Close encounters of the deer kind

10/27/2010 3:59 PM |

It came out of nowhere. It was dusk and we were driving east on the North Road in Greenport, just east of San Simeon.

The deer never hesitated as it burst out of the brush close by the road, and we slammed into it hard just as I applied the brakes.

Thank goodness for Mullen Motors and its sturdy Dodge Ram pickup truck. It barely shuddered (nor sustained a discernible dent) as the doe rolled to the pavement, hesitated a moment, then sprung to its feet and continued toward the Sound. If I had been driving my Honda scooter, however, there might have been an entirely different outcome. Perhaps even another fatal deer vs. vehicle incident, similar to the one that took the life of Greenport resident Bob Wiesehahn three years ago about a mile to west on the North Road.

And it wasn’t my only close encounter with a deer this fall. About two weeks earlier, I was the one almost hit by a deer. It happened in our driveway in Orient, just as I was getting into the car. I heard a “whoosh” and looked up just in time to duck behind the open car door and avoid a collision with a large buck — I think it must have weighed at least 175 pounds and had at least a 10-point rack — being chased through our yard by a German shepherd. Both the deer and the dog disappeared into a yard across the street, and I assume the deer escaped by clearing a six-foot hedge at the rear of the property.

Drive long enough on the North Fork — particularly at dusk during the rut — and you will encounter deer. It’s a fact of life here, and most of us have come to accept it. But must we?

In a recent editorial, The Suffolk Times suggested an expanded bow hunting season to thin a Southold Town deer herd estimated at 10,000. (That’s roughly one deer for every two full-time residents!) And I’d like to suggest, one more time, going one significant step further by bringing in shotgun-bearing sharpshooters to really trim the herd — not by a few hundred animals, but by at least a few thousand.

In recent years, the Shelter Island Police Department has coordinated deer hunting under state Department of Environmental Conservation permits on several island properties. They haven’t used “sharpshooters” per se, but mostly registered local hunters, and in 2007 they culled the herd by nearly 500 animals, with another 250 taken on private permits at the Fiske and Mashomack properties. And even at 750 deer taken in that single season, there was little concern that Shelter Island’s deer herd would be “devastated,” according to then-supervisor Alfred Kilb Jr., who described deer as a “renewable resource” with an “ability to rebound immediately in a very short period of time.”

Believe or not, I am among those who believe our deer can be a positive component of life on the North Fork — just like our waters, our beaches, our farms and our vineyards. I savor the sight of a herd grazing in an open field off Narrow River Road in Orient. What I don’t savor is the sight of three or four deer, one after the other, springing across the road into the path of an oncoming vehicle. And that sight has become all too common because there are too many damn deer here, and the time for routine remedies has long since passed.