CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Setting the regulations for West Virginia's deer-hunting season requires fast action and even faster thinking.
Each winter, wildlife biologists must collect a vast amount of information, analyze it, decide how many deer should be killed the following fall, and create a set of hunting regulations designed to get at least that many deer killed.
"It's a huge undertaking, and it has to be done in a relatively short time," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "It requires a lot of work from a lot of people."
Counting the tags
The process begins when biologists from the DNR's six management districts collect deer tags from the many game-checking stations scattered throughout the state.
"We make our first collection before the buck firearm season begins, so we can start entering data from the first two months of the archery season," Johansen said. "We collect again at the end of the buck season, and again at the end of December after all the antlerless-deer seasons have concluded."
The biologists who collect the tags take them home and hand-sort them by county, by sex of the animal killed, and by method of harvest. During the season just concluded, more than 150,000 tags had to be classified and counted.
As soon as they finish hand counting, the biologists drive the collected tags to the DNR's Elkins Operations Center and turn them over to a crew of data-entry operators.
"The data on every tag - sex of the animal, date and county - get keyed in using fast-entry operation software. Once all the information is entered, I import it into a database and start cleaning it up," said Randy Tucker, the DNR's chief biometrician.
Scrub, rinse, repeat
By "cleaning it up," Tucker means he runs a battery of quality checks to make sure none of the information was entered incorrectly.
"For instance, when you have a season that ends on a Saturday, it's legal to check the deer in on Sunday," he explained. "I go through and clean up the dates so they coincide with the proper seasons."
Tucker also checks to make sure kills were legitimate.
"There are a number of things we check - if the animal was killed on an odd date, it could have been a keypunch error or the hunter or game-check clerk writing down the wrong date. If it was a buck killed during a doe season, that's a red flag; either it wasn't a buck or the date was wrong," he said.
Such discrepancies are rare. Tucker said it's unusual to get more than a dozen a year, and usually the district biologists are able to clear up any inconsistencies.
Tucker credited the DNR's data-entry operators, a team of three to four highly experienced women, for maintaining that level of accuracy.
"They spend close to two months inputting all the check-tag information," he said. "In addition to keying in the deer information, they also key in the tags for turkeys, bears, bobcats and otters. Their work is labor-intensive, but it immediately gives us the information we need to make good wildlife-management decisions."