Planning for a Better Hunt Using a Log Book

By Tom Peplinski

My hunting season never ends. On the last day of each whitetail season, I am already planning and acting on those plans in preparation for next season. It’s my passion and it will likely always be that way. Those who know me and know me well can tell you that hardly a day goes by that I’m not a student of the whitetail deer. Even on a fishing trip, somehow the camp fire banter always gets a fair dosing of whitetail talk. In more recent years, my efforts more and more seem to be aimed at making others around me successful with their hunts. I get so much satisfaction out of others being successful on one of my farms that in many ways I often say that I am living vicariously through other hunters. Their success is my reward. This might sound crazy to some, but it has been my progression in my whitetail hunting experience. I don’t know who’s happier when a good friend or family member takes their largest or maybe oldest buck on a set that I planned and prepared for them. Sharing the planning/work/and then hunt with them is the most rewarding.

And so it is once again, that whitetail hunters all across the country are taking to the field. Many with high hopes that this is the year they harvest their first buck. Some might be hoping for their first mature buck…or something they can get a shoulder mount of. Whatever your goals are for this fall, you should be starting to plan for and be strategizing about next season. Why? Because the biggest learning tool we have in our quest to become better hunters is by learning from our mistakes, and noting our successes while they happen. If we can correct our mistakes, and repeat what works season after season, our hunts will get better and better over time. This is really the key if you want to one day be the hunter that has the goal of taking not their first big deer, but maybe their 5th…or 10th! However, the key to making next year’s hunt better than this year’s is remembering what went right and what went wrong. This way, you can start to eliminate your mistakes and expand on what is working. I’ve found there’s no better way of documenting these solutions than to have a hunting log!

There was a time when I would log almost everything I did on any farm I hunted. In the spring, I would make food plot maps of every plot, when they were planted, what kind of fertilizer I used, moisture levels, how much rain the plots got. I would document anything I thought was pertinent. If I planted soybeans, I would log the variety and maturity class or category so I would retain that information for future years. I would keep this log updated throughout the season so when it came time for hunting season, I could document what worked and what didn’t. What did the deer prefer? What plants performed during wet years and drought years? What food plots worked well when other farm crops were also available? What time of the year did a certain food plot attract the most deer?

Once hunting season came around, I would log every time I would hunt with details of the hunt that I thought were important. Wind direction and speed was documented…and along with that did the wind direction and speed affect how my scent blew out over a valley or ridge? Was the wind constant at my stand or swirling? Did deer get downwind of me? What direction or travel pattern did the deer take that I did see? Other human activity (hunting pressure) from neighbors or hunting partners sharing the same farm was documented. Were some stand locations better during certain times of the year or times of the day? I often make notes like “remember to remove the box elder in east shooting land” so that I wouldn’t forget to take care of this in the off season. Did I bump deer getting into my stand or after the hunt? Every interaction I ever had with any deer was documented, whether it was a fawn or a mature buck. Bedding, eating, traveling, rut characteristics, were all things I didn’t want to forget. A hunting log need not be a scientific data collection that takes hundreds of hours to process and decode…but rather a way to force you to document and think about how your hunt is going and why it was successful or failed. If it was successful, we can try to repeat what made it successful. If things aren’t going well, we can try to figure out why so that we either fix the problems or abandon what we are doing. My log book was always kept in my pack that I carried to every hunt and had throughout the season. During the hunting season, I would make entries in the log almost every time I hunted…while I was hunting.
The notes and entries into my log book is what I used the following year in developing my new strategies. If there were issues with a certain stand location with swirling winds, I would try to figure out why and under what conditions. For example, I had one spot on a 400 acre farm I used to hunt that was both an inside corner and a funnel between two larger blocks or timber. The only negative thing was that the wind would swirl badly if the wind speed was anything more than a breeze. The stand was on a side hill and in only a couple of sits I figured out the problem. The final log entry for this spot was literally “only sit Hang and Hunt stand with calm west winds”. Earlier entries were about stronger westerly winds…swirling winds…deer busting me with their nose! Hang and Hunt was the name I had given to this spot. I killed my biggest buck to date from that stand on a misting morning with a calm west wind. Sure, I didn’t need a log book to figure this out…but those entries got me to thinking about other stands I had in similar situations that I would have to adapt to.

I had another stand location that was nicknamed “Gut Shot” of which the details of the name I won’t go into! Anyhow, this stand got moved 4 times over 4 years, all within 50 yards of each other, because of observed deer behavior. It took that many tweaks to get it perfect, or so I thought before my ultimate decision was to abandon the spot all together because it was impossible to get to without bumping deer, deer getting downwind while