Asking the right questions to a biologist: Part 1
Whenever you entertain the idea of hunting a new unit or area for the very first time, there is nothing more valued than boots-on-the-ground knowledge. The problem is that in order to get this knowledge, you typically have to physically put your boots on the ground. This means that you need to use your hard earned vacation days to visit the area to determine where you might find animals (or not find them). Some hunters try to do this during the late summer and some do it by adding a few extra days onto their hunt. Spending days hunting and covering ground only to find out where the animals are not isn’t only a waste of your hunt, but will also reduce your opportunity to find success. If you can acquire some basic animal information prior to your hunt, your chances of having a successful hunt have just increased tremendously. Though most hunters are reluctant to give up this hard earned information, there are others out there like game wardens, biologists and other public employees who are willing to share some of this information with you — if you call and ask the right questions.
Do your homework
Before you call and take up an individual's time, it is very important to do basic research and have some knowledge of the area you are calling about. Not only will this illustrate that you have done your research and are serious about the unit, it will also make your conversation more informative and valuable for yourself. If, in the initial stage of your call, you lack the basic unit or species knowledge and/or drag out a phone call as you start to search for Drainage A or Road B on a map for 10 minutes, you will most likely not retrieve enough information from the person you are speaking with. You may get basic information from them; however, that information could be obtained by doing some internet research. What you really want is some intricate, local knowledge and that only comes by understanding the basic knowledge prior to your call. If you have familiarized yourself with the unit boundaries, roads and drainages and have some points of interest marked out, then the individual you are talking to will see you have done research on your own and will most likely give you some good information. This good information is the knowledge that will be beneficial toward your hunt being more successful.
Have your questions ready
During your homework and e-scouting, you might have some questions about road accesses, property boundaries, animal habitat and more. As you think of these questions, it is important to write them down so you can ask informative questions when talking. Once you have a list of questions and are done with your preliminary e-scouting, then begin to try to answer some of these questions yourself with your own initial internet search. GOHUNT Filtering 2.0 is a valuable resource to use as it has some answers on trophy potential, vegetation, camping areas and more; however, there are other websites that have a lot of answers as well. Your goal is to end up with a list of questions that only could be answered from a local resident or someone with experience in the area that you are inquiring about. These answers will add value to your conversation and the answers you receive back. In Part 2 of this article, I will share a list of my favorite generic questions that will aid you as you begin to search for a great hunting spot within a unit — no matter what you are hunting or when.
Important things to remember
Prior to your call, it is important for you to remember that these people get multiple random calls from hunters all the time. I have determined from talking to these people that the earlier you call in the summer (before hunting season starts to draw near), the more time they have to talk to you. You want to be sure to be as friendly as possible and try to create a relationship with them over the phone. This may mean that you ask them about their day, the weather or even their last hunting season experience prior to getting into the nitty-gritty and plying them with your 20 questions. You want to establish yourself as friendly, respectful and in need of their assistance. If you come across arrogant and continuously interrupt them as they are talking, they might shut down and withhold information that would have been very beneficial to you so they can end the call. You need to remember that these public employees are often very busy with field visits, special projects and reports so be respectful of their time and be sure to be friendly and appreciative.
Starting the call
When you are ready to call a local biologist, game warden, forest service personnel or land manager, find a quiet room, a pen and paper and pull up GOHUNT Maps with the appropriate layers. You will want to see as much information on GOHUNT Maps as you can, including elevations, roads, water sources, drainages and mountain and drainage names. When you are connected with another person, tell them you are looking for some information on the (deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bear, moose, etc) hunting during (archery, muzzleloader or rifle) season in area A and were wondering who they would suggest would be the best person to talk to. Typically, each office has people assigned to certain positions who know a lot about the area or species and others that do not know a lot about what and where you are hunting. Your time is valuable, too, so you want to make sure you are talking to the most knowledgeable person for the job. Sometimes this means asking that person to call you back or call them back later.
Once you have done your own e-scouting, poured over the maps and aerial imagery and have written down all of your questions, you are ready to make this phone call. Make sure you plan this call during the normal local business hours of that area and also in a place where you will have no interruptions so you can obtain the information you are seeking without distractions. It is important to understand that one person may not have all the answers you need so do not be afraid to call back to talk to someone else or call a different department. Prior to my Idaho archery elk hunt in 2020, I called a biologist, a fish and game warden, a national forest office and a local sporting goods store to dig up relevant information on where and what I was hunting. All this calling during the summer paid off because we were into great bulls the first day of our hunt instead of us having to cross off bad spots during those days. In Part 2, I will go over a list of my favorite questions to ask and why they are important.