You may be asking, "when, during a busy day of hunting, would I have time to scribble my thoughts, notes, and experiences into a journal?" It's a valid question, and one that has likely caused many a hunter to forego the process of journal documentation in exchange for the blissful pleasures of living firmly in the moment during the hunt. However, don't go all carpe diem on us just yet: there is a lot to be said for the value of hunting journals, and making sure you take proper notes doesn't have to be a hassle that distracts you from the hunt at hand.
A hunting journal isn't the same as the long-winded moment-by-moment accounts of our lives that many of us recorded during our childhood. First of all, the information you record in your hunting journal is almost pure statistical data that you will be able to refer back to at a later date. Secondly, many vigilant hunting journal keepers take each day's entry as a chance to reflect on the successes and failures of the day - as well as the conditions that may have led to those successes and failures - once they have already returned from the hunt at the end of the day.
In other words, you don't have to have a pencil over your ear during every moment you spend in the tree stand all hunting season. Instead, in the evening, after you have returned home and put away your gear, cast your mind back over the events of the day and record what you think is the most important or helpful data that you can derive from that particular hunt. At worst, you will have a fun document to look back on in a few years when you want to relive a particularly splendid hunting season. At best, you will make note of certain conditions or events - from weather and wind direction to the feeding patterns of the deer in your area - that may help you formulate a successful hunting strategy for a day of near-identical conditions five or ten years down the road.
So we've convinced you to start keeping a detailed hunting journal and you are sitting at your kitchen counter after the first day of hunting season, wondering what exactly you should write down. Keep in mind that there is no specific rubric that you have to follow while keeping a hunting journal: you can write anything you want, whether it's a detailed description of the buck you bagged that day or a re-telling of a particularly funny joke your buddy told you while you were waiting in the tree stand for a deer to wander by. If you find yourself stuck, though, just start with the basics. What's the date? Is this your first time out in the field this season, or have you already been out for a dozen or so days so far? What time did you head to your hunting spot? Did you snipe whitetail from a tree stand or scope them from a blind? How long did you spend in the field? Were you using scent control? Were you hunting with a rifle or a bow? Keeping records of this information can help you to catalog data on your hunting patterns, specifically on your favorite hunting spots, and can help you to determine a season calendar for which stand and blind positions are most effective at which points in the season.
You should also keep a very detailed account of the weather each day, as a warm and sunny afternoon often represents a completely different hunting experience than a cold and windy morning where rain seems to be constantly threatening. Take note of wind speed and direction and how it impacted your approach to your stand or blind. If you don't think you are going to remember all of this weather information when you get back in the evening, check the forecast on your phone or computer before you head out for the hunt and take a screen shot to save it for later documentation. Most good forecasts should give you everything you need, including temperature, sunrise and sunset times, wind speed and direction, humidity, UV index, visibility, dew point, and pressure. Write all of this info down in your journal. If you encounter a day with near-identical conditions in the future, you can look back at your entry in order to get a list of do's and don't for the day.
Of course, just writing down information about dates, times, and weather patterns can quickly become dull, and is a major reason why many hunters forego the journal entirely. Don't worry, you can take note of other information too, some of it for statistical purposes, some just for posterity's sake. In the former category, you will want to record any and all deer behavior that you witness, from travel patterns to feeding times and locations. In the latter category, it might be fun to just do a paragraph free-write where you provide a play-by-play of what happened that day, vent about a failed hunt, or gush about your glorious successes. These are the kinds of records you can go back and laugh about later, and they're really a great way to immortalize your hunting experiences forever. If you aren't the nostalgic type, you might be fine with just sticking to the straight statistical parts of the journal, but for many hunters, the more candid writing is what keeps the journal interesting and rewarding, both as you write it and as you look back on it some 15 or 20 years down the road.
Finally, you should write a detailed description of any deer you harvest. These sections are fun because they allow you to keep a "bragging rights" record of sorts for every deer you've ever brought down. If you want all of that information in one place, you can even start a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel that catalogs every buck and doe you've bagged by weight, score, and estimated age. That way, if you are ever having an argument with a fellow hunter about who has seen more success in the field, you can pull out your collective statistics as evidence in your favor.