By Wade Bourne
How can you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been? This theoretical question is posed by Dr. Leon Stanislav of Clarksville, Tennessee, in regard to keeping an outdoor journal. Stanislav is the scribe for the Sailor's Rest Hunting Club, of which he is a member. He has kept a detailed record of this club's history for 21 years. In so doing, he has recorded hunts, made observations, and preserved memories for his club members' edification and enjoyment.
That's what an outdoor journal is all about. Whether a club or individual record, a journal is also a diary. It's a written account of hunting activities for both posterity's sake and practical use. A journal keeps the past alive and provides background for decisions in the future.
An outdoor journal can take several forms. It can consist of simple handwritten notes kept in a spiral notebook; a handcrafted leather-bound logbook; or for today's tech-savvy waterfowlers, a computer spreadsheet.
"It doesn't matter how you keep your journal," Stanislav emphasizes. "What's important is that you keep one, and that you maintain some record of your hunts for reference at a later time. Our club members spend many hours reading our journal and reliving good times we've shared over the past two decades."
In his case, Stanislav provides fellow members with forms for recording day-by-day harvest figures (broken down by species and sex). Members also record harvest totals for specific blinds and daily weather observations. In addition, hunters jot down anecdotal information such as how well the ducks decoyed, who made good shots, any humorous things that may have happened, and so on. Stanislav then compiles all this information into an end-of-year report that he distributes to his fellow club members. A copy of the report is also filed in the club archives for future reference.
"When we go back and review those journals from past years, we can determine how well we're managing our club. Those records help us measure our progress and see which management schemes worked best," he continues. "We can make better decisions about things like planting new foods, locating new blinds, and changing shooting hours.
"Also, the journal shows us trends—when ducks show up, how different moon phases affect hunting, and how well the ducks fly in different weather conditions. There is a lot of interesting information you can glean from those old records.
"But more than anything else, the journal serves as a reminder for shared experiences of the past," Stanislav says. "It's amazing how well you can piece a hunt together if you've jotted down just a few short details: ‘Light frost at sunrise; ducks didn't fly until midmorning; so-and-so took water over his waders while chasing a cripple.' Just a few notes like this will help you recall the entire hunt."
I know the wisdom in Stanislav's advice. I've kept a handwritten hunting log on and off over the past 40 years—certainly not as detailed or regular as his, but a pleasure to me nonetheless. I keep dates, bag figures, and personal notes, and they bring back good memories (mostly).
The years roll by like the current in a river. But a journal allows a hunter to blend the past with the present and to anticipate the future. Stanislav puts it succinctly: "To read about those great days keeps us coming back—to remember, to laugh at things we've laughed about many times before. Our journal is a history of ourselves that we hope might be handed down for generations to come."
DON'T FORGET TO WRITE!
Discipline is essential when keeping a hunting journal. "You have to be consistent and record your entries after each hunt," advises Dr. Leon Stanislav, who has kept a hunting journal for more than two decades. "You can't skip five or six days and then try to catch up. You'll wind up forgetting things and not getting all the details that you need for an accurate account of your hunts. You just have to get in the habit of making yourself take the few notes needed to log each hunt as soon as you can.