Whether you think of them as Bambi or as car-wrecking, shrub-eating nuisances, the fact is there are too many deer on the East End of Long Island. And from October 1 through January 31, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation declares hunting season. (The rules for Suffolk County allow bowhunting for the entire season; shotguns are allowed in January but only with a special permit and on weekdays.)
Ethical hunters, as DEC officer, hunter and Greenport resident Tom Gadomski puts it, however, do not kill deer for sport. In fact they do not use the term “kill”; they prefer “harvest” because whatever deer they take they make sure does not go to waste.
The town of Southold recognized this dilemma, says Jeff Standish, the deputy director of the department of public works, and last year rented a refrigerated truck and put it behind the community center on Peconic Lane. The idea was to have a place where hunters could drop off harvested deer they could not use themselves. The deer, under the auspices of the New York–based Venison Donation Coalition, are then transported to a butcher who breaks down the animals and donates the meat to soup kitchens. The coalition has been active since 1999 and has processed nearly 340 tons of venison since that time.
In the case of Southold, last year the town collected 162 deer. Over the winter, Standish says the town bought a used refrigerated box, overhauled it, and now have a permanent drop-off site. Most of the harvested deer go to Fish and Wildlife Unlimited Taxidermy in Oakdale for butchering, but residents, who can fill out a form, take some of it. Standish says one woman, who has a dog with food allergies that can only eat venison, paid to have one butchered to use for dog food.
The drop-off also accepts roadkill, and Gadomski has donated deer illegally taken by hunters without the DEC-approved tags that indicate a valid hunting license.
Normally, says Gadomski, he would harvest maybe three deer per year, one for himself and others for friends, which he butchers himself. But now that he knows the meat will go to good use, he will harvest up to seven per year. Some of the take are big does or bucks, but Gadomski says he is seeing an increasing number
of smaller deer. “They’re not eating as well.”