Roadside check stations are worth the stop for sportsmen who care about the future of their sport.
Idaho law requires all hunters and anglers to stop at state Fish and Game Department temporary check stations regardless of whether they were successful on a day trip or from a multiday outing.
Washington no longer requires sportsmen to stop at check stations, but Fish and Wildlife Department biologists say the information they get from the hunters who voluntarily drive in are among the best sources of information for managing big-game and bird species.
Idaho relies heavily on check station data for computing final season success and harvest figures along with hunter harvest reports and telephone surveys.
Hunters in Idaho can actually save time by stopping at a check station. Game that requires a mandatory check, such as wolves, can be inspected and recorded at the check station, saving the hunter a trip to a department office.
Hunters also can complete their requirement to file a harvest report if they harvested a deer or elk.
“You can also ask questions and get information about how the seasons are progressing,” said Phil Cooper, Idaho Fish and Game spokesman in Coeur d’Alene.
“Even the information we get from unsuccessful hunters is valuable,” said Dana Base, a Washington wildlife biologist based in Colville.
Only a few hunter check stations are staffed each year in far-Eastern Washington, notably off U.S. 395 near Deer Park and on Highway 2 near Chattaroy during deer seasons.
Wildlife students from Washington State University often join professional wildlife biologists and volunteer master hunters and hunter education instructors. The students get hands-on schooling on skills such as measuring antlers, aging deer and taking tooth and tissue samples.
“A lot of education goes on here, both ways,” said Greg Koehn, a hunter education instructor from Newport who was volunteering at the Chattaroy check station last season.
He noted that several hunters that day had used their time at the check station to ask questions on topics ranging from wildlife populations to hunting laws. They got answers.
“We’re all about data and education, not enforcement,” said Tom Higgins, another long-time hunter education instructor assisting the biologists.
“We get game management information from our field surveys and hunter harvest reports,” Base said. “But what we get at the check stations is the fruit salad in our menu for monitoring hunter effort. Actually handling the animals gives us another layer of information.”
The data is used in all sorts of ways to help solve wildlife management issues from hunting seasons to habitat improvements. They index deer population condition by measuring yearling antler circumference, number of points and inside antler spread.
“We also get information about other species,” wildlife biologist Annemarie Prince said.
She was asking hunters if they’d observed any moose and informed them about moose studies in northeastern Washington.
The biologists and volunteers asked hunters whether they’d seen wolf signs or any unusual wildlife sightings.
They collected information from hunters who’d killed cougars, bobcats, black bears, turkeys and grouse – and heard some good hunting stories as a bonus.
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