Read about our conversation with National Deer Alliance Executive Director Craig Dougherty.
In certain outdoor circles, Craig Dougherty is known as much more than a deer guru. Though, in essence, he is one of the best deer gurus there is.
After 35 years spent working in the industry, including stints in deer management, hunting organization assistance, book writing and more, Dougherty is now involved in “one more campaign,” as the front-facing leader of the National Deer Alliance.
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After a decade on the board of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), a first-of-its-kind summit proved the need for an organization that serves as a unified voice for deer hunters, as well as the need for a qualified person to be at the helm.
“The NDA’s genesis was early last March, when the QDMA held the first ever North American Whitetail Summit,” Dougherty said. “A lot of issues were identified as threats to deer and to deer hunting. One of the central cries from the audience was, basically, a national organization was needed to represent deer. While QDMA does that, they didn’t have the breadth or scope. What we felt we needed was a broader-based organization, not unlike, in size at least, the National Rifle Association.”
Management, disease, predators, vehicle collisions, and a sum of other issues are increasingly affecting deer herds in North America, and Dougherty realizes there isn’t an easy answer to any of them. That’s part of the NDA’s appeal as well. The goal to be an advocate for the hunter, and not just the biologist, special interest group or politician, is what’s behind it all.
“Things aren’t as perfect in the deer world as they were 10 years ago,” Dougherty said. “We want to be a very large organization, numbering up to a million deer hunters, who are invited to have a seat at the table. And not only have a seat, but be a 500-pound gorilla in that room as well.”
But what exactly will the NDA look like? What will it mean for the 21st Century deer hunter, and how will they interact and learn from the Alliance?
“The National Deer Alliance is cyber-driven, and membership is free for anyone who will give us their email address,” Dougherty pointed out. “All things deer are in there, including a combination of deer science, deer hunting, a strong dose of deer advocacy, and we envision when we get our numbers up to the hundreds of thousands, that we will have a website in place that allows us to communicate to people both at a national level and also at a local level.”
Dougherty hinted at the goal to be able to identify an issue tat ten in the morning, work it by noon, and “by the time lunch is over, have a 68,000 vote petition on the governor’s desk” relative to something that may not be in the best interest of deer or deer hunting. “We’re very much envisioning an activist role for the NDA,” he added.
It’s clearly a labor of love for Dougherty, as cliche as it may be, but he’s genuinely excited about criss-crossing the nation on flights to meet with stakeholders and decision makers, as well as the reception from the outdoor arena as a whole.
“If you look at deer hunting, it drives just about 80% of the revenue in the hunting industry,” he said. “We all brag about how large hunting is, and how much it contributes to taxes and jobs and other things, which it does. But frankly, without deer, there wouldn’t be much of a hunting industry left. It’s vital to the future of hunting. If people quit deer hunting, or something were to happen to make deer hunting significantly less popular, that will set us up for a lot of issues.”
And so, as we get ready to embark on yet another fall hunting season, with the vast majority of us tracking, hunting and hopefully harvesting deer, the National Deer Alliance is preparing for their own challenges.
“Going forward, we hope that most of the issues identified by the NDA will be hunter-driven, from the membership,” Dougherty said, hinting at a true grassroots movement.
“One of my goals has always been for years in my writing, and now with the NDA, to forge a link between professional game managers or agency types and the boots on the ground,” he said. “It seems
By no mistake, the NDA has already been referred to as the future of conservation organizations, and there’s no reason not to believe it. Dougherty acknowledged the great deal of information gathering done by the modern hunter, along with the connectivity and Internet-based interactions they make.
“We’re creating a community, a place for conversations to occur,” Dougherty said. While turkey, duck and elk hunters all have higher ratios of participants who belong to a conservation organizations, Dougherty feels that if even a low percentage of deer hunters join in and believe in the NDA, they’ll take a huge step towards their goal.
“I’ve been watching them for about 50 years, and I have yet to not pause when I see one,” “Deer hunting personifies the American tradition of hunting.”
That is nearly impossible to disagree with.
Learn more about the National Deer Alliance on their website, and join fellow hunters in an effort to be one voice, one source, and one important part of that tradition.
Images via NationalDeerAlliance.com