John Follini is a 58-year-old contractor from East Patchogue, L.I. He’s spent his life building barns, mending roofs and fences, installing light fixtures—doing the general upkeep required in sprawling homes along Long Island’s North Fork, in towns such as Bellport, Mastic-Shirley and Brookhaven. His forearms are invariably sheathed in a moist film of dirt; he has a gray mustache, a great muscular back. Like most accomplished Long Island contractors, he is a crack shot with a bow and arrow.
His father, who was also in the construction business, taught him to hunt when he was five. Grandpa Follini got in the way of a shotgun while serving as a guide on a bird hunt in East Hampton; he showed young John the pellets in his knuckles.
As a boy, he loved nothing more than to grab his shotgun and head out into the open fields in search of birds and rabbits. You could walk all day and not see a soul, let alone a gorgeous 12-point buck, like the one he put down last year. Back then, Long Island was barren farmland dotted with the occasional shrub or cluster of trees; hardly the ideal place for deer. Fifty years of development and all the leafy foliage that comes with it, combined with strict hunting laws—no more shotgun hunting, save for three weeks out of the year in specific places—has transformed Long Island into a deer’s paradise. The Department of Environmental Conservation has estimated a deer population of 20,000. “According to the DEC, there is supposed to be five deer per square mile,” said Mr. Follini. “But because of the lay of the land, the deer exist in pockets, where the concentration is closer to a hundred deer per square mile.”
When a group of deer find a respectable estate, they milk it for all its worth.
Mr. Follini adapted with the times. He began bow hunting in his late 20s. He’s since killed more than 200 deer. Mostly in the North Fork, occasionally in the Hamptons. With deer so plentiful, of course, one could argue that shooting them is akin to exterminating rodents, with a similar lack of challenge or sportsmanship. But for Mr. Follini, the thrill of a kill hasn’t diminished.
“Every successful bow shot is the greatest bow shot of your life at that single moment. Because it takes so much work, so much effort, and so many missed opportunities to get that one good shot,” he said.
Deer-hunting season begins October 1 and lasts through December. Bow hunters all over Long Island—there are many thousands of them—are already gearing up, looking for patterns, combing the woods to find a good tree for a tree stand between a bedding ground and a feeding area. Given the limited amount of public land where bow hunters can hunt, those who don’t have connections with grounds keepers and caretakers in estate country try to set up their tree stands in residential neighborhoods wherever they can get permission. Bow hunters will pay homeowners with at least 3 acres $5,000 a season for permission to set up a stand.
Mr. Follini has been doing target practice with his Mathews Switchback compound bow several times a week on a box propped up in the middle of field near Mastic Beach. On a recent afternoon, Mr. Follini invited me to join him and his bow hunting pal John Scaramucci.
Mr. Scaramucci has a water treatment company in western Nassau. He uses a traditional long bow, which are supposed to be quieter, and wore a holster style quiver attached to his belt. Mr. Follini thinks the old long bows are ridiculous.
As they fired away, landing one bull’s eye after the next, I inquired if shooting a deer was any different than shooting a cow!
“You talk to most deer hunters and the amount of time that you have to put in—in the woods—to actually see a deer,” Mr. Follini said. “I mean there are the does, the female deer, that are not as hard to shoot because they’re not as wary, but a nice buck”—under tinted frames, his eyes opened wide—“let me tell you, if you even get one really nice one in a season, you’re extremely lucky.”
Bucks are very smart animals. Their noses are 15,000 times as sensitive as a human’s, they’re fast and athletic, and the range on a bow is only 20 and 40 yards. “People see deer in the setting when they’re almost tame, because they’re around people and houses—in the woods, it’s a different story,” said Mr. Follini. “They can tell if you’ve walked through their area, they can tell two days later—they pick up your sent and actually know that somebody came through their area where they feel safe in the woods. Then they get weary; they might move, or all of a sudden they’re on the lookout all the time. You find a spot and put a little stand in the tree and you sit there for three hours at a time.”