Bow hunters on Long Island will be allowed closer to homes -- though not with crossbows -- under terms of a new law included in the state budget package.
Bow hunters won't be able to shoot within 150 feet of buildings, a reduction from the 500 feet that had been on the books, state officials said Tuesday.
The new law gives hunters access to more land, lawmakers and hunters said, and could help to reduce a deer herd that Eastern Long Island residents said has grown too large.
"It opens up a lot of areas to hunting that can't be hunted now," said Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor). "That's what my local governments and people were telling me they wanted."
Property owners must give hunters permission to be on their land.
Wildlife advocates said the change was bad for both deer and humans. "It's cruel for the deer and dangerous for humans," said Bill Crain, president of East Hampton Group for Wildlife. He said bow hunting can lead to slow deaths for deer.
"A hundred and fifty feet -- that's awfully close. You could be in somebody's yard where children are playing," Crain said.
Hunters and local officials have advocated for easing hunting restrictions to help deal with the herd of 25,000 to 35,000 deer in Suffolk. The population has grown so large that the Long Island Farm Bureau entered into a controversial agreement with sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cull deer in late February.
Cuomo's proposed budget that he originally submitted included easing the distance restrictions, as well as allowing for crossbows to be used in hunts -- which elderly and disabled hunters had sought.
The eventual budget bill allows crossbows to be used upstate, but not in Suffolk or Westchester counties. Deer hunting is not allowed in Nassau County. Thiele said the crossbows weren't a focus of his efforts, and faced some opposition on Long Island.
Some hunters were disappointed that crossbow hunting won't be allowed on Long Island.
John Blanco, 68, of Manorville, said he has been too weak to pull back a bow since he began fighting cancer in 1997.
"If you let the senior citizens or disabled people get crossbows," Blanco said, "there'd be no need for the culling they have going on."
Crossbows can be easier to cock than bows, which can require more upper body strength.
Allowing crossbows and easing the setback restrictions were recommended in the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Deer Management Plan, released in 2011.
"Archery shots taken at deer are typically discharged either on a horizontal plane or on a downward trajectory," according to the report."In these situations, an arrow travels only a short distance before either hitting the target or dropping to the ground."
In the past 10 years, the report said, "the only reported injuries in New York State related to handling or discharge of bow-hunting equipment were 2 self-inflicted cuts from careless handling of arrows." The 500 foot restriction on firearm hunting, which is only allowed during limited times in January in Suffolk, are unchanged.
Thiele had introduced a similar bill last year, but the bill did not make it out of the Environmental Conservation Committee, which is chaired by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst).
"I'm comfortable," Sweeney said Tuesday. "One hundred and fifty feet is more than adequate to keep people safe."