Write Your Own Hunting History — Logbook is a Tool For Success

By Whitetail Institute Staff

Most of us have probably considered keeping a logbook at one time or
another but have just never gotten around to it. Quit procrastinating, and start today. You’ll never regret it, and your hunting is guaranteed to get better.


President Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” While Truman wasn’t referring specifically to deer hunting, he certainly could have been. History really does repeat itself, and that’s especially true with creatures of habit like deer. That’s why being a student of “deer history” on your property makes sense if you want to stack the odds of success in your favor.

Most of us can remember a few big items that generally affect our hunting success, for instance that bucks tend to move more during the day as the rut approaches and that weather patterns can affect deer movement. However, most of us forget finer details over time, and it’s in the study of those details that can yield some extremely useful information. A logbook is simply your own written history of your deer-management efforts, structured in a way that allows you to retain and analyze those details to spot trends you can use to your advantage.

To see what I mean, try this little test: Think back several years to a hunt on which you or a friend took a nice buck. You likely remember when and where on your property he was killed and the size of his rack. You may even remember if the weather that day was warm or cold, and rainy or clear. Now ask yourself this: “Does having just that information increase my odds of success in the future?” For most of us, the answer is, “Perhaps, but not a whole lot.” But, what if you had a written record of that buck’s harvest showing that the buck was taken at 8:15 a.m., the temperature had just dropped 10 degrees due to the arrival of a cold front blowing in from the northwest, your hunting buddies had also noticed a sharp increase in deer activity, the buck exhibited physical signs of being in rut, the acorn crop that year was sparse, and the buck was chasing does in a food plot planted in Imperial Tall Tine Tubers? And what if you had detailed information like that going back several years for each deer harvested or sighted on your property that showed the same trend: as the rut approaches in years when acorn crops are low, deer activity in your food plots spikes the morning after the arrival of a cold front. See any information that you could use?


There’s no limit to the amount and variety of data you could include in your logbook. It makes sense, though, to include only information that will help you identify useful trends. Beyond that, additional information may actually muddy the water. While each situation is different, and only you can decide what information is important to your situation, I’ll give you a few ideas. Some of these will be obvious while there may be some you haven’t considered. Especially in the food plot section.


Buck Harvest. Record the antler size and age of each buck taken during the hunting season. By comparing average data from one year to the next, you can gauge the improvement of your bucks’ rack sizes at specific ages. Also noting the date and exactly where the buck was killed, and whether he shows signs of being in rut, can help you narrow down seasonal movement patterns.

General Deer Harvest. Recording the sex, weight and age of each deer taken (bucks and does) can give you a solid picture of whether average weights are improving, and if they aren’t, then you know you need to do something to improve it. At the end of the season, calculate the average weight of does harvested. If average doe weight isn’t increasing, it may indicate a need to improve the quality and quantity of available forage on the property, that the number of does on the property needs to be reduced, or both. (Of course, be sure to follow all game laws if you decide you need to thin the number of does on your property. The wildlife and conservation agencies in many states offer programs by which managers can obtain licenses to harvest additional does in areas where deer density is higher than optimum.)

Weather. For each record of a deer harvested or sighted, also note the date, time and moon phase, and weather-related information such as wind direction, temperature, rainfall, barometric pressure and weather-front information. You might find that trends in deer activity start to appear, for instance a general increase after the arrival of cold weather as deer move more in search of food, or a sharp increase with an abrupt arrival of cold weather or immediately after the end of a long streak of bad weather or after a sharp increase in barometric pressure.

Deer Sightings. Consider logging each buck and doe you and others see on your property whether you’re hunting or just riding around. Also be sure to note whether the deer was near or using a food source such as mast or a food plot when sighted, and what that food is (acorns, Imperial Whitetail Clover, etc.) 

Natural Food Sources. Some natural food sources, for example acorns, can fluctuate from year to year from abundant to insufficient. Since this cycle can be somewhat regular, depending in part on weather, having data going back several years can help you get a better of idea of how available that food source may be in future years. A forecast of natural food availability can help you narrow your stand options during the early hunting season.

Photographs. Trail cameras can be a huge help in narrowing down deer travel corridors and which bucks are using what trails, and in confirming that a young buck you passed on last season is still alive and has matured into a wall-hanger. Also, toss a camera in your pack before a hunt, and keep one with you at all times when you’re on your property. The reason is easy to understand: We’ve covered data on deer harvests, deer sightings, natural food sources and food plots. Now consider how much having a photo as a visual reference in each case will add to your log book. And the camera doesn’t have to be a big-time SLR with a long-range lenses (although if you have one and don’t mind hauling it around, then all the better). If you’re old enough to remember the early days of trail cameras, think how cloudy and grainy their images were, and yet the pictures they took were still “good enough” to be extremely useful. Many of today’s cell phones come with cameras that produce higher quality photos than some of those early trail cameras.

Buck Survival. Of course, there’s no way for most of us to tell exactly how many bucks are on our property, and which ones, survived the hunting season. There is a way, though, to confirm that a specific buck did survive: check your sanctuaries for his sheds after the close of hunting season. Setting aside parts of your property as sanctuaries (thick areas that offer deer food, water and cover, and that you do not violate during hunting season) can be a great way to bring deer, especially mature bucks, to your property and hold them there. Bucks shed their antlers sometime during February or March, although it can occur a bit earlier or later. Entering sanctuaries then won’t spoil them for next season, and the sheds you may find are proof positive that the deer that shed them wasn’t killed during the last hunting season.


Just as keeping detailed information about the deer on your property can benefit you down the road, including a section about your food plots can help you get the most out of them. Even so, structure your food plot section differently from your deer section in one key way: keep a separate section for each food plot. 

Separate Section for Each Food Plot. Notice that even though you keep data in multiple categories for each deer killed or sighted on your property, all the information in each category (temperature, mast production, rut, etc.) is analyzed together to spot trends. With food plots, each food plot should be treated as a separate, stand-alone part of your logbook because each plot is unique in terms of soil type, slope, equipment accessibility, and other factors important to forage selection and maintenance. Soil type, for example, plays a big part in how the soil pH will stay up in neutral range. Also, some sites might be accessible with tillage, mowing and spray equipment (needed for perennial planting and maintenance), while others may not (more suited to annual plantings).

Forage Selection. Just like most of us can’t remember the finer details of a hunt that’s a few years old, we may have trouble remembering exactly what was planted in each of our food plots in years past. For each plot, include information on what forages have been planted in the plot, and when you planted them. Many Whitetail Institute forage products can thrive in similar soil types and slopes, and managers commonly plant combinations of these side-byside in a single food plot. Keeping detailed information about which forage your deer prefer most at what time of the year can help you adjust your forage selections for a particular food plot to maximize its attraction power.

Soil Test Reports. Performing a laboratory soil test of the soil in each of your food plots is the single most important factor you can control to assure that your forage planting will grow well, and that you won’t waste any money on excess lime and/or fertilizer purchases. If possible, decide what forage you’ll be planting early, and note that on the soil-test submission form. That way the laboratory can precisely tailor its recommendations for that particular forage type. (Here’s an article that provides more information about how to select the correct forage for each site: www.whitetailinstitute.com/HowtoSelecttheRight- Forage.pdf) If you have your soil tested without specifying the forage you’re planning to plant, don’t worry. The Whitetail Institute’s in-house consultants can help you understand and adjust the recommendations in your report for the forage you’ll be planting.

If possible, have a qualified soil-testing laboratory test your soil several months in advance of planting. That way, if your soil pH is low, the lime you’ll add to the seedbed as recommended in the soil-test report will have additional time to work. Also, because a laboratory soil test is so precise, it can save you money by assuring that you don’t spend a dime more on lime and fertilizer than the plot needs for optimum forage growth. In fact, it’s a good idea to perform a laboratory soil test any time you are considering buying lime or fertilizer. When you’ve applied lime and fertilizer according to the report’s recommendations, though, don’t throw the old reports away. Instead, stick them in your logbook. Later, you’ll be able to compare each soil-test report for a particular plot and gauge whether it may be time to test the soil again to be sure that the soil pH and soil nutrients in the plot remain at optimum levels.


We’ve already discussed how to use the data in each section to our advantage by spotting trends in each. By going further and cross-referencing the trends you spot in the deer section with the historical data in your
food plot section, you’ll complete the picture. Will that guarantee that you’ll bag a deer every time you hunt? Of course not. But you’ll have stacked the odds more heavily in your favor that the stand you choose for a particular hunt will be the right one.