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Shelter Island hunters take fewer deer than previous season: Stepped up effort to do more

The number of deer taken during the recreational hunt and those hunting with a Nuisance Wildlife Control License were fewer than they were the season before.

Numbers revealed at the April 3 Deer & Tick Committee were compiled by Beau Payne who coordinates the hunting program on Shelter Island. Though he was not at the meeting because of a training program that conflicted with the meeting, Dr. James Bevilacqua brought the report to his committee members, citing several reasons for the downturn.

Mr. Payne’s numbers revealed that from Oct. 1, 2023 through March 27, 2024, a total of 286 deer were taken during the town-sponsored hunting period compared with 316 during the same period the previous year.

During the hunt conducted by those with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs) licenses from Feb. 1 through March, 43 deer were taken from 16 properties managed by the town.

According to the DEC, “This license authorizes an individual to take/trap, transport and release wildlife whenever the animal becomes a nuisance, destroys property or threatens public safety. The individual can conduct these activities for commercial purposes or as an employee of a municipality.”

The previous NWCO hunt resulted in 57 deer being taken from 18 town managed properties.

The reasons for the drop are likely fewer hunters participating and fewer town managed properties, Dr. Bevilacqua said. There may be fewer deer on the Island as well, he speculated.

Since the state banned use of 4-poster units —  feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — the Deer & Tick Committee has taken a two-pronged approach to reduce tick-borne illnesses on the Island through hunting deer on which ticks feed and educational efforts, Dr. Bevilacqua said.

People continue to be concerned about ticks, he said. At the same time, he needs numbers of illnesses — such as Lyme disease and Babesiosis — resulting from tick bites to substantiate whether or not there continues to be an increase in people getting sick. If the numbers show otherwise, then the committee is doing something right, he said.

Dr. Bevilacqua said one of the lessons he’s learned is that environmental science is “not an exact science” because there are so many variables. Still, statistics help to define the problem.

That there were four NWCOs hunting last year and two this year points to the need for more of those licensed hunters to increase the number of deer taken in the two-month period when they are in the field. Loss of even a couple of town managed properties makes it more difficult as well, Dr. Bevilacqua said.

Member Julia Weisenberg noted she has mentored some adults and students who could increase the number of hunters to reduce the herd. She has completed the DEC Hunter Education Basic Safety Instructor Course and the DEC Bowhunting Instructor courses, hoping the certifications will make it easier to offer state hunter education courses on the Island.

She has been operating bow and arrow training on weekends in May through August and plans to do so again this year. For some, it will be just the sport of target shooting, but she hopes others will decide to train as hunters. Under the auspices of the town Recreation Department, a renewed grant means students in the archery program won’t have to pay tuition.

The deer get smarter making them more difficult to track, Dr. Bevilacqua said.

As the committee member leading the educational effort, Ms. Weisenberg said she and member Scott Campbell, Ph.D., who is Suffolk County Department of Health Services Arthropod-Borne Disease lab director, discussed efforts to step up the promotional campaign aimed at alerting residents to protecting themselves from tick-borne diseases.

They plan to use social media this month to get out information to the community. Also, Reporter cartoonist and illustrator Peter Waldner has agreed to develop educational content as part of an advertisement to run in the Reporter.

Teaming up with Mashomack Preserve’s Education and Outreach Coordinator Cindy Belt and Outreach Program Coordinator Rebecca Kusa, Ms. Weisenberg will be working with students in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 on fun educational efforts to teach them ways to avoid tick bites. Shelter Island Hunters take fewer deer than previous season: Stepped up effort to do more