May 12, 2023
By John Kirby
We all have had conversations with others and later found ourselves replaying the dialogue repeatedly in our minds, thinking about what we should and should not have said. That is how we naturally and occasionally self-reflect. Yet, I have found that writing and keeping track of data in a deer journal helps me become intentional about my thinking regarding the whitetail woods.
The task often provides clarity about a situation when I didn’t even know I needed it. Also, while reflecting, sometimes patterns that I might have otherwise missed emerge from my journal. And making notes helps me stay organized and remember details I am likely to forget. I use my deer journal to make comments and jot down important events. My journal makes me a more strategic deer hunter. To be honest, I have written about deer journals before, but since then, I have found other uses for my journal. Admittedly, it’s not a hot-button topic, and I don’t even get jacked up when I think about journaling. In fact, there was a time I might not have admitted to my hunting buddies that I was a journaler. But, over time, I have learned that keeping a log can be a game-changer if used strategically. Many of my friends have come clean and confessed to keeping their journals, too.
One of the beauties of journaling is that we can all do it differently. You can geek out and log fine-grained details or only enter the data that you deem necessary at the time. In my journal, I comment on various things, from data points to my educated guesses about deer patterns and anecdotal evidence.
My hunting journals vary from the nicely bound to the department store notepads. Essentially, deer journalers should use whatever is convenient and available. The bottom line is, you should put pen to paper as much as you want. Include topics from deer sightings to bedding areas. If a buck has a name, explain how he got that title. Describe his personality. I find myself using the same questions that I ask my teenager, such as who, what, when and where. The difference for me lies in the specifics. The more details, the more thought. The more effort, the more likely I am to kill that fancy-named deer.
The location where I spot a deer is an obviously eligible entry into my journal. Often in the moment, I am convinced that I will never forget where a particular deer appeared, bedded or exited. I think every miniscule detail is burned into my mind forever, but I know myself well enough to know that my memory fades with time. Therefore, I may need to denote landmarks to ensure I don’t get confused about the location, especially if I am hunting unfamiliar property.
I also might make comments that help me differentiate one deer from another. For instance, one statement in my journal reads: “Saw target buck No. 3 coming out of primary bedding to the north. He skirted the doe staging area on the creek side into the beans.” I use my notes on deer sightings to look for any emerging patterns for a target deer. Entries about deer sightings include many items. For example, in my journal, one entry reads: “Three does and a forky buck came out of southwest entrance into the bean field at 4:00 p.m. And they fed for about 30 minutes before crossing the field and entering the woods through the far-left opening.”
Deer movement is an essential factor to consider when looking for patterns. And it is definitely worth noting in your deer journal.
Characteristics about deer you see or know are on your property are crucial to include in the journal. An example of one of my entries reads: “The old heavy 10-point seems to be a loaner buck based on his personality. He primarily beds isolated from all other deer, and he is aggressive around other bucks who are about 18 months old or older.”
Then I repeat the process for everything I observe, including trying to identify individual does and doe groups. Excessive, I know. But seriously, it helps me remember the deer. Also, writing about the deer’s characteristics forces me to pay closer attention to details about a deer that might otherwise seem unimportant.
The weather is another important factor that I log. The barometric readings, wind direction, wind shifts, humidity, temperature and other details, become extremely crucial when tracking deer patterns and movement.
I will note how terrain and topography, or even a creek running down the side of a bluff, can play tricks with thermals that we can take advantage of. Since weather can influence deer movement, enter weather conditions so you can compare deer movement in various weather conditions.
In addition to the weather, make notes on the time of year the weather events occur. Include the day and details, such as bow season, velvet season, the first day of muzzleloader season, etc. It’s important to track deer sightings in the context of the weather and time of year.
If you keep thorough notes about weather and notice some trends, maybe you’ll get lucky and correctly predict your target buck’s next move.
I have come to accept that off-season chores are beneficial in the same way that mowing the lawn or washing a car is. Those are my tasks to prepare for deer season. So, I always attempt to make lists and try hard to follow through with my off-season tasks, but I must confess that I need to do better.
One of my to-do list entries from earlier this year reads: “Home Farm Off-Season List: Add two 8x8 water sources; one in sinkhole staging area on west side, and the other location is to be determined.”
At a minimum, including a to-do list in your deer journal will keep you more organized and help you complete more deer work.
Gear and Heirlooms
Writing down information about my hunting gear has taken on more importance recently, especially since I’m hunting multiple properties or having my gear spread across two or more locations. Also, I enter information in my journal if I have loaned someone my equipment.
One type of entry that has recently equipment or guns my grandparents passed down to me. I use my journal to list who gave me the gun, when I got it, the original owners, the type, its current value, its condition, the manufacturer and other details.
I enjoy hearing hunting stories, and it makes it even more special when they are from my ancestors. By gathering and writing these tales in my journal, I am preserving the information for my heirs. I have details about the previous owners, such as the recent acquisition of a gun belonging to my great, great, great grandfather. I document details like where my ancestors lived, to ensure the information isn’t lost. I want my heirs to appreciate these treasures as much as I do. I also take a picture of the journal page containing information about the gun and its owners, and I store it with the gun to ensure the story lives on.
Likewise, when I pass my guns and bows down in my family, my heir many find my journals interesting, as they will be filled with my equipment lists documenting purchase dates, where I bought them and the cost. They will also know what I killed with each gun or bow and how I hunted. By logging those stories, I am preserving family hunting history.
Documenting the good and the ridiculous stuff might make someone smile or shake their head one day; if not, I still enjoy reading my old journals and reminiscing occasionally. My passions are golf and hunting; so, of course, I also keep information on golf courses, equipment and tournament scores.
Journaling keeps me focused on continuously improving my game – be it hunting or golf.
Because I can forget that Wednesday is trash day and my wedding anniversary is in May, I have discovered that being ridiculously meticulous is my way of compensating.
I am just wired to forget things, and as I get older, it is getting worse! Keeping a log can help connect a dot that I may have overlooked. It’s happened to me multiple times. Twice I have picked up on an uber-mature buck that would show up in late October for his first appearance. Remarkably, it happened on the same day at nearly the same time about a year later.
I didn’t kill that buck, because I was unable to hold off long enough into the Kentucky season; and being a one buck state, I just didn’t have the opportunity to hunt him. Yet, I learned a great deal. I call that buck’s behavior a loop pattern, and it is a wild phenomenon in my experience. My anecdotal personal observations in row crop, fencerow type deer and hill country bucks tell me that many bucks exhibit this loop pattern. Some bucks are on a three-day loop and some five, but others seem to operate on a yearly loop. While I can’t explain it per se, I have sure witnessed it. Journaling has helped me see that not all bucks show a loop pattern, and that many do.
In addition to me, many hunters who keep journals have been consistently successful at getting their mission accomplished. Simply put, every good hunter I know goes the extra mile in some way, and they’re willing to suffer just a tad bit more. Taking the extra step and keeping a journal has helped me stay focused and think intentionally about my strategy, while basing my decisions on actual observational data and past experiences.
I urge you to take the time to keep a deer journal. It could be the shot in the arm you need when things are not going your way, or a tool to help you refocus and redirect. It could also transcend and connect generations of family members who will never meet, but who share the bond and heritage of hunting.