QDMA, home-grown success story, turns 25
Outdoorsy folks love sticking decals on the back of their vehicles. These little symbols tell the world what you're passionate about.
Spot Charleston Angler and Haddrell's Point logos? That's a diehard angler. See antler designs or a little duck head logo from Ducks Unlimited? A hunter, no doubt.
But when you see the doe-and-buck logo of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) on the back of a vehicle, you can safely assume you're following a proud deer-hunting fanatic.
These are the folks who save articles on whitetail biology, debate the pros and cons of planting Austrian winter peas and learn how to use jawbones to properly determine the age of a harvested deer.
Now in its 25th year, QDMA has grown from a loosely organized group of like-minded hunters and biologists to an international organization with about 50,000 paying members. QDMA and its management philosophies have permeated the big business of deer hunting and helped improve the way millions of acres of land are managed across the nation.
Hard to believe QDMA started from humble beginnings right here in the Lowcountry.
Shoot every buck you can, as long as you leave the does alone to restock the herd.
That was a common attitude among Lowcountry deer hunters back in 1987, when biologist Joe Hamilton was working for South Carolina's state wildlife department.
Hunters in Hamilton's region of responsibility, which included Colleton, Beaufort and other southern counties, eventually began to question the wisdom of such practices.
“Deer populations had built to extremely high levels, exceeding the carrying capacities of the properties,” Hamilton said last week. “We were beginning to see browse lines in the forest from having to many deer onboard.”
Despite such high numbers of whitetails, hunters started noticing the bucks they shot kept getting smaller and smaller.
“That's because they were getting younger and younger,” Hamilton said. “The hunters came to the biologists and wanted some kind of solution to the problem, a different approach.”
After visits to innovative deer hunting operations in Texas and even Australia, Hamilton returned to the Lowcountry with a new set of ideas about management of deer herds, deer hunters and deer habitat. These new strategies focused on allowing younger bucks to live while harvesting more does and, perhaps most importantly, creating a smarter breed of hunters and land managers.
Hamilton and a small group of volunteers founded the South Carolina QDMA in 1988 and started a newsletter. Hunters embraced their ideas, and within a few years they had dropped the “South Carolina” designation and quickly grown into a national group with a gloss magazine called “Quality Whitetails.”
Today, QDMA operates a headquarters and education center in Athens, Ga., with localized branches in nearly every U.S. state and Canadian province. These local arms hold educational seminars and raise money to support local hunting communities.
“Education is the thing that brought us to the forefront and has kept us alive,” Hamilton said.
South Carolina has a dozen QDMA branches, including Ace Basin, Lowcountry and Edisto River branches.
Freddy St. Laurent, president of the Lowcountry Branch of QDMA, said his organization has teamed up with Cordray's Processing to donate about 3,500 pounds of deer meat to soup kitchens and state hospitals. The group also raises money to introduce children to deer hunting and host dream hunts for young hunters with serious illnesses.
“You've got to give back in some way,” St. Laurent said.