Mon09012014

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Check Stations are fading fast

Several years ago VDGIF made it optional to check your big game via the Internet or by phone. Many people really appreciated the opportunity to make a call from their cell phone or home phone, create their own check card of sorts and not have to stop somewhere to check their deer or turkey (or bear).

Some got upset by the idea claiming that people would cheat and take their chances heading home with their game and then hurry up and butcher the animal. If not caught by then, the feeling was that they would opt to skip checking their animal and then save a tag.

Surely this has occurred but it also likely occurred without the option of using the phone or Internet to check game too. Perhaps now it is just a bit easier to cheat. However, that is not the focus of this column this week. Regardless of what we feel about the phone or Internet check system it is here to stay.

Officials at VDGIF have faced lagging license sales over the past decade and rising costs. The facts required that the leadership at VDGIF be creative in using our license monies to run the agency. Just in case a reader does not know, VDGIF is run on hunting, fishing and trapping license sales and tax proceeds from boat licenses and registrations. None of your state tax money goes to fund this agency. Taxes paid on

ammo, guns and fishing equipment does find its way back to VDGIF.

One of the ways VDGIF found to be creative in using its money wisely was the check system. Check stations were slimmed down and therefore biologists or game wardens did not have to run around at the end of each season collect checkbooks from each country store check station. That saved/saves a lot of gas and man-hours. The system that is online or via phone also collects and sorts the harvest data much quicker than a biologist can by reading a few hundred thousand check cards from across the state each spring. Likely, fewer mistakes are made too. Fewer check books are needed thus saving even more money.

However, your columnist finds it sad in a way that check stations are going to be obsolete before too long. This year some spring gobbler hunters tried to check their turkey in at check stations only to find out that they now are required to check them by phone or by the Internet.

My personal feeling when VDGIF started the new checkin process was of understanding and of frustration too. I like to have that hard cardboard check card as “proof” of my harvest and for my own records. Now I am feeling a bit on the old side knowing that those check cards I saved over the years are going to be relics.

It is also sad because part of the thrill of the hunt for big game hunters was stopping at the old country stores or privately owned stores and reminiscing with the other hunters at the end of the day or at lunchtime about the day’s events. Stories were told, youngsters got to hear about the veteran hunters exploits and often it pumped you to get out there and hunt again. It was part of our culture. Honestly, a lot was learned about hunting. Mistakes during the hunt were shared and some of the older hunters would point out how to avoid those mistakes.

It was entertaining to stop at check stations and hear the banter about legendary bucks that avoided hunters or perhaps a wise old Tom that would hang up each year just out of range of the gun barrel. Then you always had the lucky hunters that seemed to always get their quarry!

I know that as “progress” takes us further from face to face dealings with people, we will miss some of the joys of human interaction and I also believe in a way we are dissevering ourselves. Dad and I used to hunt up in the mountains and we stopped at Crossroads Country Store in Frederick County to get a bite to eat and check our deer. The store had a running wall of paper listing every successful hunter and what they got.

Some animals made it to the photo board. Sometimes we stopped just to see who got what and how many deer were checked in. That store made a lot of money from us in sodas, chips, sandwiches and other food. Our check stations provide a vital service to us voluntarily (no charge to VDGIF) and they have suffered economically because so many now just go home and don’t stop to get a bite to eat and reminisce about the one that got away or tell about that one that did not.

The last time I checked with VDGIF about online or phonein check statistics the figure was approximately 2/3s of the hunters checking game online or by phone.

Although you must now check spring turkey in solely in this manner I have not yet heard of a final season that check stations will be phased out for fall hunters. When it happens I think we will lose a valuable piece of our history and tradition.

Until then do try and stop by check stations even if you are not checking your turkey or your deer this coming fall. We can still visit with each other at lunchtime and at the day’s end to trade stories. More kids are interested in hunting these days as evidenced by the numbers in Hunter Ed classes and our Outdoor Club. Let’s encourage this by spending a little time visiting after our hunts.

 

Mark Fike

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