By Stephen J. Kotz
Lost amid the debate surrounding the now diminished federal sharpshooter deer culling program on the South Fork is the fact that deer hunting, with both shotgun and bow and arrow, is legal in East Hampton and Southampton towns, and if hunters and elected officials get their wish, there will probably be more of it in the coming years.
The East Hampton Town Board, which bowed out the deer cull program on Tuesday, reiterated its commitment to manage the deer population and announced efforts to improve opportunities for hunters in a statement released last week.
The town will consider opening additional town-owned property to hunters and coordinate efforts to connect hunters with private landowners who want to open their land to hunting. In addition, according to a statement from Supervisor Larry Cantwell, it will help homeowners obtain nuisance permits, which allow killing of deer out of season, and it will look for ways to increase the number of hunters and the number of tags available to take deer under a nuisance permit at East Hampton Town Airport.
At the same time, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a proposed change in regulations to allow bow hunting within 150 feet of a house with a property owner’s permission as well as the use of crossbows. The current regulation prohibits hunting within 500-feet.
Steve Griffiths, the president of the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance, said this week that his organization would welcome Cuomo’s proposal. But the problem, he said, is “a lot of the deer are near houses in Clearwater or Settlers Landing. A hunter can get permission from two homeowners, but if a third says no, it doesn’t matter what the other two say.”
Mike Tessitore, the leader of Hunters for Deer, agreed that the governor’s move was welcome but about a decade late in coming. “We’re a little cynical about it,” he said, pointing out that the measure must still be approved by the state legislature.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said Tessitore has a point in that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has for years called for reducing the setback in its deer management plan.
“It is not a foregone conclusion” that the relaxed setbacks will be adopted, Thiele said. “Any change to deer hunting regulations is not easy.”
The assemblyman said he has introduced a bill that would take additional steps to increase opportunities for hunters. Among the proposed changes, Thiele’s bill would allow hunting on weekends during the January gun season and allow bow hunters to hunt during the firearm season.
Tessitore said to really solve the problem, the state needs to adopt a separate management program for Long Island and give the five East End towns “the ability to customize their hunting regulations to deal with specific issues.”
In addition, he said, too many hunters are trophy obsessed and take only bucks with large racks of antlers.
“The buck is not the problem, you have to get rid of the does,” added Griffiths, who added that he supports programs that offer hunters additional tags if they first harvest a doe.
Another issue confronting hunters is finding property owners willing to allow hunters on their land.
Chris Geraghty, a bow hunter from Ridge, took a rather unusual step to try to find a place to hunt on the East End. Geraghty, in an interview conducted via email, said this week that he had spent approximately $5,000 to send out a mass mailing of post cards to 20,000 post office addresses on the East End seeking land he and his brother can lease for hunting.
So far, he said, he had secured three new leases, although he would not divulge the amount he is paying. He added that he had received three calls from people angry that he would do such a thing.
“I will admit to stepping up my original planned sending date to take full advantage of the current hot bed of activity and coverage revolving around the cull,” he said.