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Hunters, Town committee exchange views: Bowhunting season rolls out in full Oct. 1

Seven hunters who attended a meeting with some members of the Deer & Tick Committee viewed a film from the 2022 flyover of the Island that revealed where deer were gathering.

They are very much “edge dwellers” living in pockets of lawns and woodlands between lots, said Beau Payne, liaison to the committee.

He encouraged the hunters to continue to reach out to homeowners for permission to hunt on their properties. Mr. Payne said he has some homeowners’ information and may, with permission, release hunters’ information to them to see if they’re willing to initiate an agreement that would aid in culling deer.

Bowhunting, which starts Oct. 1 on Town-managed land, requires that hunting be at least 150 feet from dwellings or occupied structures. There had been some hunting on private properties with owners’ permission during the period of Sept. 10 through Sept. 18.

Oct. 1 is the traditional start of the bowhunting season on the Island, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, select properties weren’t opened until Nov. 1, Mr. Payne said.

That was for safety reasons since the Island’s year-round population was larger, and with warm fall weather, more people were hiking trails and participating in other outdoor activities. But this year, all sites will be available as of the Oct. 1 date.

County-owned properties are open to any Suffolk County hunter, and hunting can be arranged through Mr. Payne. All hunters are vetted through the Deer Management Program that requires they enroll so Mr. Payne can coordinate efforts. The Town welcomes off-Island hunters.

Cooler available to hunters

A cooler for storing deer until they can be reclaimed by hunters or butchered is open outside the Cobbetts Lane Firehouse.

Hunters can keep meat they want for their own use or to share with family and friends. But the excess is generally contributed to residents without charge at the Recycling Center. In the six years that the meat distribution program has been operating, 16,000 pounds of venison — enough to provide 48,000 meals — have been contributed to the program.

Incentives for hunters

The incentive program that has long awarded gift cards to hunters to purchase arrows and other equipment from a single vendor has now been opened to provide Visa gift cards that can be used at any sporting goods store or used for other purchases.

Tracking diseased deer

The group discussed the incidence of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), noting that it is killing white-tailed deer, but is not a threat to humans.

Infected deer become lethargic, disoriented, weak and have salivation. They get fever, which is why they are frequently found lying near water to reduce their body temperatures. Deer with EHD often have a swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids.

They tend to die quickly, within a couple of days after symptoms appear. The disease is about 90% fatal for white-tailed deer. Mr. Payne said he’s seen only one case on the Island so far and that was during an outbreak last year.

Mr. Payne is tracing the incidence of EHD and asks those who suspect a case to contact him to report the case to the DEC. Mr. Payne can be reached at 631-749-5771 or [email protected].

D&T Committee member Julia Weisenberg contacted  Pat Connoly of Cornell, a leading researcher on EHD. He asked all interested hunters  to participate by submitting blood and tissue samples to him of all deer, either healthy or those suspected of having EHD.

He offered to provide free kits to them for that purpose, and Mr. Payne said he would disperse kits and collect samples from hunters on the Island.

It’s free, and not too time consuming, Mr. Payne said. He continues to do sampling as Shelter Island provides a unique opportunity because of access to a lot of deer. The Island experiences have been cited in professional journals, and officials have collaborated with scientific study of both ticks and deer for years.