Shots Fired in Morton National Wildlife Refuge?

Last week the office of Dan’s Papers was flooded with calls and e-mails from concerned residents who live near the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge outside Sag Harbor. The complaint was that they heard gunfire that seemed to be coming from the preserve, possibly from hunters. It was quite dramatic, with one woman even speculating that due to the recession, people were going to great lengths to get food and resorting to hunting.

That, my friends, is a crazy thought. Nobody is hunting in the woods with a rifle or shotgun because it is cheaper than buying food in the grocery store. The cost of gasoline to get to the hunting site, the cost of a shotgun shell or rifle bullet and the cost of getting a hunting license far outweigh the cost of buying food in a grocery store. So no, nobody is out there hunting due to the recession. They are out there hunting because it is one of the greatest American pastimes. [expand]

According to, the Morton refuge preserves a 1.5 mile-long peninsula that separates Little Peconic and Noyac Bays. The refuge is arguably the most picturesque of the Long Island refuges. It’s deer hunting season folks, and if you live on the East End of Long Island, you may be hearing a few gunshots or two. While it is very much illegal to hunt on the Morton Wildlife Refuge, if you own private property near the refuge and are a hunter, hunting on it is completely legal during hunting season, and shotgun season for deer is during the month of January. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 85% of the state of New York is privately-owned and over 90% of all hunters will hunt on private lands during the hunting seasons. Big game hunting is still available on Long Island with an abundant population of white-tailed deer in much of eastern Suffolk County. Public hunting is a needed management tool as serious depredation problems occur annually in agricultural fields, nurseries, and to many gardens and ornamental plants. Some areas also have problems with car-deer collisions. I don’t think there is a single person in the Hamptons who hasn’t had to deal with dodging a deer while driving.

We are currently in the shotgun hunting season for deer. The shotgun season is closely regulated with special town permits and written landowner permission required of each hunter, in addition to his or her big game license. Many state parks offer waterfowl, small game and big game hunting. This includes Montauk Point as well as Hither Hills State Park, which allows archery.

The January firearms deer-hunting season begins on the Monday following the first Saturday in January and continues through the last weekday of the month. The season is restricted to weekdays only.

With all of that being said, it is also quite possible that the gunshots that were heard had to do with people shooting targets, and NOT hunting. In New York State, the laws are very clear when it comes to firearm ownership, although not a lot of people know them. It is very much illegal to own a handgun without a proper license, but in New York, it is perfectly legal to own a shotgun or rifle without a permit. According to, there is no state license requirement for the possession of a rifle or shotgun, so long as the rifle has barrel(s) at least 16 inches in length and the shotgun has barrel(s) at least 18 inches in length. It is unlawful to discharge a firearm so that the load passes over any part of a public highway. It is a crime to possess any rifle, shotgun or handgun in or upon a building or grounds, used for educational purposes, that’s any school, college or university. It is lawful, however, to possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun in or upon the forestry lands, wherever located, owned and maintained by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, without the written authorization of such educational institution. It is unlawful to discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, farm building or farm structure actually occupied or used, school building, school playground, or occupied factory or church. It is unlawful to willfully discharge any firearm either in a public place, or in any place where there is any person to be endangered thereby.

These laws are in effect for obvious reasons. But one thing that they do not forbid is to shoot at targets so long as you are 500 feet away from any building. This is also true for firing over water, but it is illegal to use lead shells, steel must be used. That’s why every once in a while, you might be in certain parts of Springs in East Hampton and see a pick-up truck with a few guys shooting at targets over the bay. It’s legal.

Happy hunting with what’s left of the season to you hunters out there.

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