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Mathew D. Ross QDMA’s Certification Programs Manager
Bruce: Four, three, two, one. Welcome to another episode of Whitetail Rendezvous. This is your host, Bruce Hutcheon, and we’re heading to upstate New York today and we’re gonna talk to Matt Ross. Matt’s currently with QDMA and he is the certification programs manager. Matt, welcome to the show. Mathew D. Ross QDMA’s Certification Programs Manager
Matt: Thanks for having me, Bruce.
Bruce: So our listeners understand specifically what you do as QDMA’s certification programs manager, could you expand upon that a little bit?
Matt: Sure. Yeah, QDMA has our education and outreach programs called REACH. It’s an acronym. Stands for research, educate, advocate, certify, and hunt, and each one of those serves part of our core mission. The second to last letter, certify, is the program I oversee and there’s two specific programs within that umbrella that we do at QDMA. One is our Deer Steward program. That is a class-driven training for people to take. Landowners, deer hunters, even some professionals in the natural resource field, like foresters or biologists. It’s a multi-day training. It’s got multiple levels and if you come to Deer Steward, our goal is to educate the attendee to the point where when they’re done, they can write and implement their own property-specific deer management plans. Mathew D. Ross QDMA’s Certification Programs Manager
So for the person that’s out there that always wanted to be a deer biologist or never went to school for it, you could come and learn how to manage deer. We go through everything from making harvest prescriptions to habitat management, everything that goes into a holistic management plan. And part of it’s classroom style. It’s multiple steps. The second level’s actually more hands-on. You’re doing stuff in the field. You’re measuring fetuses. You’re doing trail camera surveys. You’re getting your hands dirty, so that’s Deer Steward. It’s for the DIY kind of personality where somebody wants to learn how to do it themselves.
The other program is called Land Certification Program and that certifies the property instead of the individual, where you might have a property that’s really well-managed. It recognizes those properties across the country. You get a really nice sign and it says this person or this property is well-managed, but probably the best indirect benefit that that program provides is for the person that owns the land and wants advice and site-specific advice on how they can improve their property.
What it does is it pairs you up with a professional in the field. I’m in upstate New York, you just said to your listeners.
Somebody from Florida or Texas, the last thing they wanna do is have somebody, a biologist working from New York to come down and look at their property because I just don’t know that environment as well as I do where I live and manage, so we, QDMA, have thousands of members that are professional biologists and foresters, so it’s the QDMA version of match.com. We put the landowner that wants advice, site-specific advice, in touch with one of our members that’s a professional. They come and visit your property, they look at it, they check off a bunch of boxes based on an analysis or assessment of the property. They tell you what you’re doing good at, what you’re doing poor, and those poor areas are where you identify what you need to improve the property, so those are the two programs that I oversee primarily, but I got my hands in a lot of other stuff as well.
Bruce: Thanks for that. Matt, for our listeners that say, “Hey, wait a minute. I wanna find out more about this Deer Steward program,” tell them specifically where they can go on the QDMA website to get that information.
Matt: Sure. You go onto our homepage and you look at the menu option Advanced Education. You click on that and it gives a drop-down box and there’s a couple different options. That’s where the Deer Steward program is. Deer Steward is actually available…like I mentioned, it’s level 1 and 2. Level 1 you can either take online from the comfort of your home or office, or you can come to a class in person. We hold those around the country every year. There’s a pretty big price difference between the two. Instead of spending a whole weekend and getting fed and educated in person, you can do it via computer through [inaudible 00:04:41] University. So that’s an online version.
The Land Certification Program is also available and we actually now just launched a series of what we’re calling educational modules under the Deer Steward program as well, where instead of talking about a whole suite of things like habitat management and harvest prescriptions and survey methodology in one weekend, we take one topic and spend a couple days just doing that. So our inaugural Deer Steward module is happening in September 2015, and that is on predator management for the folks out there that are always interested in how to put together a whole management campaign to control or manage predators, specifically coyotes, where they live and hunt. We’re gonna go through that a couple days, and you can find all that information under the Advanced Education link on our home page.
Bruce: Let’s change it up a little bit, Matt, and talk about whitetails and how you got involved in whitetail hunting.
Matt: Sure. I’m probably like many of your listeners. It was a family thing, you know? My dad was a deer hunter. My grandfather was a deer hunter, and just grew up in that household where deer hunting was true to form. Interestingly, I’m the middle of three boys and I have a couple brothers, and they both enjoyed it, but not to the degree that I did, and I just went and looked at it in a way that I wanted to make career out of it. And I remember there was a couple instances early on in life where you just remember you wanna do something and I asked around. I actually got the privilege of finding somebody at our local DNR where I could go shadow a biologist for a day. This was when I was in high school, and it was really neat. It was through our guidance office, and I got to hang out with a deer biologist for the day, and that pretty much sealed it. I knew I liked deer hunting, but getting to do that for a little while. So I wrote to different schools, “I wanna make a career out of it,” and I’ve done a couple different things since I finished school. I’ve actually worked for our state agency, it’s called the DEC, as a technician. I’ve consulted in a wildlife and forestry company in New England for several years before I worked for QDNA, but it was all driven by deer hunting. That’s really what I wanted to do is just figure out how to work in the field.
Bruce: And Matt, curriculum…that’s not the right word. Education BS in wildlife conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then his master’s in wildlife ecology from the University of New Hampshire, plus he’s a New Hampshire licensed forester and certified wildlife biologist, so you bring a lot to the table, that’s for sure. Let’s talk a little bit about forestry and the management of our forests to the betterment and the balance of our deer herds.
Matt: Oh, yeah. This is a topic I can just go on for hours about. It was one of those things. I had a realization. When I was in school, I went to school for wildlife. That was my bachelor’s degree, and after I’d worked in the field a little bit, went back for my master’s, I took some forestry courses and realized at one point that I always had this notion, again, going back to this thing that I got to do with through our guidance office, where working as a deer biologist, you’re really changing stuff. And I had that in my head for a long time, but working in the field of forestry, taking some classes and then finishing school and getting my first job in a consulting company where I got to work side-by-side foresters and eventually, as you mentioned, over time I worked towards it and got licensed in the state of New Hampshire as a forester as well. But it just hit me in the face one day like a two by four, that the people that are managing deer are the ones that are managing habitats for the most part. But those habitats drive everything and, for the most part, at least in the northeastern U.S. where you have states that are incredibly high percentages of their land base is forested like New Hampshire is 84% forested means even more than that.
It was the foresters, the ones that were making decisions like which trees to go, how big the openings need to be, what species of plants they’re removing or encouraging to grow is incredibly influential on deer populations and deer herd dynamics in terms of how healthy they’re growing to be. And for the listeners that didn’t realize this, a chainsaw and some good, sustainable forest management can change your deer hunting for the better. And your best friend should be a forester, somebody that can go in there and understand the change and the landscape when they take certain things and make other things grow. That’s really the basis of what forest management is. We call it the practice of silviculture. So there is a deep rooted marriage between forest management and deer hunting and deer populations, especially again, in those areas that have a lot of trees. If you’re talking about in the Great Plains and other parts of the country where you don’t have as much of a land base forested, it isn’t quite the case. But habitat drives deer population and for the most part in the eastern U.S. where whitetails live, foresters drive habitat and can really make good changes.
Bruce: Thanks for that, and I took some notes because you’re one of the first persons that has underlined the health of the herd, the health of the forest is the health of the herd. Now, everybody talks about food plots. Everybody talks about, “Yeah, doing some clear cutting and that,” but there’s more of a science to managing the forest which, in fact, manages the herd. So let’s spend a little bit more time on that. How do we find that balance? I’ve got 1,000 acres in Wisconsin. I don’t, personally, but you know. Rhetorically, we’ve got 1,000 acres and I’ve got hardwoods and I got tillable and I got creek bottoms and I got a river bottom, and I’ve got everything I need. Now, where should I spend my money and my time to really enhance my deer herd?
Matt: Well, that’s a great question. One of the first things you should do, Bruce, or anybody that’s listening to this, is just see how your property, the current condition of your property and I guess the composition, even, of how much of it is all that stuff you just said. How much of it’s forested? How much of it’s open, cultivated fields or back fields? And how much of it’s neither of those but is some in between stage? The term or the word succession is how foresters decide and change the landscapes. Succession means if you have a blank slate, just bare dirt, over time, the types of plants…you can imagine in 100 years there’d be trees there, and the change in that over time is very predictable, so the bigger the openings they cut, it influences really sun loving species to grow there. The smaller the openings if they take very few trees, shade liking species will grow there. And all those decisions are made on what we call succession. So the best thing to do is to look at your property from that 30,000 foot view and see what’s the composition. How much of it is all those things? Forest, or field, or water, and then look around it again on an aerial and say, “How does that fit in the bigger landscape? What’s missing?” And once you make those decisions from the air, that’s when you get on the ground, and you start changing some of that to make it diverse, to make it different, to do all that.
And then you start walking through the woods and looking at what species grow there and in the fields, and so on, and then you start making changes based on your desires and goals or objectives, and also on your needs, what you can do. And the great thing about forest management is if you have a lot of forest and it’s unmanaged and you can get it into a good management program, for the most part, at least in a short period of time if it’s not immediate, the landlord’s gonna reap financial benefits from that. There’s not many resources that you can do that where it’s a renewable resource that the average landowner can actually make money from unless you have mineral, oil, or gas resources, you’re in a part of the country you can make money off of something like that, that’s limited in terms of the area of the U.S. and Canada where somebody might be lucky enough to have land in one of those areas, and they can financially make money off their land. But, for the most part, everybody has trees, and you can get paid when you cut them down and they go to the mill. Why not put that money in your pocket or put it towards a new gun or tractor or something that helps your deer hunting? And it’s better for the deer even on top of that because you’re giving them good food.
Bruce: Now for the people that…I’m just gonna look at Wisconsin. We got hardwoods and then we got the pines, and then we have some poplar, and so we got hardwoods and softwoods. What is the average age of a tree before I can harvest it and then turn it into money that I can turn back into my ground, like you said, buy a tractor, pay for the seed and the food plot, fix fences, or whatever you might wanna do?
Matt: That’s a big it depends answer. It depends on the market in the area and the type of tree and the rarity of the tree. You break all that down, and also the quality of the tree. You pick any species, like oak, you can have an oak tree that’s veneer quality sawlog or even small sawlog size tree, because it’s veneer quality, they actually use that as a higher value. It demands a higher price. You make a lot of money off of something like that, whereas if it was moderate quality or even low quality, if there was just a lot of damage to it or if it’s got a lot of not straight areas, that might end up in firewood or something different. So that’s a big it depends. It also depends on the area of the country you’re in. How far they need to ship it to get it to a mill? But, for the most part, you can make money even if you have smaller trees because there are different markets that weren’t available 50 years ago where we can take lower quality timber or even small timber, depending on where you are, and it can go into pulp, paper mill type thing, or even little pellets. So that’s a big it depends.
The best thing to do, again, is to get in touch with a licensed or certified forester, not go directly with a logger. I have a lot of close personal friends that are loggers, and many, many of them are good people. Just like deer hunters can get a bad name by a few bad apples, a lot of people would say the same thing about loggers, but loggers are great. The difference there is you work with a forester, they’re gonna demand a higher price for you because at a scale, a forester’s actually working multiple land, multiple jobs. They have a lot of different crews working. They’re putting more wood in the mill than a single logger would, so they actually can get a higher price per 1,000 board feet because of the supply. And they’re also trained silviculture, like I said. So if your goals are to produce good deer habitat, they can help you get there by making those decisions based on their training, as opposed to just picking trees at random, or the trees that are the biggest on the property and taking those based on sized. That’s something we call diameter limit harvest. I always encourage folks to work with a licensed or certified forester. They represent you, they’ll actually make you more money, they’ll protect your interests.
Bruce: Matt, just some tremendous, tremendous knowledge you just shared because a lot of us, me included, those trees there, know that the people, that land we hunt on, they take timber off every once in a while. But ladies and gentlemen who are listening to this, you just heard some really good reasons why you wanna use one of the licensed foresters, but two, you wanna look at your land and have a land management plan. And that’s one thing I’ll give a shoutout for QDMA right now, is that they help you do that. And I don’t know a lot of organizations out there, conservation organizations, that will go that in depth. So a big atta boy for QDMA and especially what, Matt, you just shared with us. Let’s get back to whitetails and let’s talk about some of the hunting lessons that you’ve learned over the last couple years that you want to share with our listeners.
Matt: Yeah, sure. Actually, people that that are QDMA members may have seen a small series of things I’ve been writing about on our website or in the magazine, but one of the biggest things dealing with recently is poaching, trespassing issues and it really hurts when some of that stuff happens. And it’s really opened my eyes too, just because personally dealing with it, probably the enormity of how much of this stuff is happening. QDMA puts out a document every year called the Whitetail Report. I’m one of the co-authors on that. Last year, we decided partly because of some of my own personal experiences, how big of a deal is this? What are fines like? And we did a survey of all state and provincial agencies out there, and it shocked us at how low the minimum mandatory fine is. Certainly, somebody that’s egregious could get fined more, but this was the minimum requirement of somebody caught poaching or trespassing. We did some research on that and found some numbers, but you can read the Whitetail Report. It’s free online if you wanna see it and learn more about that.
But that has been what I’ve been personally dealing with. I actually don’t own a lot of land. I only own six acres, but where I hunt is part of a QDM cooperative, so it’s a bunch of landowners that got together and among that experience, we’ve been managing for several years and we’re growing good deer. It’s a good spot. It’s just also attracted some bad attention, I guess, and I’m dealing with some of that. So we’re coming up with some interesting techniques to try to thwart that, but that’s one of the things that we’re writing a lot about, and I guess it’s something that’s happened the last couple of years that’s fresh on my mind in terms of what I’m thinking about when you ask about deer hunting.
Bruce: All right. So let’s just expand that. You mentioned a couple things that our listeners might not be familiar with, and you mentioned QDMA cooperative. Let’s expand that and how that has increased your opportunity to hunt whitetails.
Matt: Sure. QDM cooperatives are one of the most exciting, fast-growing things in the deer world right now, and I believe you might have had one or two of our employees on earlier in the year talking about cooperatives, but this is one of those things that I get really excited about talking about. Co-ops are where you get a group of landowners together that are generally in the same vicinity. They don’t have to necessarily abut each other. The best scenario would be that they’re all abutting landowners in one continuous block, but you just kind of informally agree, handshake style, this is what we’ll do and one of the neatest things about this is if your state or province is managing and you’re able to still work within the legal confines of that permit system, or tag system, or whatever you get when you buy your license, that the ability to add up acreage by telling each other, “Okay, listen. If we wanna make sure we reduce our deer density, let’s all try to fill our doe tags at whatever level,” or in many cases, even right now, deer densities are low.
Even though the state’s allowing antlerless harvest to continue, you could always band together and say, “Let’s all hold off the doe harvest for a couple years and build our local deer herd.” And think about that at a local level, really trying to make those decisions, it’s really neat. Same thing with getting bucks into older age classes. You can all agree, “Let’s pass up one-year-old bucks or two-year-old bucks,” or what have you. If you’re doing that with your neighbors, you can change things at a local level really fast, and it is a lot of fun to hunt on a co-op. You don’t have to own a lot of acreage. You don’t even get access to the other people’s properties, you’re just neighborly and working with your neighbors and working towards better deer hunting.
Bruce: Let’s talk about how you hunt. Do you hunt with a muzzleloader, a rifle, a crossbow, or a compound?
Matt: I hunt pretty much with a bow or a rifle. I do have a muzzleloader. I take that out for a walk every once in a while, but I primarily am a bowhunter. I love it.
Bruce: So talk to us about how you choose where to put your stands and how you hunt from that stand.
Matt: Probably some of that comes along with the forester or biologist in me where I try to over-analyze everything and look at things from the air and say, “Where’s a good pinch point based on a map?” or something like that, so that does go into it a little bit. But really a lot of it is identifying deer signs. Once I’m on the ground, walking through a little part of the property and saying, “I’d like to get a stand over there,” for, again, being a bowhunter, certain wind directions, access how to get in there. If I know that I wanna work, hunt on that part of the property, say in the morning because I do have trail cameras if I’m getting lots of images of the block or just generally a lot of deer in the morning and I know I wanna hunt in that area in the morning. I’ll just figure out how I can get in there, pay attention to wind, and then once I’m really at a small area where I know I’m targeting a small block, a few trees, I just look for concealment.
The best thing I can get in and without too much disturbance in the dark, if it’s a morning hunt, or get out in the dark if it’s an evening hunt, and then once I’m in the tree, to make sure I’m as concealed as possible. I like trees that have some green on them, especially mid to late season. So if I can find, in the northeast we have hemlock and white pine and some of the more common species of those coniferous trees you’ll find. So if I had a little clump of trees and one or more of them are that 10 to 25 foot height of having some green in it, I’ll try to hang my stand in there because I know I’ll be concealed even if it’s the late season.
Bruce: When you are setting up, do you put out mock scrapes? Do you use other scents? Tell us about how you attract deer to come and find you.
Matt: That’s a good question. Actually, I had a very positive experience using deer scent when I was young. I think I was 17 and shot a buck with a shotgun. At the time, I lived in a part of New York state then that was shotgun only, and it was good, but I’ve had equal experiences where it’s spooked deer. I really don’t put a lot of scent out. Most of the time, I’m trying to hunt based on reading deer behavior based on my observations or trail camera images, knowing deer feed near a certain field or up in a certain area, and knowing where they’re moving through, so I really try to use a lot, instead of doing an aggressive calling, using scent, using decoys, that type of stuff, I’ve done that stuff and it’s a lot of fun. I’m more of a passive hunter where I’m trying to ambush deer while they’re moving, and I don’t know, it just seems something that I fall more into than doing an aggressive style hunting and going after them, trying to get them to come to me.
Bruce: Now, does that mean you do a spot and stalk with your bow? When you said your aggressive hunter that kind of tripped me to when I hunt out west. We use all sorts of techniques, but the best is locating an elk, locating a mule deer, locating an antelope, and then I’m on a stalk, and that’s how I do it. So how does that correlate?
Matt: I’ve done that before. I have hunted that way. Not in the east. I’ve actually done a mule deer hunt that was spot and stalk. It was a lot of fun, but in the northeast at least, there’s a lot…again, being a lot of trees, instead of trying to put a stalk on a whitetail, it would probably be a decent way to hunt and I feel like my success rate would be more passive. And we deer sign and just through observations, especially if I set it up, a stand, in a general vicinity and I really don’t know how deer are moving through that area, I’m more likely to hang back from that in a place that has good visibility and hunt it at the time of day that I think deer are moving through there and just watch. Obviously, I’ll bring my bow or gun with me but just watch. And if I see a pattern from afar, from a distance, the deer are moving through this one section of woodlot and that’s the trail they’re picking, I’ll move in and then usually I like to hunt out of a hang-on stand, but I’ll have a climber with me. And if I need to, I’ll go grab it out of my truck. I keep it locked in the bed of my pickup truck all season. I’ll grab it or even leave it stashed at the end of the tree or in the trail and I’ll just move that one climber in and get into a tree.
So that is a little bit more aggressive and sort of a stalk a style, but I tend to go into an area with a little bit more passive attitude with setting up where I know deer are moving and just a sit and wait strategy of I know they’re going to come through here. And if I spend enough time here, and I keep myself concealed visually, and I keep my scent down bow hunting style, it’s just a matter of time. Deer will come by that point.
Bruce: Matt, this is the time of the show that you’re gonna have an open mic for about a minute or so to give a shoutout to whomever that you wish, friends, QDMA, peers, old professors, whoever you want to, sponsors, or gear that you use, so here you go. It’s your time.
Matt: I guess my shoutout, the first person or people that came to mind were my two daughters. I’m somewhat of a new father. I have a three and a one year old. I’m excited to spend time with them as they age and feel a little bit more amble and can go into the woods and that’s something that I’m excited to experience as a different stage of hunting, being a parent and bringing kids into the field.
Bruce: Anything else? Sponsors or guys at QDMA?
Matt: Well, working for QDMA, I’ve been there for nine years, Bruce, and it’s been a great experience. For anybody that’s listening, if you’re not a member, I would completely encourage you to join. I was a member and a volunteer and a branch vice president before I was an employee, so I’ll shout out to QDMA itself. It’s given me so many opportunities and it’s really made me the professional I am today, being able to grow as deer manager and deer hunter, working for a great company.
Bruce: And if somebody up there in New York or New England wants to get a hold of you and talk to you about different programs at QDMA, how would they do that?
Matt: You can find my contact information on the website in several places, especially in the Deer Steward area, but my email address is M-R-O-S-S, so my first initial, last name, at QDMA.com, but you can also get my phone number off the website or anything else. Happy to help any member or anybody interested in becoming a member.
Bruce: On behalf of Whitetail Rendezvous nation, Matt Ross, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day and sharing it with us, and sharing some different insights about how you can grow a balanced herd through careful forestry management. Hats off to you, Matt. Thank you so much.
Matt: Thanks, Bruce. Really appreciate you having me.
Bruce: Listeners, keep the sun at your back, the wind in your face, and always be patient.