A characteristic that would increase the success of most hunters and anglers is to act as if each outdoor outing was a test of a hypothesis.
My introduction of the scientific method here probably brought back bad college memories, but I’m simply suggesting making predictions prior to a trip and then comparing outcomes to those predictions.
Information gleaned from multiple excursions can then help provide explanations for why a future trip may succeed or fail. Focusing on predicting outcomes provides a better chance to learn than explaining what happened after the fact. I have never found a hunter or angler that can’t describe why something happened with hindsight. Some of these post hoc elucidations make sense while others are just yarns.
In the last two months I have predicted two outcomes in my articles; 1) an above average forest grouse season and 2) a marginal opening weekend for waterfowl. Results from these hunting experiences suggest my projection may have been overly optimistic for grouse and just about right for ducks. When possible, it is helpful to put your outcomes in a larger context; this requires even more data.
Thankfully Utah does a good job tracking the harvest of many upland gamebirds. These data suggest over time the number of forest grouse hunters in Utah are declining but those who remain are spending more days in the field.
In the 1960s, the average success per hunter was around 1.0 birds per day. This compares to 0.81 birds per day over the last decade. State averages don’t reflect my success, as I generally harvest around 2 birds per trip. This year my success is down around 1.5 birds per trip. Based on my experience alone, it is hard to know if my reduced harvest is due to birds being more spread out given the lack of berries or if populations are down.
To better understand the reason for my reduced success I’ll have to wait for next years monitoring report. If this report suggests forest grouse harvest per day is similar or higher than what occurred over the last decade, I’ll conclude grouse were more spread out and my focus on hunting berry patches was misplaced.
If average hunter success was down, I’ll conclude forest grouse populations really down. In this situation I will need to consider why my prediction was off. For example, maybe the late summer drought reduced ruffed grouse survival.
My opening weekend of the duck season resulted in seeing fewer birds in the air and a harvest of species that suggested locally raised birds — teal rather than mallards. We were successful, but that was because of above average shooting. This suggests overall success during the opening week was down as predicted. The problem is there are no objective numbers to compare my observations to. That is because in 2014, Utah stopped reporting biweekly waterfowl harvest numbers.
Failure to publish numbers related to waterfowl and gamebird numbers or harvest has become more common. In part this is because of the expense of collecting data and the difficulty associated with the pandemic. But it can be a conscious choice.
For example, South Dakota eliminated their summer brood surveys for pheasant. This made little sense as there was a strong correlation between the number of birds counted during the summer and hunter success the following fall. I used these numbers to determine when it was worth a hunting trip to that state. It seems others were doing the same. The declining number of pheasants counted during the summer in South Dakota over the last decade, however, was resulting in fewer hunters going there. The money that was spent on these surveys is now spent on marketing.
Now to my predictions concerning the upcoming deer season. For those that have a Utah tag, the reduced number of permits should result in success similar to last year. That means between one in four or five rifle hunters will be successful in the Cache Unit.
My guess is success in the Southeastern Idaho units will be average, in part because fewer non-resident hunters are allowed to hunt these areas. If the weather stays warm, hunter success will likely drop. If precipitation shows up, especially as snow, success will climb.
One benefit of all fishing and hunting trips is they will never be perfectly predictable. So, while you should always be trying to learn from each hunting and fishing trip, make sure you take time to smell the roses. They often show up when you least expect them.