There were several key items taken away by attendees of the inaugural North American Whitetail Summit held March, 2014. Primarily organized and made possible by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), the summit identified issues and potential solutions.
One of the sticky broad areas was a wealth of disparate organizations dedicated to affinity groups of deer hunters. Despite being the primary economic motivator when it came to the hunting economy, there was no unifying organization representing the broad category of "deer hunter". The Summit resolved to move on that idea, using the QDMA as the primary organization to form a new umbrella organization.
In today's news section you'll read the formal announcement of the National Deer Alliance (NDA). The goal of that umbrella group is to represent deer hunters (no designations as to the type of hunting preferred), wildlife managers, and enthusiasts through into a single-voiced organization. According to Craig Dougherty, the initial Executive Director, the hope is that the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole.
If that's the case, deer hunters will find themselves into a group that, not unlike the NRA in gun rights, will speak with a bigger voice when government looks at making decisions that impact deer.
"When the 225 or so stakeholders in deer got together at the summit," Dougherty told me, "we took a very hard look at the deer world. What we saw was a collection of small organizations that really had a common interest: deer."
"And we decided we needed to move -and QDMA was the group to get it moving."
Today, NDA has four people, including Dougherty, working to launch a national organization. It sounds like a huge job, but unlike other older organizations, Dougherty says the NDA will use far less traditional methods of growth and spreading the word about itself.
"We're using tools that are electronic," he said, "no magazines -and we'll use weekly news distributions to members to cover all the areas of interest to those enthusiasts. Even our signup process is electronic."
Speaking of signup, there is currently no charge for the membership, with the goal to create a single speaking voice representing deer, but to be a "here when you need us kind of service," as explained by Dougherty.
When I pressed two key issues: deer "farming" and high-fence hunting and the genetics issues raised by both issues, he told me the organization wouldn't run away from those issues, but when looking at the larger issue -deer and deer hunting nationwide- there were other issues that were front-burner items for NDA.
"We have shrinking numbers compared to 15 years ago," he said, "and that's talking about deer and the deer hunters. In about have the states, we've seen hunting numbers decline -and harvest rates down even more significantly. And those two items are a reason the Mule Deer Foundation is supporting us- we all have to be concerned with those declines, and we have to find solutions."
So what about the other two topics? "We've not positioned on either of them yet," Dougherty said, "but I'd imagine that a best-practices solution is probably the best way to go. Deer feeding and deer breeding are subjects that need real answers, not just positions."
"We're here to represent the animals and the hunters," he said, "and on about 80 percent of the issues, we're all in agreement. We want to work from the common ground inside our organization and advocate for the best answers for everyone."
"We want to make certain that when it comes to decisions that impact either group, on any level, hunters have a representative seat at the table. That means we need to have membership numbers that reflect a national presence."
According to Dougherty, the goals of the NDA when it comes to membership are pretty modest- if you look at the total estimate number of deer hunters (just over eleven-million). "I'd say we could expect to have 250,000 members by the end of 2014, and we'd like to see that number double again in '15," he said, "when you look at the numbers today, you'll see that deer hunters affiliated with a national conservation organization are tiny, especially compared with turkey, ducks, pheasants or elk." Deer hunters in national organizations are pegged at 1 percent compared with 8, 41, 9 and 24 percent, for turkey, ducks, pheasants or elk, respectively.
Those numbers mean reaching the smallest percentage of hunters (8%/turkey) would mean nearly a million members. The other numbers would put NDA over the threshold of what constitutes a "major" organization when it comes to having influence in Washington.
So is political "clout" the ultimate goal? "No," says Dougherty, "deer are critical to the health of our overall outdoor world. We've got to be here for the deer- and the deer enthusiasts."
Time will tell, and we'll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you would like more information, their website is supposed to be up and running by the time The Outdoor Wire hits your inbox this morning. So, you should be able to go to this web address:
and signup. Your name, email address and zip code are all they're looking for at this point- again, there's no charge for membership.