The hunt is on again.
Southold Town’s deer management program, which opens some town-owned lands to local bow hunters, will resume Oct. 4 for a third year. Once again, the town will select 65 residents by lottery for the seasonal program, which runs through the end of the year.
The town launched the program in 2008 in an effort to control the burgeoning deer population.
“When left unchecked, the deer herd is one of the biggest issues we’ll face over the next few years,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “The management program is not the answer by any stretch. There is no one answer, but this is one small component.”
Deer spread tick-borne ailments such as Lyme disease and babesiosis and cause many motor vehicle accidents — and their grazing results in major landscaping and agricultural losses. This combination constitutes a health, economic, and environmental crisis, the supervisor said.
Participating bow hunters took 56 deer in last year’s program — 36 of them from Southold’s Bayview area. Another 14 were killed in Greenport and six in Mattituck. There is no limit on the number of deer a hunter can bring in. The DEC gives the town 130 doe tags, two per hunter. For every animal brought to the agency’s check station in Ridge, the hunter receives another free tag.
In an effort to keep the number of breeding females in check, a hunter must take two does before going after a buck.
Town officials are quick to stress that the program’s aim is to thin the herd, not slaughter great numbers.
“We’re trying to get them to a manageable number,” said Jeff Standish, deputy director of public works, who oversees the program. “There’s no new growth anywhere in the woods because they browse it down. The woods are not replenishing themselves because the deer are not allowing that to happen.”
In many areas, there’s no foliage left within the animals’ feeding range, which extends from ground level up to about six feet.
In the past, hunters have expressed concern that they had few options for disposing of any deer they bring in.
“Hunters are very ethical,” said Mr. Standish. “They don’t want to kill something they don’t want to eat. They don’t throw anything away.”
The town is considering purchasing or leasing a refrigerated truck or trailer to store behind the Peconic Recreation Center during the special season, Mr. Standish said. Harvested deer could be kept there before being brought up-island for butchering. The meat would be donated to local food pantries. A similar program has been operated for years on Shelter Island.
Hunters can pick up lottery applications at the Town Clerk’s office starting Sept. 9. Completed applications and proof of residency must be returned to the clerk’s office by 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 17. The lottery will take place that day at 10 a.m.
In addition to the new hunting season, the town will host a second Town Hall deer forum, tentatively set for Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. Last year’s inaugural panel discussion brought together hunters, wildlife biologists and state DEC enforcement officers.
“We hope to spark a robust public discussion and get a good understanding of how crucial the problem is,” said the supervisor. “Some people find deer quaint and charming, but they are having a profound negative impact on the community.”