State draws back regulations on bowhunting

Two deer grazing behind a Cutchogue home on Tuesday. Lawmakers hope looser setback regulations will help manage deer populations. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder photo)
Two deer grazing behind a Cutchogue home on Tuesday. Lawmakers hope looser setback regulations will help manage deer populations. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder photo)

State leaders recently approved new regulations that will open up available land to bowhunters on Long Island, enabling them to target deer closer to structures than what was previously allowed. 

The new regulations decrease the distance bowhunters are required to stand away from structures from 500 feet to 150 feet. The looser restrictions were passed last week as a provision in the approved 2014-15 state budget. The move will allow greater hunting access near Southold communities such as Harbor Lights and Riverhead Town communities like Reeves Beach — essentially, in any dense community abutting open space where hunting is permitted.

When introducing the state spending plan in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated in a memoranda of support in his executive budget that reducing setbacks, “would maintain a safe distance for engaging in the sport while making available for hunting more lands in suburban areas, which would increase hunting opportunities, and help manage locally overabundant deer populations.”

That statement and passage of the regulations was well-received by lawmakers on the East End, who welcomed the opportunity to thin the overpopulated deer herd in Suffolk County.

“You’ve essentially got veins [of land able to be hunted] throughout the entire island now, instead of just hunting in these little corners,” East End Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said. “The deer were getting herded from small areas into one direction and into backyards, and they’d return after hunting season. This opens up much more land to hunt, dramatically. I think this will help significantly as far as being able to control the herd.”

While the governor’s new legislation would take place statewide, Mike Tessitore, with Hunters for Deer, said on Tuesday that the regulations don’t go far enough to curb the excessive population of deer on the East End, adding that Nassau and Suffolk counties should have different rules when it comes to thinning the herd. For example, the law now allows crossbow hunting throughout the state — with the exception of Long Island and Westchester County.

“It’s a joke,” Mr. Tessitore said. “This is not enough to fix the problem we have on the East End. This isn’t Nassau County, where their biggest open space is a King Kullen parking lot.”

Echoing the concern of local hunters, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he would like to see Long Island opened for crossbow hunting in the future, but said the law is “a step in the right direction.”

“This legislation is welcome news,” Mr. Krupski said. “It acknowledges that hunters are a conscious group.”

Local officials in Riverhead and Southold towns agreed that reducing the setbacks for bowhunters would help resolve the deer problem for those residents who are affected daily by the impacts of deer overpopulation.

“We have a problem, and we need to get the deer out,” said Tom Gabrielsen, chairman of Riverhead Town’s wildlife management committee. “Bowhunters are very safe; it is not like guns. When they shoot at deer, a maximum shot is about 30 yards.”

While it’s uncertain just how much acreage will be opened up to bowhunting in Riverhead and Southold towns under the new guidelines, Mr. Gabrielsen said the committee plans to evaluate the amount of land that would be impacted before the start of bowhunting season on Oct. 1.

In Southold, Supervisor Scott Russell said the previous 500-foot setback restriction was one reason board members chose to contribute money toward the federal USDA sharpshooting program to cull deer, which will end later this month.

“This change is significant,” Mr. Russell said. “It will open up more land areas for broader hunts and should substantially improve the number of deer taken as part of our deer management program. It is completely consistent with what Southold Town has been advocating for years. Further, a survey of other states with similar setbacks for bowhunting shows no increase in risk to the safety of the general public.”

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