The Mast-Head: The Deer Explosion

Deer have no natural predators here, unless you count the cars that take out at least one every night

There were no deer fences in sight on the farmland in Northern Delaware, where I was visiting one of the kids at school last weekend. I noticed this as I drove along back roads near Middletown and miles of corn and soybeans. There were no ticks, either, according to several people I talked with.

Linking ticks to deer is heresy among some people here. Similarly, just pointing out that the thick and healthy woodland understory of past decades is now gone, and that deer are probably responsible, can been taken as fighting words. 

At the Middletown Wal-Mart early Saturday morning, where I had gone for a phone charger, I noticed tree stands and big bags of bait corn piled in an aisle. Three men in camouflage loaded a stand into a shopping cart. At the checkout, a couple placed two bags of corn onto the conveyor belt and then got into a conversation with the sales associate about how hunting was going.

Friends who have lived in less, shall we say, suburban parts of the world are often amused by the anti-hunting fervor that answers any public discussion about culling East Hampton’s deer. Up north, they say, there’s no question about what to do. 

Deer have no natural predators here, unless you count the cars that take out at least one every night. We have become used to the morning carnage. I notice that my children no longer seem to notice when we pass a fresh carcass at the side of the road, they, like the adults, have become numb to what once was a disturbing sight. Down in Delaware, you rarely see road kill.

People can argue about the deer population, but there is no question that there are a hell of a lot more of them in East Hampton than when I was younger. Back in the 1970s and ’80s we could go weeks without seeing one; now I might count more than a dozen on an evening ride home between East Hampton and Amagansett.

Time was that North Haven was the only place on the South Fork experiencing a deer explosion. Those who have lived here long enough might remember that village’s vigorous debates about whether to allow the use of a pesticide application station. East Hamptoners went convulsive over a recent village sterilization experiment. Neither worked to reduce the herds to a noticeable degree.

A number of the candidates running for town office this season have been brave enough to say that hunting has to be part of the deer-management program for East Hampton Town. They are correct. It is simply inhumane to continue to allow cars to be just about the deer’s only limiting factor.