Not many of us like to focus on much other than the spoils after the hunt, and that may be okay. But those that want to step up their game and think beyond the outcome of the hunt and focus on the future may think about the factors that indicate progress or change in their hunting world.
Years ago, I would consider logging my hunts in a notebook; this ended up being a drawn-out and poorly organized set of data. It wasn’t that the data was unhelpful, but it became more of a memoir than a book of statistics. For some, a chronicle of past hunts can be valuable, especially when this data relays locations, times and weather. But the data in a memoir isn’t searchable, and for some that’s completely acceptable. If you take nothing from this article remember that some of the finest deer hunters focus on the when’s and whys of the hunt and that includes a host of data that it most often tied to observation and harvest statistics. It’s not as simple as a data came through a specific area at a specific time, but why the deer may have come through that area so its drilling down as much into data is its general habits of deer. With that said, observation, trail cameras data and records of both can provide a sum of information that will be priceless in the future.
The suggestions on data to collect provided in this article is a very highlevel perspective and when it comes to observation data, drilling down even further can make for a much better indicator of when and why to hunt certain areas. The incorporation of weather data, to include wind conditions, and tying that to a recommendation on when conditions create better harvest opportunity can push hunter confidence intervals up significant. That type of data can benefit the hunter and let them be more predictive of when and why that may or may not hunt a specific area. But with all that information, the data needs to be in a relevant form and format to can be easily understood. Data in an electronic spreadsheet can be sorted, reorganized and printed. As you may conclude so far electronic data logging is probably the most useful method if this information is going to be analyzed or shared with others.
Data isn’t just for biologist. Most think that in order to understand or interpret harvest or habitat type data they need a PhD – let’s put that idea in the garbage. Biologist take all sorts of data related to animals and the environment but sorting out this information is easier than some realize. Also, the tools biologist utilize aren’t extremely sophisticated and most than can be purchased commercially at a reasonable price. The simplest tools include a tape measure and weight scale. There are even alternative options identified by Penn State University that allows a hunter that harvests a whitetail deer to forego a weight scale and can use a measuring tape to collect approximate live and dressed weights of deer, known as the Heart Girth Measurement Method. This technique also permits the hunter to estimate the weighs of portions of the deer to include the amount of edible lean meat. Amazingly enough this simple method has proven to be very accurate and is in fact been proven not only by myself but other deer managers to be within 1 to 3 percent as compared to actual data from calibrated scales.
The first hurdle for most is figuring out what data to collect, and with taking data requires dedicated time and ability to remain organized. For many hunter’s observation data may be the most important information; this requires logging each hunt. Observation data can be the best tool when combined with camera data to give some indication of the deer that are present on a property. Basic information after a hunt such as logging the date and time, the number of bucks, does and fawns observed can lead to a lengthy bit of data. The data becomes more meaningful when a calculation of the number of deer seen per hour, ratios of does to bucks for harvest purposes or fawns to doe helping to establish a recruitment percentage. The most beneficially and interesting aspect is logging this data on a spreadsheet and reviewing year to year. The goal of the yearly observation log is for future planning. The collected data will provide valuable trends in the herd and the quality of hunting. Hunters ultimately will start to evaluate stand sites for productivity based on this data (and consideration of harvest data) and help identify areas of improvement based on the analyzed data.
The other and most familiar consideration is logging specific harvest information. Harvest data may be as simple as identifying the date, location, implement used (i.e. bow, crossbow or gun), and sex of the animal. For good measure these are probably the most basic criteria and relevant information. To get more in depth and to have information that may allow for better comparison overtime and finer aspects of the harvest, hunters may want to collect the deer age through tooth replacement and wear technique or cementum annuli, weight (live and dressed), lactation status, number of points and antler measurements (Boone and Crocket). Of course, all of these take additional time to collect but the information begins to establish a baseline of the harvest and indication of quality as compared to localized deer or other regions. On average all this information (assuming tooth age wear and replacement) should take less than 30 to 45 minutes to collect and record. The expected results become a large factor in evaluating overall the age structure, deer health and trends. An example for using this data is comparative weight, indicating health of an animal, which will fluctuate throughout the year. Approximate weight loss may not be known for a buck during rut, but data taken on harvested bucks later in the hunting season may indicate trends showing a significant amount of loss as compared to deer taken much earlier showing the significant of the toll of the rut and the necessity of quality food in the months to follow. Does tend to be less volatile in weight loss but are impacted as the Fall continues into Winter. Changes in weight for does are a much better indicator of herd health and tend to tell the story of how well these deer may do going into stress periods of Winter and how the habitat types are sustaining them in the prior months. As explained, health and deer habitat problems are more than likely the largest indicators when it comes to weight and comparative analysis over time. Essentially all this information can be broken down to reveal information that is critical to understanding the deer on the landscape and current management strategies that may or may not be beneficial.
Accurate and reliable data provides hunters and deer managers information that is valuable for evaluating a deer herd. Growing this data to include other landowners or lessees can provide observation and harvest information that provides a bigger picture of the entire ecoregion. Ensuring that a consistent and standardized approach to collecting and evaluating the compiled observation and harvest data will without question provide better statistics and allow hunters and managers better indicators of animal health and quality hunting. The time and effort can feel significant when it comes to collecting large amounts of data, but this information can be invaluable to future hunts and experiences. As mentioned, the data can show trends and shift perspective on deer fitness and needed changes to the vegetation to include supplemental food (i.e. food plots) to ensure the herd health is paramount. The bottom line is data can indicate trends that may be both positive or negative, and as hunters and deer managers we are more able to react to these trends to make changes to the landscapes or harvest strategy to ensure future objectives are met.
By Jon Teater