What is QDM and how is it done at Ames?
There are two primary herd management goals of QDM at Ames.
These are to 1) reasonably balance the sex ratio and 2) develop an age hierarchy in the buck population by protecting younger bucks.
Balancing the sex ratio: A goal for the doe harvest is established prior to each season. It is based on camera surveys, observation data, crop damage and a number of other parameters. A running harvest total is kept by hunting unit as the season progresses. A doe must be harvested before a second buck is taken. Members who bring in three does are included in the three-doe-club and receive an Ames “deer hat“, or are included in a draw for special items and also have their name posted for all to see.
The doe-goal usually runs from 140 to 180, depending on the year. During the course of the QDM program the membership has taken more than 2,000 does from the property. Reasons for balancing the sex ratio include, 1) reallocation of food resources (a doe can consume 9,000 pounds of food yearly), 2) create the conditions for earlier breeding and thereby earlier birth rates which improve the chances that a buck will get off to a good start and will develop full antler potential, 3) intensify the rut which means that more does are bred within a shorter timeframe which in turn means that fawns hit the ground in a shorter timeframe, creating a prey saturation effect which lowers predator efficiency.
Recruiting Older Bucks: The program protects all one-year-old bucks and about 98% of the two-year-old age class, giving them the chance to live long enough to demonstrate a significant level of behavioral and avoidance maturity…and antler potential. Also, the rut is intensified and largely transferred onto the older bucks, the ones best able to recover at year’s end. This forces the younger bucks to be less involved and they are the ones least able to endure the rigors.
To accomplish this, the Boone & Crockett scoring system has been adopted as the most practicable way for the average hunter to identify and protect younger bucks. A B&C score of 125 defines a shooter. There is a gradation of fines for bucks that more-or-less miss this score and these are applied with "veteran members" getting a break, a status gained after two years in the program. Any buck that is four-years-old, or older, does not constitute a fine. Occasional bucks with uniquely identifiable racks are placed on a hit list, if he is thought to be four-years-old or older.
The opportunity at Ames is conducted under a system that treats members consistently and fairly. It is a system that looks not only at balancing the sex ratio, but also at deer sightings as being important to hunter satisfaction. It is a system that gives a younger buck the best kind of insurance by levying a set of fines against any member who kills a non-shooter by mistake. And, mistakes do happen. While we try to limit mistakes across the membership, individuals who make one are not castigated … just a bit poorer and rueful among a membership that knows how challenging this kind of hunting can be … and, how truly wonderful it can be. It is a system where the membership is on the same page.
Over the course of the Club’s existence scientific research has been superimposed in cooperation with Dr. Craig Harper at the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee. For example, hunter observation and harvest data are recorded (confidentially) by Unit and 100-acre grid, a set of data that will greatly enhance our member’s knowledge of deer ecology.
Is it Working?
Yes, it is working very well. The graph below is currently a bit out of date, but shows the outstanding success of the program from its inception through 2009. The first two years, 2002 and ‘03, were years prior to QDM and show how the typical harvest bag is almost always full of yearlings. The threshold for buck harvest was B&C 110 during 2004 and ’05 to allow Members a chance to “break-in” to the process. From 2005 through ’09 bucks were required to carry B&C 120 inches to qualify as a shooter. The “125-rule” was installed in 2010.
The graph clearly shows a recruitment of older, bigger bucks into the population. This trend has continued. We will update this graph at the end of the 2012/13 season.
The second graph shows the probability of harvesting a mature buck. Ames is a genuine fair chase type of hunting with huge landscapes. It is a challenging game. However, as the program has progressed, chances have increased per hunter and represent very high rates for this kind of experience. Very high.
One benefit of the 125 B&C threshold is the certain knowledge that mature bucks are in the herd and that there is a reasonable chance of seeing an exceptional buck. With camera surveys, the membership is well aware that mature bucks are in the woods with them. To view photos of harvested animals and trail-cam pictures visit the Ames Hunting Club photo albums.
Is this Trophy Management?
Trophy management is following individual animals until they reach full potential. Once they express their best set of antlers, they are shot, either as a trophy animal or what is commonly referred to as a “management buck,” one that will not make trophy size but is eating groceries.
Ames is not trophy management and those wanting pure trophy management should not expect it here. The goal here is to develop an age hierarchy in the buck population and that alone, for folks not accustomed to being in the woods with older bucks, makes for its own kind of excitement. Many 3-year-old bucks will sport antlers that qualify them as shooters. The Ames experience is for hunters who want a chance to hunt where younger bucks have a realistic chance to mature and where they can observe older bucks.
A 125-class buck can take your breath away when he comes prowling through the woods. A fully developed and exceptional 3- or 4-year old buck can make you forget your gun.
Why Does it Work so Well Here?
There are three reasons: 1) the program is run based on science and not on opinion, with data taken from this herd and tailored to its specific potential 2) due to the extraordinary mix of good soils and varied landforms, large-scale agriculture and mature woodlands, uplands and bottomlands, the average Ames buck can grow what are considered exceptional antlers by the time he is 3-1/2-years of age, and 3) it is run without exceptions becoming rules.
The Ames Experience
The tranquility and grandeur of the outdoor experience is cherished at Ames and certain things are done to assure that these amenities are protected. To some extent hunting at Ames is a throwback to a simpler and a “quieter” time. ATV access is limited to deer retrieval, to certain roads, and to times of the day when it is expected to cause the least disturbance. Those with physical limitations can get exemptions, but must also operate within guidelines for silence preservation.
There are remote places on Ames that allow the chance to “get away from it all” and these require walking or a bicycle, but it is also true that some of the biggest bucks have been taken within sight of public roads.
Ames is “remote and wild” as soon as you step out of the truck.
Safety is of paramount importance. To ensure that the highest respect and regard for safety is achieved, evidence of the successful completion of a state administered hunter safety course is required from all hunters, their guests, and all youth. A hunter safety course is each member's tip of the hat toward safety; and each member, regardless of age, knows that he or she is hunting with fellow members that have taken extra-time to be extra-safe.
Members are urged to carry police whistles and that signal is considered by the membership as a call for immediate help. Members must sign-in, by unit, prior to accessing Ames.
When can I Hunt?
Members will have access during the following periods:
Squirrel: Squirrel hunting: from the first day of fall Squirrel Season until October 31, unless otherwise specified.
Deer: Deer hunting: from the first day of fall Deer Season, beginning with archery season until the end of that deer season, unless otherwise specified.
Occasionally, some restrictions at the end of any deer season will be required with regards to the closure of areas due to the need for field trials or other events. The vast majority of the Plantation is available during these times.
Can I Bring a Guest?
Guests are allowed, although guests cannot come at certain, specified times. These periods are typically high-use timeframes and members are given the highest priority. Any member will be allowed to bring a son/daughter or grandson/granddaughter 10-to-16 years of age.
How About Camping?
One primitive camp ground is set aside for use by members. Tent camping is allowed behind a fence to prevent potential vehicle/tent accidents.
Will I be Involved in the Research Effort?
Yes. The Hunting Program will be carried out as part of scientific research focused directly on a better understanding of the deer herd. Members will have the chance to participate in and benefit from these efforts.
All harvested deer must be brought to a central Ames Check-in Station which also serves as a TWRA check-in station.
Each hunter fills out an observation card after every hunt (it takes about 30 seconds). All of these data are completely confidential and allow interesting correlations, such as, for example: body size, antler size and number of observations by habitat type. Antler scores, weights, ages, grid location and lactation rates are recorded.
Every year, just before the archery season opens, a supper is provided to the membership by Ames Plantation. Nationally recognized speakers deliver excellent presentations and over the course of the last several years long-term members have gained the knowledge to become more than just hunters but also herd managers. They now have the information and resulting expertise that the average hunter simply does not have. In its whole it amounts to a collegiate seminar course administered by the best teachers in the Nation. We will continue to do this.
As a result, in many cases our members routinely watch bucks walk away that are trophies in other places with the full knowledge, expectation and satisfaction of why it was needful.
Is There a Place for Good Fellowship?
The Check-in Station is complete with wood heater, electric stove, TV, refrigerators, tables and chairs. Many a good meal has been shared (with some highly anticipated … like chocolate cobbler). Stories fly around like confetti. Tennessee is playing on one TV (the big one) and Mississippi State on the other. It is a central clearing house for fellowship and getting to know one another. New members are welcomed.
If you are looking for a place to hunt where QDM is practiced, where the program is proven, where rules are clear and fairly administered, where the place is big enough to get lost in, and where you will be treated like home folks, now is the time to consider Ames.
This B&C stuff seems intimidating - Can I learn it?
Potential members are often somewhat intimidated by the need to know how to judge B&C. It is one of the first questions asked by hunters who wonder about joining.
Looking a buck over before pulling the trigger requires a certain acquired expertise and also patience. Yet, it's not the difference between two basket racks and an 8-pointer - it's the difference between an 8-pointer and WOW!
Surely, it is not always an easy thing to do afield but even our youngest hunters know what to look for, indeed some are the best at it. Our membership has demonstrated that not just western hunters can develop the ability and most have become unerringly good at it as they’ve gained experience.
Of course, goofs happen. Many of our members have brought in a buck that was too small. But the key is that they brought them in. There is no uproarious condemnation for a mistake. There usually is a good, but sad story; but everyone recognizes that mistakes can happen.
Where else can I get Information?
We invite you to take a closer look at the unique hunting opportunities offered at the Ames Plantation. You too can experience QDM on 18,400 acres of the best deer habit in the area. Check back over the next few weeks as data from the very successful 2012/2013 season is posted. Give us a call at (901) 878-1067 or email Dr. Allan Houston at ahouston [at] amesplantation [dot] org.