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Quality people management

Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com is partnering with the Quality Deer Management Association to help you produce biologically and socially balanced deer herds.

Managing deer is easy.

It's a matter of scientific fact that, with age, a buck grows in body and antler size. Science has also confirmed that deer supplied with good nutrition will be healthier and more productive than deer with lower nutrition.

We also know beyond the shadow of a doubt that hunters can manipulate population levels through doe harvest, and that a population maintained in balance with the habitat's carrying capacity is healthier.

So, what's so difficult about managing deer? Just let bucks gain some age, increase available nutrition, shoot the right number of does, and you're in business!

Managing deer IS easy.

It's managing people that's difficult.

Whether you are a member of a hunting club, a landowner who hosts friends and family, a timber company leasing out hunting rights, or a small-acreage hunter who can't manage a deer population without the help of neighbors, there are no scientific facts to guide you in leading others to QDM.

How do you encourage hunters who are doubtful QDM will work? How do you handle a hunter who makes an honest mistake on a buck-harvest decision?

If your food plot is struggling, you call the county extension agent, but who do you call when there's an argument because one hunter's "quality buck" is a deer that another hunter passed up?

Dave Ziegler of Maryland has pondered these questions. A QDMA member, Ziegler called recently and offered to write an article about the success his hunting club has achieved through QDM.

Ziegler asked me if there was any particular aspect of his club's program that he should focus on, such as food plots, hunting strategies, or doe harvest. I asked him which task was most challenging or had rearranged his assumptions about QDM, and he knew the answer right away: "People management."

Passing up yearling bucks worked well; the hard part for Dave was convincing members to try it, and then to keep trying it when immediate results were not evident.

In the big picture, Dave had it easy. He was dealing with six hunters on 1,000 acres, and the hunters were all family members or close friends. Imagine if he were dealing with 18,000 acres and 125 hunters from every socio-economic level, few of whom had ever met each other.

That was the scope of the task faced by University of Tennessee wildlife researchers when they attempted a QDM project at Ames Plantation, one of their Research and Education Centers.

You'll find Dave's story, and a look at the Ames Plantation project, in the February 2009 issue of Quality Whitetails. Both articles provide an inside look at how these programs handled people management. There are some common themes in these and other stories of successful programs and QDM Cooperatives:

Communication: Regular meetings of involved hunters are critical for sharing progress reports, discussing goals, fine-tuning rules, and airing questions and concerns (the involvement of professional deer experts for guidance is a key). Encouragement from leaders should be constant, especially at first.

Compromise: Hunters who are ready for Overdrive should make concessions for those who are still in first gear. Find a starting point on common ground, even if it is only a small beginning, and work your way up from there.

Rules & Consequences: Once agreeable, realistic goals are established, also agree to rules and the consequences for breaking them, and — most important of all — follow through on the consequences.
These should begin as gentle reminders rather than harsh punishments. And, many programs focus more on incentives for doing the right thing than penalties for doing wrong.

Patience: Leaders should preach patience to those looking for results, which will not show up overnight, but they should also take a hefty dose of patience for themselves. Keep encouraging those who remain doubtful, and don't lose your cool. Lead by example, not by force. Build on small successes.

Few things are more fun than enjoying the rewards of a successful QDM program. By accounting for all species in your management equation — humans and whitetails — you ensure that QDM will be successful and fun for everyone involved.

For more information on the Quality Deer Management Association, visit www.qdma.com.