Asking the right questions to a biologist: Part 2
In Part 1 of this article, I went over some pre-call information that is important to get the most out of your call. In this part of the article, I am assuming that you have asked to speak with the most knowledgeable person on hunting the animal you are after in the area you are planning to hunt. Now, it is time for you to be calm and collected so that you are able to retrieve as much information out of this person without only getting generic answers from them. To achieve this goal, you will need to let them know that you have done your homework and that you have basic knowledge behind your questions. It will be beneficial to you to have your questions written down so that you can keep the conversation moving since their time is as valuable as yours. When you get in contact with the right person and they begin talking about the unit, area or drainage, you might be surprised at the information that they share with you. You could walk away with facts and statistics about a unit that you have never even seen with your eyes.
10 questions for a biologist
When you know that you have finally reached the best individual and begin to talk to them about your plans and experiences, it’s time to begin delving into all of the right questions to retrieve as much information as you can. Here are 10 of my preferred questions to ask and what information I hope to gather during my phone call. Most people you talk to are not going to give you an exact drainage area to hunt. Be cautious if they start easily “spilling their guts” about a certain drainage area, knowing that they probably tell everyone about this area, which means it will be overrun with nonresidents. Instead of asking them where to go, I like to circumvent the questions and, in turn, pick their brain in a way that helps me in my e-scouting to uncover my own special drainage. Though each of these questions is easy to answer individually, you are building data. At the end of your conversion, you should have a pretty good idea of where you should be able to find animals, where you probably do not want to go and what your hunt should be like while hunting animals during your specific season.
1) What elevation are the animals at during this season?
The first question I like to ask is an easy one for them to answer. Although each year is different, someone who is knowledgeable about the area should be able to tell you where to find them under all situations. They might say something like, “During archery season, expect to find them above 10,000’ until snow hits the ground, then they always drop onto private ground.” This information is super valuable to have beforehand so that when you e-scout and arrive to hunt, you are using your time wisely and not wasting it. This allows you to plan a hunt above 10,000’ during your early season, but, also, know that if you get early weather, you need to look lower in elevation and near private land boundaries.
2) Where is the most pressure at?
I always like to ask this question because most game wardens and other personnel will know exactly where through past hunting seasons the majority of hunters will be migrating to hunt at because they patrol these areas. When there are a lot of hunters congregating into a certain area that is usually signifying that there are animals there, but that doesn’t mean that I will be hunting there. I use this information to find out where hunting pressure will be, which will dictate where the animals are going to be coming from. Then, I find the sanctuary basins they get pushed into by said pressure.
3) What is most of the pressure like week by week?
I also like to ask what the pressure is like week by week because this will allow me to either hunt with the pressure by using it to my advantage or avoid the pressure and hunt a different week. They can usually tell you trends from what they have seen over the past years and what you can expect.
4) Weather expectations
I always need to take into consideration what the typical weather is at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season. To determine this, I ask about the last few years during the time I am planning on hunting. Of course, this can change, but this knowledge will help me plan my gear and my hunt.
5) What is access like?
Though GOHUNT maps has plenty of road and trail information that is super valuable, no mapping service can tell you what roads are drivable with a truck, car or only with an ATV. I have been out in the mountains on a road only to find that it was so unmaintained that ATVs were not even able to maneuver up them. Look at roads and do not hesitate to ask them the condition of the road and if it is accessible with a car, ATV or only by foot.
6) Any migration corridors?
I always like to ask about migration corridors and understand as much about them as possible. There are units that I hunt that have well known migrations and other units that have no migrations. There are some tools on GOHUNT maps that mark these migrations when the information is available, but a lot of states do not track or publicize this information.
7) Any private land contacts?
I always find it worth it to ask if there are any private land contacts or owners who allow access. Most of the time they are not aware, but I have, in the past, obtained some information and felt like I had hit the jackpot; however,t this is a rarity. A lot of this depends on how friendly your conversation is and how connected the person you are talking to is in the community. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are trespass fees or landowners who open trails to cross private land. Any little access helps!
8) What is animal quality like?
I like to ask what type and quality of animal I should expect to harvest there. It is always important to ask this so you can set your expectations appropriately. The last thing you want to do is to pass on a 300” bull on the first day in a unit in the hopes of finding something bigger only to find out later that the bull was a rarity and you normally would not see a bull of that caliber. Understanding what the average harvested animal is and what you should expect is very important in getting the most out of your hunt.
9) Ask them about your spots
Without going into the nitty-gritty of your exact spot, do not be afraid to ask them what they think of your top drainages. What you might expect to see in regards to the predator situation and the popularity. They might tell you that your unit is over-hunted or the population is lacking, which can save you days.
10) Ask them if it is okay to follow up with more questions
The last thing I like to do is thank them for their time and ask them if it is okay to follow up with them if I have more questions via phone or even email. Most of the time, you will find that if you were respectful and friendly the answer is almost always yes.
These questions are some of my 10 favorite generic questions for each new unit I hunt. I often call a few different people in the area to find out if the information is aligned or if it differs. Once you have these questions answered, it might be beneficial to do some research and write down 10 more questions. Then call back the same people and continue to gain this information. Though boots-on-the-ground knowledge is difficult to obtain, it can be obtained if you talk to someone with that type of experience in that unit. Remember to be knowledgeable and understand that their time is valuable. Always take the information you receive with a grain of salt and make your own decision. Sometimes people are generic or tell the same information to everyone and this is the info I try to determine and disregard.