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'Tis the season for deer hunting in Smithtown

Deer hunting is illegal in the Village of Head of the Harbor and the Village of the Branch but not the Village of Nissequogue. File photo

December 07, 2012 | 11:43 AM
The day before Thanksgiving, as they were preparing for the holiday, Robert and Joanne Steinberg found an injured buck in their backyard on Short Beach Road in Nissequogue.

The deer had been shot by an arrow. The couple called the police, who said they could not discharge their weapons to kill the suffering animal, so they called the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC officers came and "they shot the poor animal and put it out of its misery," Robert Steinberg said. The officers removed the carcass from the property of the distressed residents.

This was not the first time this had happened.

Two years ago, also around Thanksgiving, an injured buck was running wildly through the yard and ran into the street, where people were jogging and walking.

"So it's a real danger to the community, not to mention the animal," Joanne Steinberg said.

Besides the hunting so close to home, the couple is upset that hunters then have to go onto private property to finish the job and retrieve the carcass. The DEC requires hunters to get the permission of the property owner before entering private property. But if the owner doesn't give that permission, either because they don't want hunting on their property or because they're not present to give it, then the issue is how to deal with the injured deer.

"The deer is left to a sad demise somewhere," Robert Steinberg said. "We had no idea hunting was legal in a residential area."

The couple lives near the David Weld Sanctuary and hunters on private property outside the sanctuary have shot deer exiting it, they said. But with an imprecise shot, the deer is often injured and wanders onto property in the residential neighborhood.

While hunters can legally hunt during bow hunting season in Suffolk County, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, and firearms hunting season, Jan. 7-31, with hunting permits from the DEC, the Steinbergs are unnerved by the activity so close to their and their neighbors' homes.

A matter of law
While the DEC regulates hunting in the state, municipalities can further limit or outlaw the activity within their borders.

The Town of Smithtown limits hunting to private property — as opposed to DEC-designated hunting grounds in public parks and forests — and it cannot occur within 500 feet of a home, school or other occupied building, park, playground, beach or other outdoor recreational area. This is stricter than DEC law, which limits hunting to certain areas and not within 500 feet of an occupied building, unless the property owner gives written permission, DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in a phone interview.

Hunters cannot discharge a weapon while on a road and no projectiles may cross or land on a road, but there is no distance provision for hunting near a road, "as different ammunition from different firearms travel different distances," Montalvo wrote in an email.

While the town limits hunting to private property, villages within the town can write their weapons discharge code to further limit or outlaw hunting.

Neither the Village of Head of the Harbor nor the Village of the Branch allows hunting within village boundaries.

So why does the Village of Nissequogue allow hunting within its borders? Nissequogue Mayor Richard Smith said the village code does not outlaw discharging a weapon like the other two villages so hunters must simply abide by DEC and town hunting regulations.

Smith said it's critical that hunters abide by DEC law, specifically keeping a safe distance from buildings and roads.

It's not uncommon in the village for a property owner to have a run-in with a hunter, he said. If they do, they call the village police.

"Our police are pretty well-versed with bow hunting" and work well with DEC officers, he said.

But Robert Steinberg doesn't believe hunting should be going on at all in his neighborhood.

"It just doesn't really work in a suburban area, whether it's permitted or not," he said. "I'm a suburban guy. I don't want to go into my backyard and see a deer dying."

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