Bringing in the Big Guns: Professional Wildlife Consultants

By Cody AltizerApril 14, 2014

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015


As deer hunters we are well acquainted with sleepless nights. If you’ve spent significant time hunting whitetails, you’ve certainly had your fair share. It could be the night before the opening day of bow season or the night before your weeklong rut vacation. Unfortunately, many of us have tossed and turned without slumber for a night while waiting to track a deer the next morning. Regardless of the situation, sleepless nights are just part of the gig for the serious whitetail hunter. That being said, it’s quite uncommon to experience said sleepless night in late March, unless, of course, you’re a deer and land manager.

Such was the case for me in late March as I had hired Erich Long of Drumming Log Wildlife Management to visit my family’s property for an evaluation and consultation. In this post, I’m going to walk you through the entire process, start to finish, of hiring a professional wildlife consultant to visit your property.

Choose Wisely

To begin with, I feel it’s important to share with you why I wanted to hire a professional biologist, and why I ultimately chose Erich. We’ve been practicing QDM on our property since 2007, but became very serious about it in 2011. Since that time we’ve killed 4 mature bucks in 3 years (it should have been 5, but that’s a story for another day). That success rate is significantly better than any of our neighbor’s, and each year I feel as if overall herd health and habitat are improved as well. Still, I feel as if we could be more successful as hunters. More importantly, though, I feel we could be doing more habitat work that would make it more beneficial for all wildlife.

Observing the property

When choosing a consultant, look for one that will improve the areas of weakness on your property. I chose Erich because of his ability to factor in all management aspects including water and cover.

I chose Erich for a number of reasons. To begin with, he’s qualified and educated. I couldn’t care less what or how many degrees Erich has, but with over 20 years of experience and proven results in the wildlife management field, I knew I could trust his opinion. He’s also got the credentials to back it up. In 2009 The Quality Deer Management Association named him Deer Manager of the Year, and in 2010 he was awarded the Deer Steward III Award. Literally being recognized as the best in the world at what he does gave me a huge vote of confidence.

Further, I was drawn to Erich because of the importance he places on improving the natural habitat on your property. There are many consultants out there who offer very little real world advice. They simply look at your property and suggest where you should plant a food plot, what you should plant, and when you should plant it. Of course food plots are a key component to your management plan, but they shouldn’t be the backbone of your plan. Instead, they should be planted to supplement natural forages.

Erich’s primary focus is improving the cover and native vegetation on your property, more specifically, providing cover that equals food. Native forbs and browse make up to 70% of a deer’s diet, and with over 90% of my family’s property being mature timber, I welcomed Erich’s approach and insight. Finally, after getting to know Erich through Facebook and speaking with him on the phone, I just felt comfortable working with him.

There are a lot of credible and reputable deer biologists and consultants out there. Before making the decision on whom to hire, do your homework. Check references, speak with the consultant on the phone and let him know what you’re looking for. Erich’s philosophy fit in perfectly for what we’re trying to accomplish on our property, and that was incredibly reassuring. More than anything, it’s important to trust and feel comfortable with your consultant.

Down to Business

Erich made the drive from Ohio on a Friday night, and I barely slept a wink in anticipation of the next day’s events. After a hearty breakfast to start the day on Saturday, Erich sat down with my dad, brother, and I to discuss the basic principles and practices of QDM and habitat management. We were familiar with most of the information, but it’s always good to revisit the fundamentals that are critical to the success of any craft, especially QDM.

After asking us a few simple questions about the property, the real fun began. We loaded up the ATVs and trucks and headed to the property to begin the evaluation and consultation.

Our first stop was a small, quarter acre food plot, and it was then that I knew I’d made the right choice in hiring Erich. Once we got out of the truck and I gave Erich some information regarding the plot, it’s like someone flipped a switch and the deer managing gears in his brain began to turn.

Studying Soil Quality

A shot of Erich studying soil quality and temperature. Erich was very hands on during our consultation. His involvement let me know he genuinely cared about us and our goals.

After quickly looking at the plot he said, “It’s good, but it’s not good enough.” He then went on to recommend 5 different projects that would make this plot significantly better. He said we could make it bigger without sacrificing security. He recommended a strip of warm season grasses in addition to the sorghum we had planted for a screen. He introduced the idea of double cropping; in other words planting buckwheat in the plot during the spring and summer and a fall blend during the hunting season. Fruit trees to the West side of the plot, a wildlife opening to the South, and voila, what I thought was a pretty good kill plot just got 5 times better.

The rest of the day then proceeded to evolve in a similar fashion. Erich was brutally honest (a telling sign of a good consultant) in telling me what we had done well, and what areas needed significant improvement. Often times I would show him a specific area and he’d tell me, “It’s good, but it’s not good enough.” As a deer and land manager, those are the exact words you’re looking to hear from your consultant.

Ask Questions

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been openly curious. Regardless of the subject matter, I always want to know more. I’ve never been happy just knowing that something works – I want to know why, how, when, and how to do it the best. Such is the case with deer and deer hunting as well.

Throughout the day while walking the property with Erich I must have asked him a thousand questions.
“What’s this?”
“Do deer eat that?”
“Is this native? No? What’s the best way to kill it?”
“Should I cut that tree?”
It’s a wonder by the end of the day Erich didn’t ring my neck.

Assessing Information

Don’t be afraid to ask your client questions, and don’t expect him to have all the answers. Chances are, if he doesn’t know he’ll tell you, and if he’s serious about his job, he’ll find the answer you’re looking for.

However, by the end of the day, I’d gotten most of the answers I was looking for. And if Erich didn’t know the answer to a question, he’d simply tell me, “I don’t know.” I didn’t expect him to know the answer to every single question, and I appreciated his honesty. The goal was to soak up and learn as much as possible in a short amount of time.

Don’t be afraid to poke and prod to get the answers you’re looking for. That’s what your consultant is there for. If he’s a stand up guy, he’ll be honest in his response, regardless of whether or not the answer is what you’re looking for.

Site Specific Solutions

As thrilled as I was with Erich’s honesty and approach, I was more thrilled that the plan he drew up was specific to our 260 acres in Bath County, Virginia. Not a previous client’s 50 acres in New York or 1000-acre ranch in South Texas. Erich inquired about our past history on the property, and our long-term goals before making any decisions.

For example, with a heavy timber cut planned for 2015, Erich suggested what areas of wooded acreage would benefit the most from being thinned and clear-cut. He also suggested small, 1-acre wildlife openings throughout the property. These areas would serve as natural food plots, provide security cover, and increase the properties over all carrying capacity.

In addition, we looked over aerial photos to determine how these new clear-cut areas would impact how we hunt the property for the foreseeable future. It’s one thing to attract and hold mature bucks on your property, but I’d be lying if I said the end goal wasn’t to kill those same bucks.

Conversing about the property

My consultation with Erich in one single image. Hiring a consultant can be a tremendous learning experience, and help improve the quality of your deer herd and hunting opportunities immediately as well as in the long term.

We were also given quite the lesson in food plot plantings as well. In the past, we stuck to a relatively uniform system regarding what we planted and when we planted. We knew that forage diversity is crucial in a whitetail’s diet; however, we simply stuck with what we knew would work. With a relatively tight budget, planting forages we weren’t familiar with was really intimidating. That’s when a professional’s advice and insight comes in handy.

For example, Erich scouted out each plot’s size and location and determined what seed blend would grow best in what soil. He determined our smaller kill plots would continue to do well in the forage oats, rye, and crimson clover blends we plant annually for the fall. Further, he suggested transforming our nutritional plots into soybean fields by planting them later in the summer, and fencing them off until early fall. This would in turn make for awesome hunting opportunities, but the standing grain would attract, hold, and feed deer well into the winter. Erich made sure we understood that QDM is a 365-day a year venture, not a seasonal fad.

As a deer manager and land steward, I feel it’s my responsibility to offer the habitat and wildlife that live on it the best and most conservational life possible. Sometimes, that means rolling up my sleeves and simply learning through trial and error. Other times, however, it means calling in the big guns for professional education and insight. Erich Long of Drumming Log Wildlife Management provided just that, and our property is better of for it. If you’re looking to maximize your property’s potential, contact Erich or another wildlife consultant and set up a consultation, you’ll be glad you did.

Cody Altizer
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