A Community Solution For “If I Don’t Shoot It, The Neighbors Will”

A QDM co-op might be just the thing for hunters in your area.

Michael Lowe | June 29, 2011


Co-op member Josh Kirkland, of Alabama, is happy with the short-term results of the Spring Creek Co-op. Here he is with his biggest buck ever, which was aged at 5 1/2 years old and scored 135 inches Boone and Crocket.

The 2008 deer hunting season came to a close with similar results as the 2007 and 2006 seasons. The 1,000 acres my family and close friends hunt provided us with plenty of opportunities to kill a doe or small buck but very few — if any — opportunities at a mature buck. We had been practicing quality deer management (QDM) on our southwest Georgia property for more than 10 years with little to show.

During a weekend hunt, we were just as concerned with how many gunshots we heard as the number of deer we saw. With every gunshot on a neighboring property, we would ask ourselves, “Did they just shoot that young 8-point I just passed up, or did they killed that monster all the locals are talking about?”

With the 2008 season behind us, it was time to think about 2009 and how we could improve our deer hunting. We had made friends with a few local landowners, and they all talked about the big bucks that used to be in the area. So, the area we hunt has a good deer population and the potential to grow big bucks, but we asked ourselves, “How do we restore the mature buck population?”

The answer seemed simple: Let the young bucks reach maturity before pulling the trigger. But in reality, the solution is more complex.

In an area with multiple landowners and hunting clubs, the mentality of “If I don’t shoot it, my neighbor will” is very prevalent. We had been practicing QDM for years, and we would sometimes even catch ourselves saying those words about a certain buck we had a trail-camera photo of, and herein lies the problem.

With the problem now on the table, we realized the solution would only be accomplished with communication and cooperation. Our goal for 2009 was to communicate with area landowners and hunting clubs. We realized, since bucks can travel long distances during the rut, it is important for everyone in the area to be on the same page, or at least in the same book.

We are all hunting the same deer, so if one club has a “brown it’s down” policy, that can affect the entire area. We also realized that most, if not all hunters have the same ultimate goals, to fill the freezer with meat and kill a mature buck. Convincing each hunter that everyone else has the same goal was not going to be easy.

Our group decided to establish the Spring Creek QDM Co-op. The co-op was created the summer of 2009 and designed to improve the quality of deer hunting and the overall experience for all participants. It would also provide a platform to establish the necessary communication with other local hunters. Uniting property owners and local hunters under a like-minded management program would be the most efficient way to ensure the productivity of time and effort. It would also provide an opportunity for small and large tracts of land to join forces and combine their management efforts on a much larger scale.

With the co-op established, word-of-mouth started working in our favor. At the first preseason cookout, we were extremely encouraged to find more than 15 local deer hunters show up to learn more. Collectively, we came up with four simple rules to abide by in the first year:

• Let all bucks 2 1/2 years and younger walk with a target score of 125 inches Boone and Crockett, unless you are a child who has never killed a buck.

• If you need meat for the freezer, shoot a doe. In our situation, there were plenty of does out there, and we actually needed to harvest a few to even out the buck-to-doe ratio.

• Communicate with others and report all kills to a co-op officer or the local deer cooler.

• Try to introduce someone to deer hunting.

Many hunters were skeptical of the idea at first but were willing to commit to the co-op for one year. By opening day of gun season, we had roughly 30 hunters on board covering approximately 12,000 acres.

Year One Results

2009 was a huge success for the co-op. It more successful than we ever imagined. Not only did we create great lines of communication with most local hunters, we also created many new friendships. Through communication, everyone realized their neighbor had the same hunting goals. The mentality of, “if I don’t shoot him, my neighbor will” was quickly starting to fade.

To enhance communication, we set up a Spring Creek Co-op website ( for weekly hunting reports and to share photographs. We also created a message board so members could discuss and share their hunting experiences.

As a whole, hunters were seeing more deer. We also started hearing fewer gunshots in the area, which ultimately meant fewer young bucks being shot. The final kill tally for the 12,000 acres in the co-op was 50 does and 25 bucks. Of the bucks killed, only four or five were 2 1/2 years old, 10 to 12 were 3 1/2 years old and eight to 10 were 4 1/2 years or older. That we were aware of, no 1 1/2-year-old bucks were killed in the co-op. What was most exciting was four of the bucks were personal bests for the hunter, and the 2 1/2-year-old bucks were primarily killed by young hunters taking their first deer.

Year Two

With a successful first year behind us, we immediately started thinking of ways to improve the co-op for 2010. Lines of communication remained our primary focus. We continued to communicate with members, and word-of-mouth continued to spread. More hunters began showing interest. In fact, by opening day of 2010, we had roughly 3,000 more acres committed and an additional 10 or 12 hunters. We kept the co-op rules the same, but a number of co-op members opted to let 3 1/2-year-old and younger deer walk.

Along with improved communication, the co-op members started to share trail-camera photos. This is important because it allowed everyone to see the deer that were roaming the woods. As I mentioned earlier, with deer traveling great distances during the rut, it is good to know what bucks are in the area. The photos also allowed us to collectively study each buck to determine if he was a shooter or not. Trail cameras have become the most important tool for the co-op.

Year Two Results

2010 results surpassed all of our expectations. Already, everyone saw more deer, especially bucks. On the 1,000 acres my family and friends hunt, we saw three times as many bucks. In past years, we would have three or four bucks on trail cameras that we aged at 3 1/2 years or older. In 2010, that number jumped to 14 or 15.

The co-op was now roughly 15,000 acres with 40 to 45 hunters. The final harvest numbers for 2010 were 52 does and 25 bucks. Of the bucks, two were 2 1/2 years or younger, seven or eight were 3 1/2 years old and 15 or 16 were 4 1/2 years and older. Because of the older age-class of the bucks, the quality of bucks improved dramatically. In fact, 12 of the 25 bucks were personal bests for the member.

One of the many success stories from the 2010 season comes from a member who at first was skeptical of the co-op. He has been hunting the area for more than 15 years and has killed some nice deer. Throughout the 2009 season, we communicated with him and shared pictures and stories from our property, which bordered his. He had been practicing his own interpretation of trophy management for years and gradually warmed up to the co-op.

After viewing the success of 2009 first-hand, he started feeding the deer protein feed (one of the first co-op members to do so). In 2010, this member killed a 12-pointer that scored close to 150 inches Boone and Crockett. This was his biggest buck ever. What’s even more interesting, the deer was aged at only 3 1/2 years old. I think this is clearly a testament to protein feed and letting deer walk at 2 1/2 years old.

As membership and acreage increases, shared trail-cam photos have become increasingly useful for the co-op to monitor bucks and their movement around the area.

Spring Creek QDM Co-op Today

With season two behind us, it’s back to work preparing for next season and making further improvements to the co-op. We continue to improve communication and hope to add another 2,000 to 3,000 acres before next season. We also have a number of members who are starting protein and supplemental-feeding programs. With the strength of the co-op growing, 2011 should be the best season yet.

Setting Up a Co-op

If you’re willing to put in the effort and can bring together the right group of hunters, you too could experience the same kind of results we have seen in our area. The first step to setting up a co-op is for somebody to take the bull by the horns. Any way you cut it, this is a process that requires patience and persistence.

The next step is to establish a core area to build the co-op around. This area may be as small as 200 acres, but don’t get discouraged if the co-op is not as large as you want it to be. Once your core area is established, you need to spread your message to as many local hunters and landowners as you can.

We accomplished this by introducing ourselves and becoming friends with the local deer processor as well as a couple other well-respected individuals in the community. These friendships became very important. We then pulled tax assessor’s records to find the names of all the local landowners. With these three resources, we were able to create a line of communication with almost everyone in the area.

The next step is to allocate responsibilities amongst a small group of hunters willing to dedicate their time for the benefit of the co-op. We have five individuals or officers responsible for keeping the lines of communication open. Each individual is responsible for communicating with three to five landowners or hunting groups and delivering reports back to the group.

Once the communication lines are well established, it is time to collectively create a set of rules. If you visit the QDMA website <www.qdma.
com>, you can find a strict set of co-op rules to abide by. We decided to use these as a guideline and create a more simplified set of rules tailored to our group of hunters.

We realized that if we made the rules too strict, it would discourage participation, especially when attempting to work with 12 to 15 different groups of hunters. Every co-op should have its own set of rules agreed upon by the group as a whole.

Factors to consider when creating the rulebook include: overall goals and objectives, deer population, doe population, acreage, number of hunters and food sources (i.e. is there enough food to support the deer herd).

Our local deer processor has become our best partner. He serves as a great central location to drop off and report co-op kills. We do our best to refer all processing business to him, and in return, he preaches the co-op to all the local hunters and helps us with record-keeping. We also ask the co-op members to age all the bucks killed. For us, this is not an exact science. The processor will pull the jawbone and weigh as many deer as possible, but on most deer, we simply ask the hunter to take a quality picture of the buck. With these pictures, the officers and our deer processor estimate the age.

Costs, Challenges and Things To Avoid

The largest cost of a co-op is your personal time. If you choose to take your co-op to the next level with a website, the cost can be $300 or $500 to set up and about $200 per year to maintain. You can choose to spread that cost among members, but in our situation, the officers decided to foot the bill.

The biggest challenge you will face is individuals unwilling to communicate or share information. If you run into this issue, don’t shut the individual or group out of the co-op. Instead, share your hunting reports and trail-camera photos with them or invite them to a cookout. Eventually, they may warm up to the idea of the co-op.

You may find it challenging to convince people to take that first step, which is to create a like-minded deer-management practice and to communicate. Don’t get discouraged… this is the most difficult step. We found the best way to win people over was to fire up the grill and invite them to come eat. If you can win over just a couple hunters, you will be surprised how quickly interest can spread.

When creating the rulebook or bylaws, make sure to keep it simple at first. Many people are turned off by QDM because of the strict general rules. If you keep the rules simple, it leaves room to make changes in the future. Also, mistakes will be made. Almost every hunter has killed a deer that they wished they had not, whether it had “ground shrinkage” or it was a button-buck. When mistakes happen, do not come down hard on the culprit. Keep a positive attitude; you’ll be surprised how contagious it is.

Co-op member Matt Lowe with a huge bodied 9-pointer from the 2009 season. Another co-op member had a photo of the buck from the summer of 2009, nearly a mile away from where Matt shot the deer in November.

Fringe Benefits of a Co-op

The Spring Creek QDM Co-op has more benefits than we ever imagined. Obviously, the deer hunting has seen huge improvements, and we are killing bigger bucks to put on the wall. We also have 30 or 40 new hunting buddies we can share stories with.

One of the unintended benefits is having 30 or 40 new friends that help keep an eye on your property. Poaching is not as bad in our area as in some parts of the state, but we have some poachers. Any time there is an unknown vehicle on our property, fellow co-op members are quick to pick up the phone and call us, and we do the same for them in return.

Of the 40 or so co-op members, we have a member who is a forester, one who owns a bow shop, a feed and seed dealer, a couple general contractors, a deer processor, a farmer, etc. On our property alone, we lease the agriculture fields to a local farmer, who in turn, helps us plant our food plots. Another co-op member owns a bulldozer and has helped us clear firebreaks and create new food plots. The member who owns a feed and seed has helped us buy deer stands and protein feed at discount prices. These are all relationships that have been created thanks to the co-op.

If you are a landowner or hunting-club member who is interested in starting a deer-hunting co-op, communication, patience and persistence are the keys to success. QDM is only one aspect of the co-op. The cooperative efforts of your hunting group to create a game plan agreeable to everyone will lead to a more enjoyable hunting experience for all involved.

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