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Deer-hunting seasons extended in Suffolk to cull damaging herds

Deer seen in a field off of Apaquogue

Deer seen in a field off of Apaquogue Road in East Hampton on Friday, June 27, 2014. Credit: Veronique Louis

Suffolk County's gun and bow hunting seasons will stretch through the end of next month, extended as part of a state effort to reduce eastern Long Island's deer population.

State legislation signed into law in August establishes the county's 2015 shotgun and muzzleloading season as Jan. 4 through 31, including weekends.

The season previously excluded weekends and ran from the Monday after the first full weekend in January through the last weekday of the month.

The law also pushes back the close of bow season to Jan. 31 from Dec. 31. The season has been underway since the start of October.

The policy changes come as East End towns and villages struggle to control a growing deer population some residents blame for destroying farm crops and gardens, causing auto accidents and spreading tick-borne disease.

Suffolk County is home to an estimated 30,000 deer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mike Tessitore, founder of the Long Island hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer, said the extended seasons will allow recreational hunters to be more effective at reducing the deer population.

"I think the DEC really wants to focus on multipronged approaches, and they're listening to the stakeholders this time around," Tessitore said.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement that "hunters play an essential role by helping to maintain healthy and ecologically sound deer populations, and this extension offers an additional opportunity for those hunters to get afield in Suffolk County."

This year, the state also allowed bow hunters to release arrows closer to homes, reducing the minimum setback from 500 feet to 150 feet. Tessitore said the development "changed suburban hunting."

The new hunting rules were in a package of deer-related bills sponsored this year by state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor).

A U.S. Department of Agriculture culling program that sent sharpshooters to eastern Long Island last winter and this past spring was widely considered a disappointment after it killed only 192 deer and ignited protests by recreational hunters and animal-rights activists.

Since the cull ended, East End towns and villages have embarked on their own deer-management efforts. Southampton Town is expected to vote next month on a plan that emphasizes recreational hunting and experimental methods such as the use of contraceptive darts.

East Hampton Village has hired a nonprofit to capture and surgically sterilize does, beginning next month.

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