Dan Rattiner's Stories

Federal Sharpshooters Fail: Deer Celebrate Cull’s Limited Success

Last February, federal sharpshooters came to eastern Long Island to kill 3,000 deer. The whole herd here is thought to be about 15,000, and there are problems. The deer eat up vegetation and landscaping, they run into automobiles and cause accidents and they carry ticks, which cause Lyme disease in humans.

There had been a lot of opinions about whether the sharpshooters should be brought in. Some people opposed the sharpshooters, saying they love the deer and want to shelter them, feed them and hug them. Others didn’t feel one way or another, but considered it nature’s way and nature should be let to take its course. Still others regretted the damaged vegetation, disease and accidents and wanted the deer killed, whether by poison, buckshot, bullets, landmines or bow and arrow.

After it was decided the sharpshooters should come, they arrived here with their guns and trucks in high spirits, set bait to attract deer and remained until April, and it has now been revealed that they succeeded in killing only 192 deer instead of the expected 3,000.

All I can say is I saw this was going to happen. While they were here, I often encountered them at bars in local taverns, their guns leaning against the building outside, wallowing in their misery over drinks. The deer were too smart. They’d fire and miss. The deer would get away.

Later, at the emergency room at the hospital—I was there with a friend who had a splinter in his finger—paramedics wheeled in a sharpshooter who had been badly mauled by a deer in Wainscott. His leg was in a tourniquet, his gun was across his ample stomach, and he was muttering to himself.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, soon after, while we were still there waiting, another sharpshooter came in with his arm in a sling, telling the nurse in triage that his injuries had come from the antlers of an outraged buck.

Occasionally, I’d see—we’ve all seen—filthy sharpshooters standing by the side of the roads, their shoulders slumped forward, weapons pointed at the ground, and their thumbs out, looking for a ride back to somewhere up-island.

Shooting deer is not what it used to be, apparently. One sharpshooter, who I came across while walking my dog along the beach in Quogue, was in tattered clothes, his weapon nowhere to be seen, and limping along with only one shoe on. When my little dog approached, wagging his tail, he burst into tears and ran off.

And finally, when I was sitting in a waiting room, 10 minutes early to see my psychiatrist in Southampton, I overheard a patient inside—the doors are very thin—bitterly describing how a tawny young doe with flashing blue eyes and black eyelashes lured him into a box canyon, where he was pounced upon by at least a dozen male deer, who beat him unmercifully, took his ammo case and gun and stomped them into dust while he watched, tied up, unable to move.

The failure of the sharpshooters was the subject of an article in Newsday on August 27. The Feds had released a report that said there had been human disturbances at baiting sites, bad weather, legal challenges, people walking through shooting sites and so forth and so on.

“It wasn’t as successful as we hoped,” Joe Gergela of the Long Island Farm Bureau told Newsday, which reported the Bureau had gotten a $250,000 state grant to conduct the cull.

The head of a group called Hunters for Deer, Michael Tessitore of East Quogue, said “it goes to show you, hunters are more effective and less costly than the federal sharpshooter program.” Noting the reasons given in the report, he declared it a “poor excuse.”

Some of the money paid to the Farm Bureau by Southold Town will reportedly be returned.

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