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Sports >  Outdoors

Hunters boost science at check stations

WSU wildlife student Sarah Tompkins takes pointers from hunter education instructor Jim Kujala on measuring antler growth on a yearling whitetail at the Chattaroy hunter check station on Oct. 20, 2013, while WSU student Taylor Harrigan records the data. (RICH LANDERS richl@spokesman.com)
WSU wildlife student Sarah Tompkins takes pointers from hunter education instructor Jim Kujala on measuring antler growth on a yearling whitetail at the Chattaroy hunter check station on Oct. 20, 2013, while WSU student Taylor Harrigan records the data. (RICH LANDERS richl@spokesman.com)

Big-game hunters heading out this week can help wildlife managers in Idaho and Washington collect valuable information about deer and elk populations by taking a few minutes to stop at a hunter check station if they pass one on their way home.

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.

Idaho’s Panhandle Region will have have check stations at Enaville (Unit 3 and 4) and St. Maries (Units 6, 7, 9) on Saturday and Sunday. Next weekend the biologists will be operating only the Enaville check station.

Washington’s Spokane Region will staff a check station Oct. 16, 23 and Nov. 13 at the U.S. Highway 395 weigh station north of Deer Park. The check station at the U.S. Highway 2 weigh station near Chattaroy will be staffed only on Nov. 19, the last day of the late modern firearm deer season.

Hours of operation for Washington’s check stations will be 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. in October and 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in November.

“We request that all hunters stop in at our check stations on these dates whether or not they have taken a deer or any other game,” said Dana Base, WDFW biologist.

Hunters in Idaho can kill two birds with one stone and 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 Base.

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 has been a regular volunteer at northeastern Washington check stations.

He noted last year that several hunters 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.

They collect information from hunters who’d had encounters with wolves, cougars, bobcats, black bears, turkeys and grouse – and heard some good hunting stories as a bonus.

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