximately 160,000 hunters in 2016.
Challenge: Increase current mentorship levels from 160,000 to more than 200,000 annually over the next five years.
Hunting Heritage: Share
Goal: Share 20 million meals, or 5 million pounds of venison, with friends, family and others not residing in the donor’s household.
Justification: Recent research has revealed that the best way for hunters to connect with non-hunters is through the sharing of wild game. With the growing interest in food safety and healthy living, there has never been a better time to introduce non-hunters to the quality and taste of wild venison through a shared meal.
Baseline: Currently, 56 percent of QDMA members, or approximately 33,000, share venison meals with people outside of their household annually. In total, they share 3.4 million meals or 844,480 pounds. This equates to 26 pounds or roughly 100 servings shared by QDMA members with others outside of their home at barbecues, family gatherings and other events each year.
Challenge: Increase the number of meals shared by QDMA members by 320,000 per year over the next five years.
Hunting Heritage: Donate
Goal: Donate 40 million meals, or 10 million pounds of venison, or the equivalent processing costs, to charities or others not residing in the donor’s household.
Justification: One in seven U.S. households is currently food insecure. Each year, American deer hunters harvest roughly 6 million whitetails, with each providing approximately 40 to 50 pounds of edible meat. At four meals per pound, this equates to more than 1 billion venison meals annually. Even if only a small portion of this total were donated, it would make a measurable impact on the dietary quality of those in need.
Baseline: Currently, 44 percent of QDMA members, or approximately 26,000, donate bulk venison to charities or individuals not residing in their household annually. In total, they donate 6.9 million meals or 1.73 million pounds. This equates to 40 pounds each, which is roughly the quantity of venison provided by one deer.
Challenge: Increase the number of meals donated by QDMA members by 270,000 per year over the next five years.
Hunting Heritage: Educate
Goal: Introduce five million hunters annually to QDM principles and practices by the end of five years.
Justification: Education has long been the hallmark of QDMA. Despite the tremendous advancements in knowledge and understanding of whitetail hunting and management, many hunters as well as non-hunters remain uninformed or misinformed regarding the benefits of QDM.
Baseline: Currently, QDMA’s educational resources, including our website, social media, Quality Whitetails, videos, online courses, Deer Steward courses, new e-book and Branch events, reach approximately 3.3 million people annually, the vast majority of which are deer hunters.
Challenge: Increase QDMA’s total educational reach by 1.7 million people over the next five years.
By now, you may be thinking, “Wow, these are some ambitious goals, but exactly how will they be accomplished?” The short answer is through a strengthened, laser-focused commitment from the QDMA National Office and you, our grassroots members and volunteers. Many of you may be wondering how you can make a difference in a sea of 11 million deer hunters. The answer can be found in many of our new goals in which your contributions are vital to their success. The only way QDMA can accomplish these goals is if our Branches and individual members like you commit to recruiting new hunters, sharing venison, participating in cooperatives and supporting QDMA. Working together, our efforts will directly and measurably impact the future of whitetail hunting, wildlife conservation and our hunting heritage.
What You Can Do To Help
–> Join QDMA and set your membership for auto-renewal. This helps us save by reducing renewal notice expenditures.
–> Recruit new QDMA members.
–> Attend your local QDMA Branch event and support their work, which is a major part of the mission efforts.
–> Update your e-mail address with us so you can receive news of local Branch events and national initiatives on a regular basis.
As an organization with a proud history of accomplishing great feats, this is simply an evolution in our mission and our next big challenge. I am confident that, with your support, QDMA is up to the task just as we were in 1988 when few believed QDMA would survive, let alone change the face of deer hunting forever.