Nature Notes: Led to Miss

I missed nine times out of 10
“What are the deer thinking about?” the Star’s “Nature Notes” columnist often wonders. Durell Godfrey

Get out of the woods — or get out your shotguns and muzzleloaders, the Long Island hunting season for deer begins on Jan. 6. Hunting deer legally in Suffolk County in January is a special exception to the rule. In upstate New York and in almost every other American state, the deer-hunting season starts after summer and stops at some point in December.

The reason for the exception for Suffolk County has more to do with politics than with wildlife management. While at Cornell University in upstate New York in the 1950s I majored in wildlife management. At that time upstate New York had about the same deer-hunting season every fall as it has now, while there was no deer-hunting season for Long Island.

For several years now a new twist has been in effect in New York State, including Long Island, and many other states. There is an antlerless season, during which hunters licensed to either shoot deer or take one by bow and arrow, can take a doe or young-of-the-year buck. Trophy hunters would turn up their nose at such a development, but across the United States antlerless deer seasons have been put into place to reduce the number of females, the sex that bares the fawns that expand the deer population year after year, at least, so it seems. 

If applied to female humans, it would be one way of putting the brakes on world population growth, which now stands at well over seven billion. Personally, I hope we never come to employing such a tactic. And in fact, the latest well-publicized figures show that the human birth rate is now decreasing and the population is beginning to drop slightly. Except during wartimes, many more females than males are murdered, so, in effect, there is a grim season on females, if not a formal hunting season.

Remember the pictures that surfaced in 2016 of Donald Trump’s sons with a very large leopard in Africa? And then there was the American hunter who shot a very large male lion, Cecil, who was a favorite of that village in Africa. Yes, there are still trophy hunters out there, lots of them. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has a special web page in color showing the various hunting zones throughout the state and their open dates, not only for deer but for bear, bobcats, cottontails, squirrels, pheasants, turkeys, ruffed grouse, crows, and a few other species. The bobwhite season is from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, but on Long Island it’s from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. It has been my experience during the new millennium that there are very few bobwhites left on Long Island. That’s why so many community organizations and local government groups are raising them to release here. Fortunately, there is no open season for shooting ruffed grouse on Long Island; that’s because there are fewer of them here than bobwhite quail.

When I was a boy growing up on the North Fork, I became a hunter. AsI aged I hunted in stages, BB gun to pellet gun to shotgun. I still have three of the five shotguns that I had at one time, but I haven’t fired one of them since the early 1960s. I wasn’t a very good hunter, 

I missed nine times out of 10. Now I would be happy if we humans found other ways to satisfy our curiosity and our adventuresome spirits. When I think back on those youthful hunting days, I wonder: Was I just a bad shot, or was I being led to miss by some esoteric force (God?) that wanted me to stop killing living things for the sport of it. I will probably never learn the answer to that one.

I have a friend, Russell Stein, who spends time between Florida and Montauk. He once told me that he often thinks about the deer in Hither Woods that stand near the Long Island Rail Road tracks and watch as the train passes by. He further surmises that the deer may have a religion, that in their minds, the train is some kind of higher force that lets out a long “woo, woo” from time to time but, in passing, doesn’t try to harm them.

Larry Penny can be reached via email at