Animal Defenders of Westchester

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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


On the hunt for open space

[email protected]
(Original publication: November 27, 2005)

Tim Spaun has no trouble starting a conversation with strangers. He once went to a house looking to buy a Saab, and by the time the keys were in his pocket, Spaun had a new car and permission to hunt with a bow and arrow on a prime piece of Westchester property.

With only two public hunting spots in Westchester and none in Rockland, Spaun's ability to connect puts him at a distinct advantage. It's that hard to secure a local spot on private land. Hunters sometimes don't tell their closest friends where they have rights, and landowners who grant permission often stipulate that the pact remain secret.

"A lot of people don't want you coming with an entourage," said Spaun, who lives in Yonkers.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which governs hunting in the state, recommends that hunters approach landowners for permission to hunt on their property.

"It is a popular sport in our region and something with a lot of history," DEC Region 3 spokesperson Wendy Rosenbach said. "It's also a way to control the wildlife population."

Farther upstate, where many large tracts are held by farmers who are familiar with hunting, it might make sense to knock on doors for permission. In the Lower Hudson Valley, however, it can make for an awkward conversation. In Westchester only bowhunting is allowed, but landowners might be startled by the request, and some find killing offensive or are worried about safety.

Diana Barrella, who lives on an 8-acre parcel in Irvington on which she grew up, recognizes the concerns her neighbors have about deer, but said the area is still too densely populated for hunting.

"It's just a matter of time until someone is going to get hurt," Barrella said.

Although Barrella posts "No hunting" signs on her property, she has found hunters trespassing several times. In New York state, if no such sign is posted on a property, hunters are allowed to use it. And even if they ignore signs, Barrella said it is often difficult to get hunters censured for misuse of their hunting licenses.

Once a hunter passes a safety course, he or she has the right to purchase a license, and local regulations or rules changes are often difficult to disseminate. Many hunters, though, go only where they have permission.

There are some unwritten rules for convincing a landowner to allow you to use his or her property. For example, don't show up at 5 a.m. on the first day of hunting season. Hunters often try to cultivate a relationship and offer something in return. Spaun, for example, said he has built fences, installed ceiling fans and even posted signs on a landowner's property to show appreciation for the right to hunt.

"Don't show up in (camouflage) with a weapon," Anthony Picariello of Garnerville said. "You want to leave a good impression."

One woman, who asked not to be named, has secretly allowed hunters to use her property during the week although her husband finds the practice distasteful. She did it after seeing weakened and sick deer on her land; she hides the frozen venison steaks in the back of the freezer.

Mike Sosser, a hunting-safety instructor from Pomona, isn't the kind of person to ask strangers for a favor. But he struck up a conversation with a man who came into his auto shop to have his car inspected, and after talking, the man offered Sosser rights to hunt his land.

"It's like hitting the lottery," Sosser said.

There are two spots in northern Westchester where bowhunting is allowed on county property, and both are near bodies of water. There are 180 acres near the Kensico Reservoir in Valhalla and another 210 acres near the Croton Reservoir in Yorktown. Both of the parcels were opened last year; they are the only public options in Rockland or Westchester county.

Other communities have specific regulations that limit the activity, including Greenburgh and Yonkers, and several groups are working to end the practice altogether. Kiley Blackman, a Yonkers resident whose group Animal Defenders of Westchester actively lobbied for the Yonkers restrictions, said sport hunting is not an answer to the deer, which many people see as a problem.

"My bottom line is we're against hunting, period," she said.

Anne Muller, a spokesperson for Wildlife Watch, once found a hunter in a treestand in her suburban neighborhood when she lived in Rockland a decade ago. At another point, she found a hunter tracking an injured deer across her land.

"You have armed people going onto property with all kinds of excuses, and I think it's very dangerous," Muller said. "They don't want armed men with firearms coming to their home to ask if they can discharge those firearms."

The sides are polarized, but there are attempts to find common ground. There was recently an open panel and discussion about deer at Pace University that attracted both hunters and those who advocate non-lethal solutions.

"There is a lot of crossover," Rosenbach said. "A lot of environmentalists also hunt."

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