The trip to the check station after a successful deer or turkey hunt has long been a tradition in Missouri.
Most hunters didn’t mind checking their harvest, because they recognized how important it is to collect data for better deer and turkey management and to keep tabs on the number of animals taken.
Check stations also became the primary gathering places for the public to see harvested animals and for hunters to talk about their hunts.
Mandatory in-person checking of turkeys began with the inception of the spring firearms season in 1960 and the fall season in 1978. Except from 1980 to 1985, when mail-in reporting was allowed, archery hunters also had to bring their turkeys into check stations.
The history of checking deer is more complicated. The first modern deer season was in 1944. Although there were “weighing” stations, in-person checking was not required unless a deer was to be divided among hunters. In this case, the carcass had to be stamped by a Department of Conservation representative. This procedure was maintained through 1950.
Hunters could first take antlerless deer in 1951, and that’s when we first required mandatory in-person checking of deer. From 1951 to 1958 (except for 1954) all deer had to be taken to a check station or checked by a Conservation Department representative.
Between 1959 and 1968, we required in-person checking in some years, but not in others. However, from 1968 to 2003, all deer taken during the firearms deer seasons had to be checked in person. Except from 1980 to 1985, the same was true for the archery season.
Starting in 2004, all hunters during the fall firearms turkey season and all landowners during both archery and firearms deer seasons could check their game by calling a toll-free number. All spring turkey hunters in 2005 also could use the new Telecheck system, though check stations remained open.
In-person checking of deer and turkeys has benefited management of these important game animals. Deer and turkey harvest information has been the basis for setting regulations through the years. Data collected usually included total numbers taken, as well as the age and sex ratio of the animals.
At selected check stations, we collected additional biological information. For deer, this included recording reproductive rates, weight, age, antler development and parasites. We also collected blood samples to check for disease.
For turkeys, we have collected data on weight, spur length and parasites, and we’ve taken blood and tissue samples for genetic assessments.
Check stations also played a role in helping conservation agents enforce the Wildlife Code.
For example, agents have identified violators bringing illegally taken deer or turkeys to check stations by reviewing check station records. We also have used forensic methods to determine time and manner of death for animals brought to check stations.
Because it is sometimes inconvenient and expensive—especially with rising gas prices—for hunters to transport deer or turkeys to check stations, the Department has looked for alternatives to in-person checking.
We have considered a variety of methods such as field bag checks, voluntary checking, mail-in report forms, random mail surveys and others, but the costs, lack of satisfactory harvest information and enforcement of hunting regulations made mandatory in-person checking the only workable option.
In the fall of 2003, however, we began to evaluate what we call the Telecheck system. People who bought a firearms deer permit at selected vendors throughout Missouri were randomly assigned either to Telecheck their deer or to check their deer in person.
We found participants checked deer at the same rate under the Telecheck system as they did in person. The proportion of deer checked in each age class (doe, button buck or antlered buck) also did not differ between the two groups.
A similar evaluation during the spring 2004 turkey season indicated that the checking rate and reported sex and age (bearded hen, juvenile gobbler or adult gobbler) of turkeys did not differ.
Another study determined that ages of adult deer taken to commercial processors and of deer processed by hunters were similar. This meant we could collect representative biological data at commercial processing sites.
Telecheck also was popular with everyone in the survey. Hunters liked how it made it easy to check animals.
Based on these positive results, the Conservation Commission decided to implement Telecheck for all deer and turkey hunting seasons beginning in the fall of 2005.
TELECHECK AT WORK
As with check stations, once an animal is harvested, the immediate tagging requirement of the animal with the transportation tag portion of the permit is still in effect. Once the transportation tag portion has been removed from the permit, the permit is no longer valid to be used again.
Hunters still have to check their deer or turkey by 10 p.m. the day the animal is harvested, and all deer and turkey must be checked before they are removed from the state.
The phone number and web site for checking are on each permit. Whether checking by phone or Internet, you are asked to provide the Telecheck ID number on your permit, the name of the county in which you hunted and some biological information about the animal you harvested.
To complete Telecheck, you must write the confirmation number provided to you by phone or Internet in the space provided on your permit and attach the permit to the animal.
The transportation tag and the permit portion must remain on the animal until processing for meat begins.
Test results so far indicate that checking compliance is at least as good with Telecheck as it was with in-person checking.
Telecheck also allows agents more time to perform field investigations because they do not have to spend time setting up and administering check stations.
END OF AN ERA
The era of requiring mandatory checking is still in place, but the mechanism is being replaced with a more efficient and cost-effective system. Yet, as with the end of any tradition, there are things that will be missed.
The majority of Missouri’s check stations are small businesses. As they served hunters, they also contributed to our efforts to build and maintain the healthy wildlife populations we now enjoy. The services and commitment these businesses have provided has been immeasurable, and the Conservation Department thanks them for their efforts.
It’s likely many hunters will revisit those former check stations. After all, those sites also were traditional stops for picking up snacks, gas and supplies. You might even run into some other hunters there. Some of them will probably be talking about the old days—before Telecheck— when everybody had to check their deer or turkeys in person.