QDM vs. Trophy and Traditional Deer Management

May 29, 2013 By: Kip Adams


Quality Deer Management (QDM) is a household name to modern day deer hunters. You can’t pick up a hunting magazine, watch outdoor television, or talk to the guys at camp without seeing or hearing the letters QDM. The rise in popularity of QDM is a good thing for deer, other wildlife species, habitats and hunters. While today’s hunters are more educated than ever before, there are still many who don’t fully understand how QDM differs from traditional or trophy deer management. The following information compares and contrasts the three management strategies using seven measurable variables.

Traditional Deer Management

Under traditional deer management, any antlered buck is harvested, regardless of age or antler quality, and few does are harvested. Deer researcher Dr. Grant Woods refers to traditional deer management as “Maximum Buck Harvest Management.” This is the strategy that every state in the country used and some continue to use today. This strategy may work when the deer herd is below the habitat’s carrying capacity but fails when the herd equals or exceeds the carrying capacity.

Quality Deer Management

cornerstones_sidegraphicQuality Deer Management is the approach where young bucks are protected from harvest, combined with an adequate harvest of female deer to produce healthy deer herds in balance with existing habitat conditions. QDM is first and foremost about having the biologically appropriate number of deer for the habitat. If a habitat will support 20 deer per square mile, QDM says put 20 deer per square mile on it. If a habitat will support 30 deer per square mile, put 30 deer per square mile on it, but don’t put 30 deer on habitat that can only support 20. (Of course, habitat can be improved so it can support more deer). QDM also improves age structures by allowing bucks to reach all age classes – not just 1½ and 2½ years. QDM accomplishes this by not shooting the majority of yearling bucks each year.

Trophy Deer Management

Trophy Deer Management (TDM) is the approach where only fully mature bucks, 5½ to 7½ years old, with high scoring antlers are harvested (with the exception of low-scoring middle-aged bucks) and does are aggressively harvested to maintain low deer density and optimum nutrition for the remaining animals. TDM is not practical in much of the United States, and the strategy is negatively viewed by much of the hunting and non-hunting public.

Acreage Requirements
• None for traditional deer management
• Varying acreage requirements for QDM
• 5,000-plus acres for TDM

Buck Harvest
• Shoot mostly young bucks in traditional deer management
• Shoot mainly 2½- to 4½-year-old bucks in QDM
• Shoot fully mature (5½ to 7½ years old) in TDM

Doe Harvest
• Shoot few if any in traditional deer management
• Shoot an adequate number in QDM
• Shoot high number in TDM

Adult Sex Ratio
• Generally heavily skewed toward does under traditional deer management
• More balanced ratios in QDM, though still favoring does
• Nearly equal ratios in TDM

Deer vs. Habitat
• Deer herd often greater than habitat’s carrying capacity in traditional management
• Deer herd in balance with habitat’s carrying capacity in QDM
• Deer herd often less than habitat’s carrying capacity in TDM

Influence on Habitat
• Moderate to severe habitat damage in traditional deer management
• Minimal habitat impact in QDM
• Minimal habitat impact in TDM

Deer-Human Conflicts
• high deer-human conflicts in traditional deer management
• reduced deer-human conflicts in QDM
• low deer-human conflicts in TDM

The seven items above show how the different management strategies affect our deer herds and habitats. Each strategy is unique and shouldn’t be confused with the others. For example, QDM is as different from TDM as it is from traditional strategies, even though many hunters and non-hunters incorrectly consider QDM and TDM to be one in the same.

Each strategy has its place in deer management, but evaluation of the deer herd and habitat is necessary to correctly choose the strategy that will be most effective at producing a healthy deer herd and healthy habitat. Traditional deer management works when the deer population is below the habitat’s carrying capacity, and the goal is to increase the deer herd and provide recreational hunting. TDM works best when the goal is to produce mature, trophy-class bucks with high-scoring antlers. QDM works best when the deer population is at or exceeding the habitat’s carrying capacity and the goal is to improve the health of the deer herd and balance it with available habitat. Fortunately, QDM also provides tremendous hunting opportunities, and unlike TDM, is a realistic goal for most hunters.

About Kip Adams:

Kip Adams of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, is a certified wildlife biologist and NDA's Chief Conservation Officer. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a master's in wildlife from the University of New Hampshire. He's also a certified taxidermist. Before joining NDA, Kip was the deer and bear biologist for the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. Kip and his wife Amy have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Bo.