By Cody Altizer:
This fall, I’ll embark on what will be my 19th season hunting whitetail deer. It always fascinates me how, each year, I’ll learn something entirely new and different that gives me added respect for whitetails, and gives me an entirely new perspective when hunting them. Unfortunately, the one downside of having 18 hunting seasons under my belt is that I simply can’t remember each and every detail of every single hunt I’ve ever been on. Or can I? Fortunately, I can (to a degree). Since 2003 I have been keeping detailed records and statistics of each hunt that I go on, and each animal I harvest. In this post, I’m going to share what I log into my records, why I log it, and how I hope it will benefit me in the future.
Keeping a deer hunting journal isn’t rocket science. It can be if you over complicate things, and trust me, sometimes I do; but it’s best to start off with the basics for your journal. For example, I start off with date, morning or afternoon hunt, time (spent in the stand), stand or blind, weather (detailed accounts, including high or low pressure), wind (including thermal information), and weapon.
If nothing else, it’s fun to look back through my journal and look over the above items. However, you can quickly learn what stand sites are most productive and with what winds. I’ve also learned, based strictly on my notes from the basics, that a particular stand on my property is only productive after November 15th. It took a couple years to learn that, but once I did, my success rate from that stand increased dramatically, and helped me harvest my biggest buck to date.
The Good Stuff
I’ll admit, the “basics” aren’t very sexy when keeping a deer hunting journal. Don’t get me wrong, they are completely necessary, and have proven to be very helpful, but they’re kind of like stretching before a basketball game. You’re far better off if you do, but dangit, I just want to lace up my sneakers and play!
That brings us to the good stuff. The next segment of my deer hunting journal includes the information that can be most helpful to me for future hunts. These items include: Number of deer seen, including if it was a buck (age, and approximate score), does (mature or yearling), and whether the does had fawns with them (if possible, I indicate whether the fawns were male or female). Next, I have a section title, “Where Did they come from” in which I give detailed description of their travel patterns. Obviously including where they came from, but also where they went, and their behavior in between. The good stuff section also includes items such as companions (it’s fun to look back and think of the hunts I’ve shared with my brother or my dad) and calls used (I included this item when I first started keeping a journal. I rarely use calls anymore, and keeping this data hasn’t proven beneficial to my situation). Finally, I have a space called, “Quick Summary” where I will jot down anything from a couple sentences to a lengthy paragraph giving a play by play of the hunt, my perspective, what other animals I may have seen, or any other information I may find useful in the future or want to remember about this specific hunt.
Again, like the basics, if nothing else, keeping all of this information, while tedious at times, can be fun to look back at and reminisce. It’s especially funny to see how my attitude towards hunting and the animals I chase has changed every year. Even funnier, is to see my reaction to failed and successful strategies. I swear, I thought I had it all figured out when I was 18 years old…
Ah, even better than the good stuff! This is actually a very vague section of my journal, but it includes some incredibly useful information. While all the information logged before this section applies to only my hunt, the information in this section is applicable to anyone in camp who harvests a deer.
In this section I first include the age of the deer, regardless if it’s a buck or doe. If it’s a buck, I’ll include its gross score (nets are for fishing). I’ll also include the deer’s live weight, field dressed weight, and, most important of all, it’s stomach contents. Where I hunt, food sources change sporadically, and examining a harvested deer’s stomach contents can provide me with useful information for hunts in the following days, as well as in the following years. I keep an eye out for food sources such as wild grapes, woody browse, grass versus clover (if it’s grass deer are feeding in logging roads closer to bedding areas), and soft mast species that can tip me off on what the deer are currently feeding on.
Keeping a deer-hunting journal is a lot of work, and a lot of times it doesn’t seem worth it. While flipping through the pages while writing this article I noticed on October 8th, 2008 under my quick summary I wrote, “Saw 8 does.” Wow. How incredibly lame is that? But still, the positives far outweigh the negative if you push through the mundane. If you’re like me, you can apply useful information and clues from your journal to make yourself a more successful hunter. Or, if nothing else, it’s always fun to look back at past hunts and reminisce!
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com