Hunters killed 600 more deer in Suffolk County this past winter and fall than in the prior hunting season, due in part to looser regulations designed to make it easier for recreational hunters to cull a growing deer herd, state environmental officials said.
Bow and firearm hunters killed 3,491 white-tailed deer on Long Island between Oct. 1 and Jan. 31. That is a 22 percent increase over the 2,873 killed in the previous season and the largest deer harvest in at least eight years, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Deer overpopulation has emerged as a significant public-policy issue on eastern Long Island, as complaints rise over automobile collisions with deer, damage to landscaping and farm crops, and the spread of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease. Deer hunting is not permitted in Nassau.
State lawmakers last year extended bow hunting season by a month, overlapping it with shotgun and muzzleloading season in January, and allowed hunting with firearms on weekends, when it was previously not permitted.
State officials also allowed bow hunters for the first time to fire arrows within 150 feet of a house, instead of the previous restriction of 500 feet. Hunters said that opened large tracts of suburban land to hunting.
Josh Stiller, a wildlife biologist at the DEC's Long Island office in Stony Brook, said the new rules probably contributed to the more successful season for hunters.
"It's a pretty substantial harvest, and likely a result of the expanded hunting season," he said.
But Stiller acknowledged that the harvest is "still woefully insufficient to reduce the deer population on Long Island," where the herd has grown significantly since the 1980s.
John Rocchetta, 42, of Manorville, a longtime bow hunter, said recreational hunters were also energized after the Long Island Farm Bureau hired U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters for a controversial culling program last year that killed 192 deer on the East End.
"Hunters on Long Island -- hunters everywhere -- are protective of the lands they hunt, and they'd rather manage it themselves," he said.
Rocchetta said the fierce debate over the culling program last year drew hunters' attention to the deer overpopulation issue, and some learned they could help by killing more female deer.
"Hunters everywhere have become aware that they need to harvest more deer," he said. "Some people will say that's not enough, but that's what we're trying to do."
The DEC relies on hunters reporting their kills, as well as staff examinations of check stations and meat processors, to calculate the size of the deer harvest each year.
Deer kills increased in all of Suffolk's 10 towns this year. Huntington's harvest more than tripled, from 47 to 183, due to increased hunting in the villages of Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken, DEC officials said.