If anyone ever needed the encouragement to shoot young bucks, it has never been me or my group of friends. Four or six years ago my buddies and I were so pumped to shoot any buck we saw. If you would have tried to convince us to let a 1.5 year old 6 point walk, it would have fallen on deaf ears. And at the beginning of most hunters' "careers", I think this is perfectly acceptable.
I wasn't raised with the Quality Deer Management (QDM)
mindset - hell, I wasn't even raised a hunter - but I did what my buddies did. And young bucks fell every year during the first years of our young careers. We have all "seen the light" since then and last year was a great year for our crew. We put five bucks on the ground that were 3.5 years old or older. It took time for us to get to this point but maybe some of us would have never made it this far if it weren't for some of the small bucks being in the wrong place at the wrong time just a few short years ago.
QDM is absolutely exploding right now. In the social media world you could say it is what's "trending" and I believe it's here to stay. This is a very good thing. I believe there are few reasons QDM has taken off. First, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there these days on exactly how to incorporate QDM into your hunting strategies. On top of that, there is proof to back it up. Secondly, for the younger generation, where so much time is spent on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other platform they might use, there is a lot more pride in posting pictures of big mature bucks than the tiny-racked bucks my friends and I used to pridefully whack with our bows.
QDM has been met with some resistance as well, especially when it is "forced" upon someone. My home state of Michigan recently voted on and passed an antler point restriction (APR)
for 12 northern counties. There is evidence that every year, 68% of bucks shot in these 12 counties were 1.5 year olds. The main arguments against the APR are "why I am being told what deer I can or cannot shoot?" and "this is how I feed my family". I hear their arguments and I can empathize with their situation, but I still fully support the new APR.
My concern right now is how this is going to affect the next generation of hunters. Social media is a great way to promote hunting, but are we risking our youth's interest in hunting by creating a higher set of standards on what is acceptable to kill? Hunting shows provide great exposure to the the hunting world, but may give our youth unrealistic expectations. Have we begun to create an atmoshpere where one may not be excited to share the animal they harvested in fear of it not meeting QDM standards, or worse yet, TV standards? I don't know if we have gotten that far, but I feel it is definitely worth thinking about. I am all for QDM, and not much fires me up more than spotting a big mature buck that has reached his full potential - even more so when you know your management efforts aided him in reaching his full potential. But someday I want to pass on this excitement, as I am sure most of you do as well. When that time comes, I will encourage him or her to shoot whatever buck they so choose.
All that being said, here's a much brighter outlook. With QDM practices growing, and more and more hunters jumping on board the "let 'em go, let 'em grow" train, one can only imagine the potential we have for giant whitetails across the country. Furthermore, for us that have adopted QDM practices, we can accelerate the next generation's approach to QDM. Just think of the many herds that are being managed to promote better age structure. The next generation is in for a treat, we just have to get them there.
If my buddies, who taught me how to hunt, were raised to practice QDM from day one, I would have followed suit. However, it is important to understand that the risk of never gaining interest in hunting may become significantly higher for new hunters due to the limitations of acceptable bucks to kill.
I can only assume states with better overall deer herds and lower hunter densities don't exactly risk the same problems we have in Michigan or what I have experienced in New York. With more frequent sightings and opportunities at harvesting mature bucks, the Midwest states probably help pique a young hunter's interest more than states with poor mature buck populations.
Cream of the Crop
Are we shooting the youngest bucks with the most potential? This is a growing concern I have been hearing about for a while, but I think it is geared more toward APRs than QDM. QDM is focused more on the habitat and age of whitetails, while APRs are all about countable points. Therefore, APRs do not take into account the age of the deer when determining what is permissible to kill. If we are shooting 1.5 year old 8 points, we are killing off our young bucks with the most potential. This isn't news to anyone practicing QDM. As much as there has been an effort towards protecting bucks because they don't have enough antler points, a new effort needs to be formed towards educating hunters on how to age deer.
A New Movement
APRs are not enough. Recruiting and exposing children, family, or friends is not enough. In an effort to increase and sustain new hunters, I encourage them to harvest bucks young or old. Furthermore, if you support QDM, let's teach them how to properly practice it! That way, as they become more experienced hunters, they too will become more selective in which bucks they kill, another step in becoming a more seasoned hunter, and something to be proud of. Hunting is a beloved pastime for me and hunters across the country. Passing that pastime down is a privilege that I hope you can all enjoy at some time in your life. It is something to be thankful for. I am excited to introduce my fiancé to bow hunting this year. She said she probably won't shoot a small buck, but I won't be the one telling her not to. At the end of the day, young or old, they all have a pair of tasty backstraps!
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