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DNR's latest high-tech move: electronic game-checking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Someday in the deer woods of West Virginia:   

A hunter crouches over the freshly field-dressed carcass of the buck he just shot. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his smartphone and dials a number.

He keys in his name, his hunting license number, and the county and general location where he killed the buck. With a final tap of his index finger, he finishes in seconds a task that, in the past, had taken minutes to hours to complete.

When Division of Natural Resources officials go online with a new electronic game-checking system in April 2015, checking a deer, bear, turkey or wild boar will become far less complicated.

For decades, hunters have had to haul carcasses to designated game-checking stations, often many miles distant, and wait to have a clerk record all the required information. The check-in process would usually take only a couple of minutes, but the associated travel time could easily take an hour or more.

Curtis Taylor, the DNR's chief of wildlife resources, said changes to the game-checking process will take place after the state goes to a wholly electronic hunting- and fishing-license system.

"We'll go to fully electronic licensing Jan. 1, 2015," he explained. "We'll go to electronic game-checking on the opening day of the 2015 spring gobbler season."

Agency administrators have long wanted to get rid of West Virginia's cumbersome paper-license and game-check systems, but had to approach the project carefully to ensure they got a vendor capable of creating effective electronic equivalents.

"We ended up having to shoot for 2015 because we were well aware of all the approvals we'd have to get from the state purchasing, procurement and technology offices," Taylor said.

The contracts have been signed, and technologists for vendor Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson of Sparks, Md., are creating and adapting the zillions of lines of computer code required to make the systems work.

"They're the folks who did Maryland's system, and the folks at the Maryland DNR were exceptionally pleased with the system they got," Taylor said.

Taylor said the gobbler-season rollout of the electronic checking system should give DNR officials a chance to tweak any glitches between then and the 2015 deer seasons.

"One state set up an electronic check system called '1-800-I-GOT-ONE.' The day they rolled it out, usage was high and the system blew up. We don't want to replicate that, so we'll try it during the gobbler season, and if there are any bugs we'll fix them and be ready to roll by the time our deer archery season begins."

West Virginia's system, though far advanced from the current paper system, won't be state-of-the-art, at least not at first. Taylor said early users might be limited to checking kills in via a home computer.

"We'd like for hunters to be able to do it by phone, by computer and through an app on their mobile devices," he explained. "But we may not be able to afford all that."

Hunters will need to key in only a minimal amount of material.

"We'll be asking for less information than we're currently taking on [paper] check tags - name, license number, the species killed, weapon, county and private or public land," Taylor said.

Even with less information, DNR officials believe the electronic system will allow them to make better decisions to manage the state's big-game species.

"Having all this information instantly in our computers will keep us from having to count tags, verify license numbers, send the tags to Elkins and keypunch all the data in. With the paper system, we only get a couple of weeks at the end of January to plan what the next season's regulations should be. With the electronic system, we'll be able to start planning as soon as the shooting stops."


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