July 01, 2021
I’ll never forget the advice I received two decades ago, during a lunch outing, from one of my early business mentors. “The secret to great success is to stop doing what everyone else is doing,” he said.
“Additionally, if you’re not measuring your most important metrics, you’re not managing your business.” I knew immediately I wanted to chew on those statements later, so I wrote his advice down in my business journal; a habit I learned from another business mentor a few months prior.
I’ve revisited that page in my notebook dozens of times over the last 20 years. Each time, I’m reminded to resist the herd mentality and I’m handsomely rewarded. You can be too, but with a different kind of journal: a whitetail hunting and management journal! When you commit your thoughts, experiences, observations, goals and objectives to paper, you are exponentially more likely to succeed. It blows my mind more hunters don’t keep hunting and observation journals. This column, and the next two, will comprise my three-part “Management Series” designed to illustrate that if you’re not measuring, you’re not managing.
Many of my clients have become masters at identifying pitfalls in their deer hunting and holes in their management programs thanks to their detailed journaling. Initially, many clients look at journaling as something a teenage girl might do. However, once they realize it allows them to put the pieces of the puzzle together and consistently shoot Pope and Young-caliber bucks, they drop the macho attitude and start putting ink to paper!
Hunt conditions include wind speed and direction, precipitation and amount, temperature, moon data and any other data you’re interested in anchoring to the level of success of your hunt. I’ve seen some amazingly talented hunters capitalize year in and year out by becoming a student of how environmental conditions impact deer movement on their property. The environmental metric that jumps out at me on my Pennsylvania farm is high, persistent winds. When the steady winds are higher than 11-12 mph, I’m better off enjoying a different hobby. There are clear reasons for this, but journaling brought it to my attention.
Hunt observation data is extremely valuable for grading your herd and habitat conditions and your skills as a manager. These are the data I ask clients for when they begin expressing their level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their hunts. If you’re not measuring these data, you’re simply not managing your herd properly. You will want to include date, start and stop time, total hours, location/stand hunted and the number of bucks, does and fawns observed. Further, you will want to break down the bucks observed into age classes. I break them down by year; however, many managers choose to keep it simple by labeling bucks as yearling, middle-age and mature.
With these stats, I can tell you what you will see during an average sit and we can identify trends over time. On many properties I help manage, it’s not uncommon to observe, on average, one 4.5-year-old buck every three hours. How long must you sit, on average, to have a shot opportunity at a mature buck? Are you satisfied with that?
To me, the management side of things is where the rubber meets the road. Management conditions refer to the level of success I’m seeing from my habitat-management practices such as food plots, timber stand improvements, habitat creation, prescribed burns, streamside management zones, designated human entry/exit trails and soil health improvement. In other words, if on Nov. 2 I show up at a stand that was hung because I spent all summer developing a food source nearby, and that food plot was a failure, that’s a noteworthy reason to fill out a page in my journal and get boots to ground ASAP to determine what went wrong!
Management observations include in-field observations related to population characteristics such as total deer numbers in relation to habitat quality, buck age structure estimates, observed buck:doe ratio, natural mortality and the number one factor when managing whitetails, fawn recruitment rates.
Competition makes us all better. In fact, this is one reason I think of my journal as my playbook or “game journal.” Regardless of what you call it, I guarantee you will score more if you have one. When you think about it, all our hunts are like playing away games; we’re always sneaking onto their turf, where they have the full advantage. In fact, we’re lucky if we spend one or two weekends each year “scouting” their turf. Whitetails rarely walk into our trophy room and present a broadside shot. As a result, it’s fun to keep a win-loss record so you can assess your skill set against your opponent.
I picked this idea up from a hunter/professional manager in south Texas in the late '90s, and I’ve recorded a “W” or an “L” for every hunt since. Losses are learning opportunities. If you allow your “losses” to slip by without lessons learned, you’re becoming a great loser! When it comes to bowhunting whitetails, don’t be a great loser.
How you define a “win” and a “loss” is totally up to you, as long as you keep it consistent. A win for me is a hunt when everything worked as I planned (to consistently see deer of both sexes and all age classes), regardless of whether I punched my tag. As a wildlife biologist and property manager, I spend a great deal of time designing and developing properties to experience more consistent success. If I consistently have opportunities on immature bucks and I pass on the shots, I consider that a win. This is the fun part, as only you can define what a winning or a losing hunt looks like.
Knowledge Is Power
Now, it’s now time for you to head the store and grab a hunting and management journal, because in my next column I’ll address the key metrics hunters should know about the whitetail herd they hunt and manage. Once you’ve accumulated some property-specific observational data, you will be better equipped to answer the million-dollar questions about your herd!
Keep a Digital Journal
These days, just about everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, making the task of keeping a hunting and management journal easier than ever. Apps such as HuntStand allow you to map your hunting areas and add details such as the location of stands, blinds, food plots, access trails and more. For each hunt, you can log game sightings and harvests and integrate that data with detailed information on weather conditions, allowing you to identify patterns over time. You can also mark trail-camera locations, organize trail-cam images and sort them by type of game, weather, moon phase and more. HuntStand Pro members can even access a heat map and activity predictions to help choose the most productive hunting area for current conditions.
Other useful features include the HuntZone wind tracker to help you avoid spooking game, 3-D mapping that allows for a virtual tour of your hunting area, nationwide public and private property boundaries, the ability to share maps with other users, message boards among members of your hunt area and more.