Most of Montana's big game hunting seasons are over by December. This time of year hunters are catching up with each other, sharing stories and making future plans. For some it is also when they catch up on their 2010 hunting journal entries.
It is surprising how easy it is to find hunters who keep journals to document their days afield. The formats are diverse--pocket-sized spiral-bound notebooks, hard-covered lined journals, even folders or binders with room for maps, regulation books, photos and old hunting licenses.
"I use a 5"x7" spiral notebook with a hard cover my wife bought for me before I went to Alaska in 2008," said Jared Lampton, a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries technician in Libby. "I taped a picture of her helping me pack out a mule deer on the inside cover."
Some hunters say they keep a journal because it is satisfying to know, for example, where they hunted opening day of the general big game season in 1989. Others record what they observed during the hunt.
"Recording the dates, locations, weather conditions and observations made during past hunts has helped me to get familiar with a new hunting area and to figure out how to increase my hunting success rate there," said Dave Risley, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fish and wildlife division administrator in Helena.
Risley records contact information for landowners and local area hunters he meets in different areas to help him plan future hunts and obtain hunting access.
Lampton also uses his journal to plan future hunts and learn from his experiences.
"Say you find an area with an apparent travel pattern for elk. Keeping a few notes and a GPS waypoint or a sketch on a map helps you plan the next hunt so you get to that perfect spot at the right time," Lampton said.
Lampton said writing about a hunt has also helped him to improve his hunting skills.
"I made a bad shot during bow season that should have been a slam dunk," he said. "Fortunately I recovered the elk, but writing about the incident helped me figure out what went wrong in my preparation for the shot."
Another long-time hunting journal keeper, Bob Gibson, a retired U.S. Forest Service supervisor in Bozeman, started his journal in 1948 at the age of 15. His early, brief entries gradually grew into pages filled with hunting stories and experiences. He recently had his journal bound into four one-inch thick volumes.
Technology is also becoming part of hunt journaling. There are websites that offer an "electronic" journal format. A few hunters use their hunting journal as source material for an end of season letter to their hunter friends. And some go wholly electronic and develop a blog site to record their hunting experiences and share them with anyone who is interested.
Whatever type of hunting journal suits you, hunters who journal say they are glad they have a record of their days afield.
"The joy and fascination I've had outdoors I've recorded," Gibson said. "I also have had some great hunting buddies. They aren't here anymore, but they are here in my journals and some of their kids are too."