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Ever wonder how to "age" a deer?

When I went to a deer check station in Springville, I helped state Department of Environmental Conservation biologists do just that.

This is how it works:

On the first and second day of deer hunting season, and the first Saturday after that, DEC biologists wait for hunters to bring in the deer they have killed. Volunteers (like students from McKinley High School) fill out deer kill reports, with such information as sex of the deer, what the deer was killed with (rifle, shotgun, bow, etc.), the hunter's license number and zip code and the county and town where the animal was killed, among other things.

This helps the hunter, who likes to get a card back giving the age of the deer, and the biologists, who need the information to determine the health of the local deer population. For example, if all the deer that hunters have killed are older, it means the deer population is aging and there aren't enough young being born.

Now back to the interesting part: determining the deer's age.

Biologists look at wear on a deer's teeth. If the first molar is worn to within 6 or 7 millimeters of the gum line, it is most likely 3 1/2 years old. If it's worn 5-6 mm, it is 4 1/2 ; 4-5 millimeters, means it's 5 1/2 and so on. The reason all the ages have a " 1/2 " on them is because hunting season is about six months after spring when most deer are born.

It looks nasty when the hunters bring in the deer and the biologists have to crack open the poor deer's jaw to look at the teeth, but they've had a lot of practice at it. In fact, it takes less than five minutes for them to age a deer and collect the necessary data. Each year, they collect data from more than 20,000 deer.

Fortunately I didn't see any protesters when I was there, but they usually create a slight distraction, according to McKinley student Emily Daum, who was at the check station at a different time.

The friends who worked with me at the station -- Emily, Pamela Kriese and Maria Krieger -- were OK with the whole deer-hunting thing. I have to admit, at first it grossed me out, but as Maria put it, "If you don't kill deer, they'll die anyway. It's better to do it this way."

What way is she talking about? Well, if no deer were killed by hunters and they were left to reproduce and kept reproducing, there would be so many that all their sources of food, like grass and berries, would run out and they would die of starvation.

I agree with Maria, especially since all the data gathered from hunters at these check stations provide biologists with a lot of useful information about the deer population in the area.

Andrea Sofia is a sophomore at McKinley High School.