During the first week of the shotgun deer hunting season, DFW biologists are stationed at deer check stations across the state to collect data from the deer brought in by successful hunters. I’m assigned to the Nantucket check station, one of the busiest stations in the state—so busy that it needs two people to staff the station for the first few days of the week. My companion is Jim Cardoza, a volunteer DFW retiree, who headed up the bear and turkey programs and who has worked at the island check station for years.
Here’s a summary from one day at the check station this year.
6:15 AM—The dawn glow of orange and red greets me when I lift the curtain in my bedroom. Nearby buildings and a new wind turbine are shadowed silhouettes as I look out onto the frosty landscape.
6:45 AM—Breakfast at the Downy Flake, patronized by Jim for years. We are invited to sit with island residents who know Jim and they pepper us with questions about the number of deer checked and hunter activity before turning the conversation to other topics. Today is the second day of the season; we tell them we checked 91 deer and were at the station until 6:45 pm, despite the fact that the check station gate closed at 5:45.
7:45 AM—We head to the check station and open up a storage building located at the wastewater treatment plant. We’re fortunate that our check station is self-contained in a heated building. Weighing deer, cutting jaws and writing information in the wind, cold and darkness is, to say the least, very uncomfortable. Many biologists at other stations have to take refuge in their vehicle or in a store which hosts a check station. We pull on coveralls, set up the computer, and lay out our tools for the day. Knife, calipers, sharp pencil, flashlight, scales and data forms are in readiness.
9:30 AM—A few hunters come in with deer. We record information on the weight, sex, and age of the deer. Aging a deer requires us to look at the teeth. Deer, like horses, grind their food with their molars and over time their teeth wear down. We can age deer by looking at tooth wear patterns, a technique first used by wildlife biologists in the late 1940s and still the easiest method to use today. Looking at teeth means I have to open the jaw and cut the cheek to see the whole lower mandible. Some jaws are stiff and require some muscle and a metal framed “jawbreaker” which helps pry the mouth open. Hunters are fascinated with the aging technique and try to guess their deer’s age. When there is time, I take a few pictures of deer teeth for our Deer Project leader to use.
See Marion’s blog from November 2009 for more information on deer aging.