One of the best ways to increase your hunting opportunity is to hunt in different states and different seasons. This can be an intimidating task for many people, but nobody knows the type of hunt that you would be comfortable with better than yourself. After you have used Filtering 2.0 to narrow down a new hunt in a new area and, possibly, in a new state, there are a couple of things that can help you obtain even more information without driving across a state and putting boots on the ground.
One of the best ways to gain more intel about your hunting area is through a phone call with a local game biologist. Keep in mind that sometimes they can be hard to track down. I have found it's fairly easy to get their number or email address by calling the state fish and game agency. A call to a biologist can be a very valuable resource either before you apply for a tag or after you’ve drawn one. With draw results released in the majority of states, now is the best time to give a biologist a call to further research your hunting area or to figure out an over-the-counter (OTC) unit you had in mind after using Filtering 2.0 and researching the Unit Profiles. Keep in mind that wildlife biologists are often overworked and underpaid and their time is extremely precious to them. There are a few things that you can do beforehand to help prepare and maximize what you get out of a phone call to a biologist. This is particularly important so that the biologist doesn’t feel like you are wasting his or her time.
In order to gain some familiarity with a new area, find a good set of maps for the area that you are researching. I prefer to have a set of paper maps that I can write on and make notes of different areas. Another key tool that I have up while looking at the paper maps is another digital map of the area like the ones that are found in each Unit Profile with the unit boundaries labeled or Google Earth. My ideal setup is a large desk while running two computer monitors. This allows me to have a Unit Profile pulled up, or multiple units if you're considering a larger area, plus Google Earth. This allows you to look at the terrain from different angles and find and mark waypoints that you and the biologist might suspect to hold animals.
Based upon the maps, you can then make assumptions on where you think good areas are located. Jot these areas down. Usually, I wait to make notes on my map until after I have verified my questions with a biologist. This way, I don’t clutter it up with unnecessary writing. I prefer to use a journal instead of a notepad because the pages are less likely to rip out and get lost. I like to be able to compare my notes from different areas. It’s interesting to see how much you can learn about a species from area to area.
After completing your initial research, you’ll likely have some questions you won’t be able to find answers to anywhere. These are the questions to ask the biologist. Along with the unanswered questions, the biologist will also be able to give you the most up-to-date information available about that unit, too. Make sure that your questions are structured in a way that initiates a discussion and gets the biologist talking; you don’t want to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Have adequate room to write down the responses. I prefer to put these questions in the same journal that my own notes and ideas for the area are in as it makes it easy to compare later on.
One thing that I learned in college is when someone is passionate about a topic they can give you a lot of information in a short amount of time. A recorder makes it easy for you to let the person talk and not have to interrupt them with “What was that?” It is important to ask for permission before you record the conversation. Some biologists don’t like to be recorded and they have a right not to. Mention that you are recording the conversation so you don’t have to worry about missing anything important. Once the call is over, listen to the recording and write down anything that you might have missed.
While nothing beats boots on the ground experience, sometimes that is a lot easier said than done. Few people know a unit and its animals better than the biologists in charge of that unit. Normally herd counts are conducted during the winter before the application period, so biologists are a wealth of knowledge for up-to-date information. But they can also be helpful in the summer months when they are actively in the field working on other projects. You never know, you might call a biologist who just spotted a bachelor group of bucks in the area you were thinking about hunting.
Biologists spend countless hours trying to better the herds that they manage and are typically very busy people. Doing a little homework of your own along with figuring out the right questions to ask will make calling your wildlife biologist an easy task. Remember, they can be a great resource for any hunter searching for a new area to hunt. Just remember when you reach out to a biologist that he or she may have already spoken with 20 people before you and might have given out the same information to those 20 people. Be polite and friendly and, above all, understanding if they seem impatient at times.
First question should always be if they have time to talk? — You don't want him to rush through your answers.
What elevations are the animals typically at during the hunt?
What are the primary food sources for the animals? Does that change with different weather and temperatures?
Is water limiting?
Are there any burns in the area the past five years?
Do animals migrate through the unit or are there resident animals?
Are there any particular areas that have higher concentrations of animals? And why do you think that is?
How is the population doing in the unit?
Is there any recent winterkill or disease?
Do any outfitters operate in the area?
How is the hunting pressure?
Where is the most hunting pressure located?
How are the road conditions (during your season)?
Where would you hunt? (This is assuming that the biologist doesn’t hunt the unit.)
Or is this particular spot an area you would hunt?
What areas would you avoid?
Is there anyone else you would recommend I talk to that knows the area?