The Dogma of “Quality” Deer Management

I must start by saying, I’m a huge fan of QDMA as an organization.

I believe QDMA is the backlash of failed State run game management. Even now, 30 years after the founding of QDMA the state of South Carolina allows hunting for archery and firearms from August 15th until January 1st. Bag limit is one buck per day, except on Sundays unless you are on private land. So if you hunt public land 6 days a week, and can get access to private land on Sundays, you could kill 107 bucks per year per hunter. That is over the counter. You can additionally apply for anterless tags or use generous landowner tags if you know someone.

There was a well earned reason for the backlash! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pick on South Carolina. It is a state that I truly love to hunt. I was shocked to buy a Georgia hunting license and find that it allowed me to kill up to 10 deer, 1 bear, unlimited hogs, and turkeys. While I appreciate their marketing departments zeal in recruiting me as an out of state hunter, what is the herd effect of issuing licenses this way?

What do you do if you can’t change the state regulations, but you see a sick herd? Grassroots says you collect up your neighbors, compare notes, educate one another, and agree to fix your local herd. It’s a situation where “what is right” is more important than “what is legal.”

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a bunch of time with a biologist and a landowner going over a property and discussing habitat and management strategies. I found out later the biologist was the founder of QDMA, and the landowner was the first president of QDMA. Small world huh?

Here is the first thing I realized about these two, they are very dynamic people. They both look in the micro at any immediate area, and can instantly relate it to a macro level of herd management. They seemed very comfortable looking at 10 or 20 acres, then go straight into the macro issues facing a 3 county area.

The big thing I realized in the next few hours as a fly on the wall, these guys were not set on any “4 points on one side” sort of hard rule. In reality, 4 points on one side probably wouldn’t be a hard push on the property we were on. Instead they were really focused on the overall health of the land and the animals living there. It was a very dynamic discussion.

Dogma. Where I hunted today in Michigan was a non-QDMA tract ajoined to a few QDMA tracts. Several men are very stringent about their 8 point (Eastern count) minimum on any buck killed. I decided to target a button buck or a spike.

“Sacrillege!!!!” you say. I thought about it long and hard, I tried to think of it like a biologist. Here is what I realized:

  1. QDMA is working! There are many bucks 2.5 and 3.5 years old, and maybe even a few older. A few very good looking 8s, 10s, and even a 12 point or two. The mature bucks are in great shape but I don’t see any on camera nearing the end of their natural life. These are breeders that are spreading great genes! We need these bucks alive and rutting as many does as they can!
  2. This county was hit HARD with EHD for two years in a row. Herd die off was estimated at 50% each year. When herds are at 25% of their counts from just a couple years ago, it would be an injustice to kill a doe. They are EHD resistent and proven breeders. I saw one doe with two fawns, and one with triplets. Clearly I couldn’t shoot a fertile doe like that with the herd down the way it is.
  3. Yearling does will be critically important in recovering the herd over the next several years. These are completely off limits to my conscious.
  4. Dry does, you know, the big old horse heads. I would have gladly taken one of these, but it’s hard to know if they are past their mating years, or if they just lost this years young to a car or coyotes. Better to pass on these if not certain (and I’m rarely certain.)
  5. What does that leave? Immature bucks, or not hunting. Sure if a cow horn came by that would be a great cull, but I’ve never seen one in this county. Removing a spike would ensure it didn’t breed a doe, and it would yield a good amount of meat. I’d rather hunt and pass than to not hunt at all. I did have a button buck at 1 yard today, and had a slam dunk shot lined itself up I would have taken it. I’d say the chances of him making it through firearms season is very slim, and I would have liked that tender meat for my freezer. Alas, the shot was never right. I’ll just hold out for a spike or a cow horn in that county.

Clearly there is a difference between meat-harvesting and trophy-hunting, but for the meat hunter it’s important to consider all aspects of the current herd when deciding what animals to pursue. Likewise, I don’t think “4 points on one side” is the end-all answer for trophy hunters. If your land and habitat can lend itself to a much higher quality animal, why not go to a 4.5 year or 5.5 year minimum for trophies? There are a lot of 2.5 year old bucks killed in the name of quality deer management and it has little to do with their potential, their place in the reproductive lifecycle, or their true trophy quality.

If you hunt deer, I ask you to consider the big picture before considering what you will pursue when you go afield. If you are a non-hunter, consider every animal raised in a pen will be killed regardless. I’m very honored to be connected to these herds and to be very selective about what I harvest in each area I hunt.

Treestand System

stand setup

I have used maybe a few dozen treestands at this point, and I’ve owned 5 different hang on models and 7 different pairs of sticks to use with them. While I know lots of guys who’ve used many more over many more years, one good thing is that all of my experience at this point has been in the last 6 years.

When it came time for me to invest I thought long and hard about the different styles, and I immediately eliminated ladder stands due to my mobility requirements. I like the idea of a climber and have many friends that love them, but you always end up with the “hunting the tree instead of hunting the spot” problem. While a hang on system maybe have more parts, you can get into some crazy trees and sometimes it’s those crazy trees that are where the animals are going to pass. I decided that a hang on stand would be right for me.

I had many friends encourage me to invest in a Lone Wolf, and I ignored them and bought a bunch of cheaper stands instead. In total I bought 4 stands that together cost much more than a Lone Wolf, and then I bought the Lone Wolf and gave away all the other ones. I purchased the Lone Wolf Alpha 2 at Cabelas using points. While I love this stand, had I needed to pay cash out of my wallet I would have bought a XOP Air Raid instead.

While I think my stand was amazing coming out of the package, I was inspired by Jason at the TBWPODCAST to do a little better. I wrote up how I used rubber, zip ties, and military surplus gear to drastically improve how quiet and comfortable my stand is to use. Read about it HERE if you missed it before. The final modification I made was to remove the beloved “batwing” and go with an EZ-Hang strap. Look at my zip tie and Yak Grips in the Sticktalk article, those are really slick!

With my treestand 100% awesome, now I needed sticks to get me up there. Muddy had just released their new Pro Sticks and I was intrigued. While I much prefer three long sticks to 4 short ones, these had a few HUGE advantages over the LW sticks. First the rope and cam buckle system is absolutely perfect. It is actually impossible to make metal to metal noise with one of these sticks. Second, every step is a double step so you don’t have to swap your step from side to side. As a nice bonus they are geared together so if you pull one side down it brings the other side along with it.

Assuming I’d hang my first stick at waist or chest height, I could set my second stick across the top of the first. That left me two sticks to figure out. I ended up putting two loops on each side of my harness at my waist, but out of the way of my lineman’s belt loops. I also added 550 cord loops to two of my sticks, now I can click them in to my waist with rubber covered mini carabiners. Other than the loops on two of them, I have not modified them in any structural way. I did wrap them with Howie’s Hockey Tape on a slow winter weekend last year, but functionally they are just like they came from the factory.

So aside from the hardware, there is one trick that makes all of this work especially good for me. I walk to my tree with my stand on my back, and my backpack hanging on it. I have my bow in my right hand, and my sticks in my left. At the bottom of the tree I always do the exact same thing:

  1. I put everything on the ground.
  2. I put on my harness, I put my EZ-Hang strap in my right cargo pocket, and my second strap in my left cargo pocket.
  3. I take my lineman’s belt and attach it to my harness.
  4. I have a rope permanently attached to the top handle of my backpack, I fish it all out and make sure its tangle free.
  5. There is a loop 6′ up from the backpack handle, I secure the top limb of my longbow to that.
  6. The every end of the 30′ rope has a loop on it, I attach it to my right side mini carabiner.
  7. I put the stand on my back like a backpack, without using the waist belt.
  8. I put the first stick on the tree, balance the second stick on the first, then put my other two sticks on my sides with the mini carabiners.
  9. I climb up on the first step and wrap my lineman’s belt around the tree and adjust the prussic knot to fit.
  10. Put on the second stick, climb up to the bottom step of it.
  11. Pull the third stick off my right side, mount it, climb onto it’s bottom step.
  12. Pull the fourth stick off my left side, mount it, climb up to it’s bottom step.
  13. Take EZ-Hang strap out of my right cargo pocket, put it chest high and cinch it up.
  14. Get a really good check on the lineman’s belt, loosen up the shoulder straps, and hang the stand on the EZ-Hang.
  15. Make all adjustments for the platform angle, etc.
  16. Install the second strap on the bottom button, cinch it up tight, double check platform level, try to twist sideways, etc.
  17. Take rope going to the backpack and longbow off the mini carabiner, put it on the top (unused) “button” on the stand.
  18. From top step, install tree tether as high up as I can reach, click the strap from my back onto it.
  19. With seat up, step down from the top step of the fourth stick onto the platform.
  20. Give it a one legged kick/push/and apply weight while keeping 3 other points of contact.
  21. Move second foot over, feel it out, remove lineman’s belt.
  22. Drag up bow, put on seat.
  23. Put backpack’s handle on the top step of the top stick. Secure excess rope.
  24. Sit down, put an arrow on the string, put the lower limb in my boot, and hunt!

OK, that looks like a lot of steps but as long as you prepare at the base of the tree for the steps you’re about to perform, it just flows from one thing to the next.

One thing I realized in typing this up, instead of putting the loop on the string between the backpack and the treestand, I want a 6′ rope on the bottom of the backpack to go to the bow. This way I can drag up the heavy backpack and hang it then bring up my bow last (without a second haul rope.) It is good to maintain a “beginners mind”!

The Inevitable Arch

I’ve written of this before, but it’s such an important event in my life I think it’s worth recapping for anyone who missed it.

A few years ago in February of 2013 I was on a hog hunt in Georgia. Every hunter in camp had an American Semi-Longbow, or a “Hill style longbow” if you will. There were folks from coast to coast and Canada in camp that weekend and it was a wonderful hunt regardless of all of us being universally skunked.

Among the group there were two gentlemen who had hunted all over the world, including several Africa trips each. The crowd gathered around these guys as they talked around the fire at night, but in the early mornings there were just a couple of us who came to them to pursue more info before they went after pigs. Of many pieces of helpful advice, here is the one I clung to: Figure out the biggest and toughest animal you ever want to hunt, buy a bow suited for the job, and start there.

I spent quite a time reflecting on this. Surely if I waited until “retirement” at an official age of 67, would I be able to draw a heavy bow for truly big game? Surely not! Being already 38 years old I needed to make a plan quickly while I was still able to draw a bow sufficient to penetrate thick and heavy boned animals. Whatever I lack in knowledge and finesse at this age can be overcome with sheer poundage and arrow weight.

It wasn’t lost on me that these gentlemen were around 70 years of age as they conveyed this to me. They were still hunting internationally, but their bows were drawing in the forty pound range. They had the benefit of fifty years of experience, decades of tuning expertise, and an impressive idea of what the word “sharp” really means. In this I saw the beauty of what I call “the arch of the bowhunter.”

Two years later I hunted hogs in South Carolina with a fantastic gentleman 81 years young. He’s taken plenty of big game and gone on many fantastic adventures. These days he hunts with a longbow in the low 40s and I would be terrified to be on the receiving end of one of his arrows. Still shooting wood shafts and broadheads with stunning sharpness, he is likely more lethal at his age as I am at mine.

Thus an interesting aspect of the arch: While I’ll need 40 more years to get this level of experience, I can’t wait to get that experience before I pursue the really big game. Having now passed my 40th birthday, I realized I was at that crossroads. I had to choose now if I would pursue any of the truly big game of this world before I lost the ability to physically draw a sufficient bow for the task. I have accepted the challenge, and I will hunt a magnificent animal in 2017!