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QDM (or not) in New York:

by: Jim Radford

“If it’s brown it’s down!”  That was the theory behind successful deer hunting.  I have been hunting deer in New York State for 30 years and only began hunting big bucks the last seven years.  And might I say, what a difference in strategies and rewards between the two.

QDM, or Quality Deer Management, has been around for a long time, but the concept is very new to me.  You see, I grew up in the Southern Tier region of upstate New York and, in Chemung County where I lived the big bucks used to be few and far between.  Whenever someone in our neighborhood harvested a big one people came from far and wide to see the trophy buck.

As I was growing up the hunting strategy was pretty simple:  If there was a deer in your sights, he or she was probably on the table the next time you met!

However, that all changed when I met my new friends Ken and Gene.  These guys told me about a style of hunting, a philosophy really, of letting smaller bucks of 5, 6, 8, or even 10 points go by them if their antler spread and age didn’t meet these guys’ standards of ‘big bucks.’  Now to a country bumpkin like me this was just plain stupid—how could you let a venison steak saunter past you and not invite him to dinner (as the main course, of course!) 

Ken’s land bordered a section of property that I had recently purchased when I found out he was already practicing QDM.  I agreed with Ken to try their QDM philosophy and their way of hunting for one year.

That is when everything changed regarding my opinion of QDM.  Ken and I planted food plots: mine consisted of clover and brasica; Ken’s lots contained oats, soy beans, and alfalfa.  We pruned wild apple trees to help their yield, and fertilized oak trees to increase their acorn output.  If you think that nuts, we didn’t stop there—mineral licks were placed and watering holes developed.  We purchased tons of corn for winter feed.  Of course, Ken had a few other tricks up his sleeve for feeding the deer which helped to produce big bucks which I am not at liberty to discuss here (but for a small bribe and a little free hunting gear I can be persuaded to talk!)  Please bear in mind that these things were done before New York changed the wildlife feeding laws in the state.

With all the proper nutrition that we placed in the countryside we were ensuring that the deer were receiving the maximum protein and nutrient intake to grow big antlers and attain substantial body weight.  Nevertheless, we still needed to address the fact that the bucks need to grow older to get big.  In order to do this, that means that you have to let the little ones walk.  To be honest when I tell you this, letting them stroll past my sights was the hardest thing I had to do.

As I was struggling with this, Ken asked me a question that truly helped me see the QDM light:  How many little bucks does one person need?  Similarly, wouldn’t you rather trade ten little bucks for one monster buck?  I’ll ask these same questions of you—wouldn’t you rather have a real smasher walk under your sights, or would you rather just keep harvesting the little tykes?  I used to think that that ‘this year will be the year that I get The Big One.’  But I began to see that I was hindering that opportunity by settling for the small guys.  In other words, I filled out my tag early which squandered my chance for the buck with real bragging rights.

In all my years of hunting whitetails I have always had the flutter of excitement in my heart just before the final squeeze of the trigger.  But now that I was letting the diminutive ones go by me without shooting I noticed that something interesting was happening to me.  This new revelation was something great—observing deer under a different microscope.  By letting them go without whacking them outright I was watching and studying more about the life of the deer than I had ever noticed before.  Even after hunting deer for years I began to attain a greater appreciation for these wonderful creatures of God’s creation.

Well if you’re on the same page with me now, let’s wrap this article up with a true story to drive my point home:

Oddly enough, the first year I practiced QDM I was unsuccessful in bagging a buck.  As a concession, I was satisfied to put a couple of does into the freezer that year.

Then it happened:  one of the little guys that we had let go to become a truly big buck showed up right in front of my stand one day.  This dandy of a buck was approximately 3½ years old and was providing romantic entertainment for a doe within range of my bow.  Being the gentleman that I am, I allowed the buck to finish his passionate interlude and then I dropped him with an arrow from my Hoyt Stryker. 

With that arrow I had finally connected with my first truly sizeable buck.  He scored only 124 & 7/8, but it was my first world record after decades of hunting!  As you can imagine I was past the point of no return—no more killing little bucks for me but rather hunting for the Big Boys only.  During the same year of taking my first trophy with a bow I tagged a 138” non-typical buck.  And the saga continues because I take larger deer every year. 

True, it’s always hard trying something new, but take it from a believer:  regardless of your reluctance to QDM, it really works!  Believe me, your eventual rewards will convince you that the hunting will only get better with age, both for you and the deer you are hunting.

Happy hunting and God bless.

Jim Radford