GLADWIN – The billboards are impossible to miss. Located strategically throughout the county they advertise and promote the Mid Michigan Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association and the five Gladwin Area Deer Cooperatives. As a hunter I have often wondered about Quality Deer Management (QDM). Who is behind it and what are their goals?
According to its website the Quality Deer management Association (QDMA) is the leading whitetail organization dedicated to conserving North America’s favorite game animal. Their mission is to promote sustainable, high quality deer populations, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences through research, education, advocacy, and hunter recruitment. QDMA teaches deer hunters how to improve local deer populations, habitat and hunting experiences.
Local landowners Charles and Cindy Jones have been involved with the Gladwin Co-ops since their inception. Earlier this fall they had me over to their property for a tour and to discuss the practices they have put in place. They own 67 acres in Gladwin County.
“ Basically we protect the year and a half old bucks,” Jones said. “We want to get them up to the next age class. At two and a half years old they are a lot smarter. We have been protecting them for quite a few years. I want to start protecting the two and a halfs.” As the billboards illustrate he size difference is dramatic with each year of growth.
When the Jones bought the property in 1999 most of the tilled land was in hay. Their intent was to manage the property for wildlife so they have had numerous biologists and foresters survey the property and make recommendations. It has been a “work in progress since,” said Jones. Their first step was to plant some pine trees to create a travel corridor and give the deer some privacy.
Then in 2007 Jones got serious about upgrading his property after attending Tony LaPratt’s Whitetail Boot Camp. Lapratt is an expert in creating habitats to promote deer and other wildlife. With the information gathered at the “boot camp” Jones began to actively manage the property for deer.
Switch grass has been planted in various locations to provide wildlife cover and a former horse pasture along with several other spots has been planted with soybeans, Austrian winter peas and sugar beats. Those plantings provide food all winter. The switch grass has to be burned periodically to promote regeneration.
Throughout the tour of his property Jones pointed out that there is money available to for property owners wishing to improve their property for wildlife. He was able to have a forest management plan drawn up for the property to promote wildlife management. Along with deer he has turkey, bobcats, bear, coyotes, and squirrels on the property.
Along with providing an inviting habitat for the wildlife he creates situations to improve his hunting. He mows pathways through the cover crops to facilitate wildlife movement, which also provides opportunities for hunters. Strategic tree planting and cuttings provide both cover and travel corridors for wildlife. He has also created several water holes on the property. Lick sticks, shooting lanes and multiple blinds all enhance his hunting experience.
One of the keys to successful property management is to keep the deer occupied on your property during the day light hours. Large wide-open spaces allow deer to survey an area from the forest edge. By breaking up those spaces the deer have to move to check their scrapes and the various pockets. He has also decided to have large swath of older trees cut to regenerate the type of cover that will attract and hold wildlife.
The first QDM Chapter in Michigan was right here in mid-Michigan. Jones mentioned that Ed Spinazzola traveled south to QDM meeting and when he got back he organized a group of “like minded” property owners to form a local group back in 1995/96. Jones was the first secretary of the group.
The Mid Michigan group has grown significantly over the years to now include five local cooperatives spread over parts of four counties. The townships of Sherman, Butman, Clement, Sage, Gladwin, Secord, Grout, Buckeye, Hay, Beaverton, Tobacco, and Billings in Gladwin County all have active co-ops. Each co-op establishes its own priorities and members agree to abide by the mutually set goals. The most common goal is to protect fawns and 1 1/2 year old bucks. Some established co-ops are attempting to go further by protecting 2 1/2 year old bucks. One year of growth can make a striking difference in the size of the average buck.
The five co-ops are:
1. County Line Whitetail Cooperative, which includes northwestern Midland, southern Gladwin and northeastern Isabella counties. Approximately 4,200 acres with 190 members are part of the co-op with most of the properties located near the Gladwin/Midland County lines.
2. Tobacco River Hunting Cooperative is located in western Gladwin County and parts of eastern Clare County. There are over 8000 acres and 116 members in this co-op.
3. Triple-H Cooperative found in Gladwin County with the core area being in Buckeye Township in the area of Highwood, Howard, and Hockaday Roads. Over 4500 acres and 110 members are part of this co-op.
4. North Clarwin Corridor Deer Cooperative formed in 2018 consists of the townships bordering the northern Gladwin and Clare County lines. 4144 acres and 62 members are part of this group.
5. Sugar Springs Deer Cooperative was also formed in 2018. This is the smallest co-op to date with over 1000 acres and 39 members.
Membership in the co-op is voluntary but can play a crucial role in managing the relative health of the herd in a given area. Communications between the co-ops allows members share information over a wide area and adjust their goals based upon changing condition.
Membership in one of the co-ops does not mean that penalties will be enforced for non-compliance. The age class restrictions are voluntary as opposed to antler point restrictions that are found in several counties in northwest Michigan, which are part of the hunting regulations. Exceptions to co-op guidelines are usually made for youth hunters along with adult beginners and older hunters in their “twilight years.”
According to the results of surveys conducted by the co-ops, hunters seem to get more enjoyment out of their hunting experience after joining a co-op. The social and educational opportunities enhance the overall experience. You can find each of the co-ops of FaceBook where members can share stories, pictures and concerns.
There are about 80 deer co-ops in the Lower Peninsula. Information can be found on the Michigan Wildlife Cooperatives Facebook page. Additional information about the national organization can be found online at qdma.com.