As the 2019 deer hunting season gets underway, officials overseeing Southold’s deer management program are reporting a stronger start than previous years.
The season opened Tuesday, Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2020. For the first time this year, Southold Town has increased the reach of its deer management program by allowing landowners with upwards of five acres to participate.
“We’re up 21 deer from last year,” environmental analyst Craig Jobes reported to Town Board members at a work session Wednesday morning.
As of Nov. 6, 126 deer have been harvested townwide, compared to just 105 last year on the same date, he said.
Slightly less deer have been hunted on town-owned properties, but Mr. Jobes said feedback among private landowners has been positive so far.
“One thing I really like is seeing the number of donations,” Mr. Jobes said, noting that 78 have been donated so far, compared to 46 in 2018. “Every year we see a little more of an increase, but this year we’ve really seen a big spike in [donations]” he said.
Keeping last year’s total donation of 130 deer in mind, he believes they’ll far exceed that this season.
Hundreds of people have benefitted from the program as over 51,000 pounds of venison have been donated to those in need since the program began a decade ago, according to town Department of Public Works director Jeff Standish.
The department has been awarded approximately $92,000 in grant funding, which will help improve its facility by adding chest freezers that will allow for meat storage locally. Mr. Jobes said they are waiting for the funds to be distributed so the project can begin.
The grant would also help cover butchering costs, he said.
“That way, in case the state coalition funds run dry like we had a threat of last year, then we still have money in place to have these deer butchered, so nothing’s going to waste,” Mr. Jobes said.
So far, the areas with the highest yields have been Mulford Court in Orient and Tall Pines in the Bayview area of Southold, which historically always come out on top.
Several new properties, including Brushes Creek in Laurel and Carroll Avenue in Peconic, have also seen harvests, according to Mr. Jobes.
“The new properties bring excitement to hunters,” he said. “They like to hunt somewhere new, with new scenery.”
Councilman Bill Ruland asked how the numbers reflect the overall herd size.
“Where I live, it’s been the Wild West for two weeks,” he said, as deer enter mating season.
Mr. Standish said that the herd increases quickly, pointing out that last years fawn numbers were relatively low, but there has been a sharp increase this year.
He said that despite the challenge of keeping up with an ever-growing population, Southold is the most proactive town on the issue.
“Are we conquering the problem? No. But we are doing our hardest to manage what we can manage,” he said.