Hunters can be their own best teachers
One simple way hunters can improve their odds is to remember, and learn from, their experiences. That's why most of the good hunters I know keep a journal, a chronological record of activities and observations from their days afield. By recording details of each hunt, they're able to remember what factors contributed to, or detracted from, their rates of success.
If you're just starting to keep a journal, begin by recording just about everything related to the time you spend scouting and hunting. Start with the basics. Fully document the weather conditions, including temperatures, precipitation, cloud cover and wind direction and strength. If there's snow on the ground, record its depth.
Weather can be an important variable affecting animal movements and behaviour, and predictable patterns emerge over time. Some conditions will even dictate how or where you should hunt. After waterfowling at the same lake for several years, for example, I now decide where to set up based almost entirely upon the prevailing wind direction on the morning of the hunt.
Your careful observation of animal behaviour is also well worth documenting. Make note of the numbers and types of species you see, as well as their activities. Are they bedded, travelling or feeding? If they're feeding, record what they're eating. Also look for signs such as scrapes and rubs that reveal the timing of their breeding cycles.
Even if you're not hunting certain species, jot down their activities as well. Large groups of crows in their fall roosts, for example, could be a sign that the first geese have started passing through on their annual pilgrimage south.
It also helps to make an inventory of the vegetation that grows where you hunt, along with notes on how wildlife makes use of it. That can help you determine such things as whether the local deer prefer to bed on coniferous-dominated ridges or in slough margins, for example.
Keeping concise records of your specific hunting tactics can also pay off in a big way. By remembering the rattling sequence that lured that big white-tailed buck to your stand, for example, you'll be able to reproduce that same successful tactic another day.
Your journal also serves as a place to record shotgun loads or powder-and-bullet combinations so that you can keep track of what ammunition works best with your firearm. Detailed records can help eliminate any variables that might spell disappointment on a future hunt.
You can also record names, addresses and phone numbers of landowners with whom you want to establish a longer-term relationship. A card in the mail or a timely phone call in the off-season can go a long way to ensuring you'll always have access to prime hunting land.
I also keep notes on strategically located service stations, sporting goods stores, motels and restaurants that make trip planning easier. And a running list of essentials is another function of my hunting journal. On a recent trip to Quebec to hunt waterfowl, for instance, I needed a tool to remove the trigger group from my shotgun so I could properly wipe it down after a long day in the rain and grit. I made a simple note in my log, thus ensuring that the proper tool will be in my travel kit next time.
Over time, you'll find that your journal plays a vital role in the planning and execution of your hunts. A quick read of my entries tells me nearly everything I should consider before heading afield. And next to my photo album, my journal provides the best reminder of all the good times I've had while hunting over the years.
Share your notes
Well-kept field records can allow you to play an active role in wildlife management. Since biologists rely heavily on the advice and knowledge of hunters when establishing regulations, your journal can provide a wealth of observations for informed suggestions.