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Oct 7, 2009 10:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Deer hunters gear up for another season in Quogue

Oct 7, 2009 10:14 AM

Hunters will again attempt to cull the deer population in Quogue Village this fall through an initiative that allows them to hunt on residential land, though some say it is too soon to tell whether or not the program has been effective.

Quogue Mayor George Motz explained that the village’s culling program, which grants New York State-licensed hunters access to private land as long as property owners sign up for the free initiative, has been in place since October 2007.

“It started with a lot of complaints about the deer,” Mayor Motz said.

He said that since then, hunters have killed about 175 deer in Quogue.

Still, the local deer population now appears to be greater than ever, making some question whether or not the culling program has been effective. Local residents have complained that the deer pose a problem because they can cause car accidents, spread Lyme disease and destroy gardens.

If they want to participate, homeowners can ask the village to assign a hunter to their properties, though they can also contact hunters without the intervention of the village. Quogue Village Ordinance Inspector Chris Osborne then works with the hunters and assigns them specific properties.

The village does not have to pay a fee for the program and the hunters, who are donating their services, get to keep the meat of any deer that they kill.

Hunters may use only bows and arrows and must be at least 500 feet away from a home when taking down a deer. They also must have written consent from the owner of the property where they are hunting.

Deer hunting season began on Thursday, October 1, and runs until December 31.

Michelle Gibbons, the wildlife manager for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said her department supports the periodic culling of deer populations. She added that if the hunters primarily target females, residents should see a decline in the number of deer roaming the village.

“That’s the most effective tool we have for managing deer,” she said, referring to the controlled hunts. “Over time, the more does you take out, the less fawns you have.”

Still, the mayor noted that some residents have opposed the program, citing safety and ethical concerns and doubts as to whether or not the program actually works.

“We had a small group of people who were very vocal about not killing the deer,” Mayor Motz, adding that protests have quieted down this year.

Linda Heinberg, a part-time village resident and a Manhattan attorney working in wildlife conservation, said she spoke out against the initiative when it was first proposed two years ago. She still disagrees with the initiative.

“I am opposed to culling for a variety of reasons,” she said. “The main one is that it doesn’t work.”

She noted that by thinning the deer population, hunters are actually increasing the food supply for the remaining deer. She said that led to the surviving deer being healthier and more fertile, allowing them to reproduce at younger ages. She said that such a scenario could also result in an increase in the number of twins and triplets born.

Although Mr. Osborne admits that the number of deer has increased in the village, it is too early to tell whether or not the culling program is working.

“Experts tell me we need to work the program for three to four years,” he said.

Dan Azzato, a hunter who owns Fish and Wildlife Unlimited, a taxidermy company in Oakdale, said that in his opinion, culling programs are effective.

Regarding the safety concerns, Mr. Azzato stressed that the hunters who participate in Quogue’s program are professional and take the necessary precautions to make sure no one is injured by a stray arrow.

“We’re very cautious because you have to take careful aim,” he said, adding that he tries to be within 10 and 15 yards of a deer when taking a shot.

The mayor noted a positive result of the initiative is that hunters donated about 600 pounds of venison to local soup kitchens in 2007, and another 400 pounds in 2008. Mr. Azzato said the deer are butchered and ground up into chop meat in his shop. He said he donates the service to the village, and has helped provide as much as 10,000 pounds of venison to local homeless shelters over the years.

Still, Ms. Heinberg remains unconvinced that killing deer is the only solution. Instead, she advocates spraying one’s garden with deer repellent on a weekly basis, something she practices in her own yard. She said that if deer do not have a place to feed, they will simply move on.

“I think we should have a community-wide spray program,” she said. “The truth is that a lot of people don’t want to be bothered.”

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