Head of the Harbor officials will not enforce village code prohibiting bow and arrow use after an appeals court struck down a similar prohibition in the Town of Smithtown.
Village officials said the court decision, which lawyers for the town are seeking to appeal, "calls into question the validity" a section of code that lists bows as firearms, whose use is largely prohibited within the village. Another section of code regulating hunting may also have to be revised because it "incorrectly references" New York State laws that ban discharge of bows and firearms near buildings, according to an announcement on the village website written by village attorney Anthony Guardino.
The Smithtown court case, brought by a hunting group, hinged on a section of town code that lists the bow and arrow as a firearm and forbids discharge within 500 feet of a building. That code is more restrictive than state law, which prohibits gun discharge within 500 feet of a building but establishes a setback for bow discharge of only 150 feet.
A four-judge panel on the Second Judicial Department Appeals Court found on Aug. 19 that state law includes a definition of the word firearm that "plainly does not encompass a bow and arrow." The panel also found that state law preempted local regulations.
Village code may be vulnerable to challenge because it lists bows as firearms and because it mandates a 500-foot setback for discharge of any weapon. Hunting or firearms regulations in dozens of other Long Island municipalities could also be vulnerable to challenge, legal experts have said.
Village officials’ decision not to enforce local laws does not mean that bow hunters can hunt anywhere in the village, only that property owners can bow hunt or authorize bow hunting on their land, Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said. In either case, hunters would need a state license and abide by the state setbacks.
"We just don’t feel it’s safe to have hunting" in the village, Dahlgard said. "But since the state has spoken and taken over the field, we have to back off."
Smithtown town attorney Matthew Jakubowski said in an email that the town had filed a motion to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals. Additionally, he said, that court granted a stay of enforcement of the Appellate Division's decision. Village code will remain on the books pending a town appeal, according to Guardino's announcement.
Some residents see a growing deer population in Head of the Harbor and parts of Smithtown as a nuisance or even a danger because deer contribute to the spread of tick-borne diseases and can badly damage a vehicle in a collision. State environmental officials favor recreational bow hunting as part of a population control strategy but the village has opted instead to participate in a study using chemical birth control for female deer. That study is limited to about 90 subjects. There is no official count or population estimate, but Dahlgard has said about 200 deer live in or around the village.