By Nick Simonson
Part of my business is cataloging my adventures in a way that entertains and educates my fellow hunters and anglers, and if you’ve experienced either in the course of their publication, I count you among my dozen and dozen of loyal readers. Whether it’s the story of what went right, what went wrong, what the season was bearing and what conditions were allowing, each week I share my take on the outdoors and as a result, have a running narrative of my time on the water or in the field that I can frequently refer back to. In addition to these stories, suggestions, tips and tactics, I also keep private journals and observations which detail things technical, curious or personal that don’t make it into the print of a newspaper or the white glow of a morning blog post. With photos, sometimes of minute details like insect appearances, or simply scenic shots, they provide additional insight about what I saw and what I can expect in the future.
Combined, these three sources make for a robust review of the previous year, which I often go over at the turn of the calendar to see what I’ve learned, experienced and can plan for in the coming twelve months. Though you may not be in the writing business (and don’t need to be) I encourage you to do the same. There are many benefits of journaling outdoor adventures, and the way it’s done – through story, simple jottings of a trip, the archiving of catches and conditions, or a collection of photos – pay off with many incredible insights and provide an advantage for next year and seasons far in the future.
For the Record
First and foremost, a journal of any type – be it a diary that sits in the center console of a pickup truck or the dash of a fishing boat – provides a written record of what happened, what was seen, fish that were caught, game that was bagged and other important aspects of each trip outdoors. Whether the information is put down in a narrative style, or entered data that’s typed into a spreadsheet on the return home, or written on a pre-printed page that’s filled out by hand and added to a binder, it is more or less preserved forever for future reference. Additionally, all these processes – especially hand-written entries – help improve the memory of the experience. Whether relived immediately after a hunt before heading home, or condensed into a quick report upon arrival, the process of recording them keeps those happenings stored in the mind in a sharper format and help you hang on to them longer.
Just like testing out new loads and choke tubes on a shotgun gives an upland hunter an idea where it will shoot come the start of the pheasant season, or how August trail camera photos of a big deer establish its late summer routine for a bowhunter leading up to the archery season, journal entries of any sort help provide an idea of what to expect each year. Journaling can be especially important with fishing, as major factors such as moon phase, water temperature, weather conditions and time of year determine so much of the bite each openwater season. By keeping a journal, especially something more detailed like a standardized fishing page that collects the important environmental factors and those items which influence success on the water, can easily be archived and compared year-over-year regardless if spring comes late or autumn comes early and shortens the summer bite. In time, three years of information becomes five or ten, and the knowledge of when the crappies are spawning on a favorite water, or when the walleyes strap on the autumn feed bag, can be pinned down to a likely stretch in time and adjusted based on previous recorded experience and what you’re experiencing in the moment.
Creating a diary of outdoor adventures also provides insight into the tactics and gear that will make for a successful outing. Whether it’s the particular shade of crankbait that sets bass off on a small impoundment, or the grain of a bullet that worked better for a coyote hunt, journals can help streamline the tactics that work from season to season and tighten up the shopping list when it’s time to restock for the next one. In time, in addition to the natural patterns discovered in review, a good written record will help identify those lure patterns, ammunitions and other equipment items that turn from wants into needs, and eliminate the chafe or relegate them to standby status for next season, increasing efficiency on the water and in the field by pointing out what works best and what doesn’t in a particular stretch of a season.
The Whole Truth
Finally, a journal helps to separate the fish tales from what really occurred. Antlers don’t grow and walleyes don’t stretch when a photo is combined with the story behind it. But beyond keeping honest sportsmen honest, any recording helps preserve the tales around the hunting or fishing trip which can often be more enjoyable and relatable than any fiction that those in the group can come up with over a late-night game of poker. Photos preserve the memory, whether it’s in a Facebook archive or an old-school album. Writings capture the essence of the hunt and data helps cement that it was in fact 37 crappies caught in an hour of fantastic sunset fishing, as opposed to 73. In my most private hunting journal, I often write down the screw-ups of epic proportion that I look back on as lessons in the field, and they often don’t see print or even the light of day after they’ve been written. But I know they are there if only to keep me humble, and as they often do, become humorous somewhere down the road.
If you haven’t already, make journaling your time outdoors in 2020 part of your new year’s resolutions. Unlike trying to lose weight, eating better or giving up your favorite vice, it’s quite likely to be a decision you can stick with through the seasons and one you’ll look back on positively. All it takes is a notebook and a pen to get started. In the end, it will also give you something to pass along to your favorite up-and-coming sportsman – be it a friend, a child or a grandchild – and provide a spur to them to continue the tradition and share all they may learn through hunting, fishing and the process of recording it all.
Featured Photo: The combination of hand-written hunting journals accented with photos helps preserve the memory and provide a pattern from year to year to help spur success in the field. Simonson Photo.