A report released last week by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation shows deer hunting activity in 2017 was down 5 percent from 2016 across the state while local hunters increased their take in four of the five East End towns.
In Southampton, Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead, deer harvest numbers were up, ranging from increases of 6.5 percent to 18.3 percent. The outlier was East Hampton, where state data showed hunters’ deer take dropped 34.4 percent, from 427 deer in 2016 to 280 in 2017, but one town official suggested there had been a mistake. The DEC’s own data shows East Hampton hunters’ numbers were between 400 and 500 also in 2015, 2014 and 2013.
“I have not yet spoken with my contacts at the DEC, but I believe there must be a calculation error in the number. Recreational deer harvest has not been that low in East Hampton since 1992,” Andrew Gaites, the town’s senior environmental analyst, said in an email to The Sag Harbor Express.
He noted Suffolk’s countywide harvest of 3,253 deer in 2017 was nearly level with the total of 3,206 in 2016. He also said vehicle-deer collisions were nearly the same in East Hampton — 475 in 2016 and 472 in 2017.
Asked whether the dramatic drop in East Hampton’s deer harvest total could be the result of a deer nuisance management program, Mr. Gaites replied, “No, I cannot imagine that nuisance deer management could have caused that number to be so low.”
East Hampton Town has a formal deer management plan. According to the town’s website, the plan aims to “increase and facilitate hunting opportunities across public and private land,” “consider [a] professional deer cull,” “develop support for non-lethal deer management methodologies once the deer population has been stabilized,” and “establish [an] annual budget and/or other funding for deer management.” Mr. Gaites said counts of the deer population have also been done as part of the deer management plan, but the studies are already a few years old and are not considered reliable at this point.
Southold Town saw the largest bump in hunting activity. In 2016, 486 deer were recorded as opposed to 2017 where 575 were taken, an increase of 18.3 percent. Over the last five years in Southold, hunters in the town collectively peaked at 612 deer in 2015. On Shelter Island, the increase was 10.6 percent, up to 281 deer — a five-year high. In Riverhead, hunters increased their activity by 7 percent, up to 444 deer in 2017, though over the last five years deer hunting in Riverhead reached a high of 490 deer in 2014.
In Southampton, hunters took 567 deer in 2016 and 604 deer in 2017, an increase of 6.5 percent. Within the 2017 figures, about 44 percent were adult male bucks. Marty Shea, the town’s chief environmental analyst, said he was not surprised to hear the numbers were up.
“Whether you speak to someone who is interested in protecting deer or a local hunter, the deer in this township are healthy,” Mr. Shea said. “There are significant hunting opportunities throughout this town.”
Southampton Town has not performed population counts and does not have “deer management units” mapped through the town, Mr. Shea said. He said issues are managed as they arise.
“The numbers are not what’s important,” he said. “What’s important is addressing the impacts, whether it be crop damage, vehicle collisions, tick diseases or whether or not they are having an impact on forest ecology. Those are the kinds of issues that we look to address.”
Data provided by Southampton shows the town issued 42 deer-hunting licenses in 2017, down from 73 in 2016. The number of licenses issued in East Hampton Town was not immediately available. Permits are issued on an annual basis. Deer-hunting season by bow is from October 1 through January 31 and a special firearm deer-hunting season is from January 3 through January 31.