Do They Work? How Do You Start One?…

It was a Sunday afternoon in late October 2010 when John Geiger II stopped by Mike McCrea’s house to see the nice buck Mike had taken a few days earlier. When he arrived at the house he was welcomed by Mike’s father, Ed. They started talking about Mike’s buck, but Ed was excited about his own hunting chances and he said to John many times that “this is really working.” Ed had no idea of the opportunity that he was going to get in the next few weeks.

When Ed said “this is really working,” he was referring to the Lincoln Township Voluntary Quality Deer Management (QDM) Cooperative. The QDM Cooperative (co-op), located northeast of Bad Axe, began on October 4, 2008, with only a handful of neighbors that agreed it was time to make a change. They knew the quality of their deer hunting could be improved if they put together a game plan that addressed the needs of the local deer herd. The first meeting consisted of not only hunters, but also interested landowners that agreed they could make a difference if they worked together.

Their co-op was in its third year and has grown to more than 2,000 acres of land voluntarily participating. The participants had been actively harvesting does to improve the buck-to-doe ratio and reduce the stress on the habitat, plus they had been actively passing on yearling bucks that would have otherwise been harvested. Many benefits have become very obvious in just the short time that they have been together. According to Geiger, “We now are able to communicate with each other in regards to deer habitat, scouting, deer populations, deer harvests, and most importantly being able to hear the success stories of all our neighbors. This is a significant contrast from just a few years ago when everyone was not working together and we didn’t even know each other.”

It was now midmorning on November 19, 2010, when Ed McCrea called his son Mike, concerned with the excessive wind. Ed was brainstorming about where to sit and wanted his son’s opinion. Mike told his father that it might be best if he sat in a blind that was overlooking a freshly harvested soybean field that ran along the edge of the woods at roughly 200 yards.

They also decided to try out his doe decoy and estrus with the hope of drawing out a traveling buck. The stage was set up at roughly one p.m. and Ed was ready.

Mike went back to his house where he could observe his father’s location with binoculars. As evening came near, Mike was curious if his father was seeing any deer and started looking over the field. After a few minutes of gazing, Mike noticed deer exiting the woods. Seven does and five yearling bucks were in sight. After a short while of watching, Mike saw an image of what appeared to be a mature buck standing over his food plot about 15-yards inside the woods. After a few minutes the buck exited the woods and started walking along the edge. Mike noticed that this wasn’t just the a nice buck standing 200 yards from his father but it was the monster that he and the neighbors had been watching and talking about since mid-summer. This was the “buck of all bucks” to quote anyone that had him on trail camera or trail video.

The buck went back into the woods and out of sight. All hopes of getting a closer shot were starting to look questionable. Ten minutes later three does exited the woods right where the buck went in and sure enough he was in pursuit of one of them. The doe that he was chasing bolted right toward the decoy that was setup forty yards from Ed. The buck slowly followed until he was roughly 120 yards away, but standing head on and not providing a broadside shot. The edgy doe left the decoy and started to run back to the woods, forcing the buck to change direction and turning him broadside. A single shot from Ed’s H&R shotgun dropped the “buck of all bucks” in his tracks at 120 yards.

This was an exciting time for Ed and Mike. Ed had just taken the buck of a lifetime and Mike was able to watch every minute of it. This buck however was not just a trophy for the McCrea’s, it was a trophy for the entire co-op. Three years earlier the hunters and landowners joined forces to improve their deer herd and hunting experiences. They had no idea what transpired in the fall of 2010 was possible, yet they now they seen the results first hand.

Mike and Ed thanked all of the Lincoln Township members for taking part in this achievement. It was obvious that Ed’s buck, determined to be 4½-years-old and scoring in the 190s, had to have been passed up on numerous occasions and by possibly numerous co-op members. The odds are small for a buck of this caliber to exist in this agriculturally rich area of the Thumb, where the woodlots are scattered, the hiding places are limited, and the hunting pressure is high. This buck would have surely been a harvest statistic years earlier had the co-op not existed and had the current young buck protections not been put into place.

The Lincoln Township Voluntary QDM Cooperative had discovered what dozens, if not hundreds, of other Michigan co-ops have learned, which is that you can improve your hunting opportunities and hunting experiences by joining forces with your neighboring hunters and landowners to create a voluntary QDM Cooperative.

The popularity in QDM Cooperatives has exploded in recent years as more and more hunters are looking for options that will help them improve the quality of their deer herd and also improve their hunting experiences. The days of shooting any legal buck have passed for these hunters that are looking to get something more out of their hunting season. Experienced hunters also realize that cooperating with their neighbors is the only way to accelerate the improvements they desire within their local deer populations, as the chances of getting mandatory regulation changes to protect a greater number of yearling bucks are small.

Starting your own QDM Co-op is not as difficult as you may imagine. Many hunters are surprised to discover that until they actually talked to their neighbors, neither of them realized they had the same goals, but because they weren’t talking they assumed everyone around them had a “brown is down” mentality. Once they discovered they were essentially on the same page, the changes and improvements came easy. Of course it doesn’t always start this way. Many properties still practice the “brown is down” philosophy and getting these properties to agree to a QDM co-op and the rules that accompany it can be difficult.

But don’t despair, it isn’t necessary that the landowners participating in the co-op all be connected by property lines. The majority of QDM co-ops have a checkerboard affect when viewed on a platbook, where participating properties are separated by non-participating properties. Past experience has shown that in some cases the non-participating landowners begin to see the annual improvements in the quality of their deer herd and as such begin to accept what the surrounding co-op members already knew, which is that QDM co-ops do work.

For those of you that are thinking of joining a co-op or starting your own, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) will be presenting daily at the Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend at the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds in Imlay City, September 9-11. In addition to having a booth manned by QDMA representatives, the presentations will provide important details concerning starting and maintaining a QDM co-op, along with discussing some of the frustrations that can occur and how to survive them. This could be the most important 60 minutes of your hunting season.

Special thanks to John Geiger II, of the Lincoln Township QDM Co-op, for allowing the us of portions of his article recently published in the Thumb Area QDMA newsletter.