CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians who had their deer weighed, aged and measured at game-checking stations earlier this week are helping state wildlife officials to better manage the whitetail herd.
Every year, Division of Natural Resources officials run a series of what they call "biological check stations" in key areas of the state. For the first three days of the season, DNR personnel become game-checking clerks with greatly enhanced responsibilities.
They record all the usual information - the hunter's name, the date and location of the kill, the sex of the deer and the weapon used - but they also note the overall condition of the deer, its age and whether it shows signs of disease.
In addition, each 11/2-year-old buck gets weighed and has its antler beams measured to determine their diameter.
"It's a major effort," said Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief. "Virtually all of our game management staff is out working check stations at the start of the buck season. We spread the biological stations out to cover all of our deer management units, and we track the data to see if any trends develop."
For instance, information from biological stations has shown that the average whitetail taken during the buck season is older and has better antlers than deer killed a decade ago.
Wildlife officials attribute the trend to a 1997 regulation change that allows private-land hunters to kill either antlered bucks or antlerless deer during the buck season.
Johansen said spotting such trends allows DNR biologists to tweak hunting regulations to accomplish two goals: Make sure enough deer get killed to avoid overpopulation, and give hunters a better-quality experience.
"In terms of gathering information to manage our deer herd, the three days we spend in the field are probably the most important time we spend all year," he said. "We combine the game-checking data with data gathered from our spotlight counts and with our traditional index of bucks killed per square mile, and the result is a pretty good picture of the overall quality of the deer herd as it relates to the habitat found in each of our management zones."
The recent trend toward older-aged bucks has caused biologists to change the way they work the biological check stations.