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Quality deer management in MN - is it time for a change?

There has been a lot of effort lately in Minnesota regarding the need to re-think the way the deer herd is managed.

Minnesota has had traditional management for over 30 years now, which means massive pressure on all bucks, most bucks harvested at 2 years of age or younger, and often an under-harvest of does. At one time this was somewhat needed to build up the herd, with season actually needing to be closed for a year in the early 1970’s. Now there is a huge deer herd in northwest Minnesota, the adult buck to doe ratio is very skewed toward females, which causes several problems in itself, more crop damage and deer/vehicle collisions, and the threat of disease is possible.

“What’s really kept our deer herd in control more than anything is bad winters, which we have not had since 1996-1997. Our deer herd has become out of balance within itself as well as the environment. It’s all quantity and very little quality. Many of us think its time for a change,” Clyde Stephens, president of Minnesota Quality Deer Management Inc. (QDMI), said.

Stephens conducted a survey in Northwest Minnesota in 2000 to try and find out what deer hunters wanted - 486 folks responded. Ninety percent of hunters wanted to see more mature bucks (3-year old or older), 73 percent wanted to see more does taken, and the average hunter sees a mature buck about every 15 years! Yet all but a tiny percent of the bucks in Minnesota are harvested as buttons, yearlings and two-yr old bucks, all young or immature. This scenario repeats itself year after year.

“There is a big difference between the kind of deer hunting we want and what we have. QDM closed this HUGE gap. We feel that informing hunters and non-hunters on how we created this situation is the first step toward changing it. Minnesota QDMI is not interested in blaming anyone for our current hunting atmosphere; we simply want to correct it,” Stephens said.

Deer management has to start with hunter education and management. This means changing the way people hunt!

“Every time you pull the trigger you are either helping control our herd or making things worse. Until QDM came along hunters had very little knowledge on deer management. In the old days it didn’t seem to matter, we mostly had a meat-hunter mentality. But for the last 30 years we have been filling too many of our meat tags with young bucks, and wondering why we don’t see mature bucks anymore. Why do so many hunters think its better to take a small young buck rather than a mature doe for meat? There are really two products we get when taking a deer, meat or antlers.When you shoot a small buck and throw the horns away, all you have left is venison and you just made the problem worse,” he said.

While every deer hunter would like to reap the benefits of a well-managed herd, there is a vocal segment of hunters that don’t seem ready or just don’t know how to take any firm steps toward making it happen.

Some form of newer deer management that is biologically balanced is needed. There are several other ways to achieve a quality deer herd like a buck lottery system, eliminating party hunting or enforcing a one buck limit, splitting the season with an early doe season and hunting for bucks after the rut, or closing buck season completely every couple of years. The common thread here is no matter how QDM is implemented, it requires change, and that’s hard for some folks to understand.

“When I hear someone say we don’t want to be forced to do QDM I want to say some of us have been forced to hunt by our traditional system for a long time, and that puts us at the mercy of our neighbors even if we want to practice QDM. We feel our QDM proposal has the best balance available to achieve our goals while not reducing hunter opportunities,” Stephens said.

Every state that has mandated some form of quality deer management in the rulebook has continued to do so. None have started and stopped for any reason. The concept quickly becomes very popular with hunters, landowners, and even non-hunters once they understand it with post-hunt approval ratings of over 90 percent consistently. To get to this point usually takes one hunting season and almost all of the resistance turns to excitement.

There seems to be some confusion about the antler restrictions Mn QDMI had in its proposal. After looking at all the different ways of doing QDM it was decided that for a buck to be taken the antlers would need to meet one of two criteria:

The antlers are as wide as the ears in the extended position, which would be roughly 15 to 17 inches or;

2) At least 4 points (one inch long) on one side including the main beam as one point.

This gives the hunter a chance to gauge the deer at any angle and wide rack bucks with few points could be culled. The goal is to protect yearling as well as some 2-year old bucks. Width is better than points because it is possible for a yearling buck to have 4 or 5 points on a side, but they almost never have a rack as wide as the ears.

Hunters in 14 other states have some form of antler restrictions for deer, plus there are antler restrictions on elk in some states. Even pheasant hunters in some states need to identify roosters from hens when the birds flush, and they only have a couple of seconds to do this.

“So we know hunters are capable of selective harvest, we are simply not used to this style of deer hunting here in Minnesota,” he said.

The fishing world in Minnesota went through the same battles in the 80’s. People were initially against the harvest and protective slots as well, but within a few years the benefits were being reaped and it became popular with most. The same thing will happen with deer hunting in Minnesota.

By reading all of the different articles recently published on QDM one thing seems clear. Everyone agrees it’s time for a change. That is a big step in the right direction. The Minnesota DNR and Minnesota QDMI will be holding meetings this summer and fall to gather information from the public as well as educate the public about QDM.

Uploaded: 4/25/2004