Outta the woods: Northwest Florida deer in rut
Thus far, this deer season has been pretty good to me as far as quantity goes. I shot two does during doe week, and I got my season limit on fall gobblers, but I have yet to even see horns, much less harvest a buck. But I still have plenty of room left in my freezer, and I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. After all, there are still lots of hunting days left in my neck of the woods, and my game camera’s still taking pictures of some pretty good bucks.
So if you’re like me or if you live in the central or southern part of the state and you don’t mind hunting with a primitive weapon, then point your pickup truck north, because the Northwest Hunting Zone’s deer season is still goin’ strong on private lands and on a lot of the wildlife management areas (WMAs).
The second phase, if you will, of muzzleloading gun season runs Feb. 18-28 in this part of the Panhandle. This unique late season, which occurs only in the Northwest Zone, was established to allow hunters the chance to hunt the rut that runs from late January through February in this part of the state.
A $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit is required to hunt during this season, where, on private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow.
On WMAs, this post-season’s referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Disabled Crossbow Permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 Archery Permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit.
The most common game to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and one antler must be at least five inches in length. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits and antler size for deer on WMAs can differ, so please consult the area brochure before you hunt.
Wild hogs aren’t considered game animals on private lands, and because of this, they can be taken year-round by most weapons with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the area’s brochure to make sure.
No dogs may be used in the pursuit of deer during this season, but leashed dogs can, however, be used to track a wounded deer if necessary. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.
Bows and crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
During this season, you may use only muzzleloaders that take black powder or a non-nitro-cellulose substitute and are fired by wheel lock, flintlock or percussion cap ignition (including 209 primers). You may not use muzzleloaders that require smokeless powder or those with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities. For hunting deer, muzzleloaders that fire single bullets must be at least .40-caliber, and those firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger.
And you’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it’s illegal to use bait on WMAs.
Thirteen of the WMAs in the Northwest Hunting Zone have the late archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 Management Area Permit as well as your hunting license. And these nine don’t require a quota permit during this period: Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell, Upper Chipola River and Yellow River WMAs.
You can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any tax collector’s office, retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at www.wildlifelicense.com/fl.
So if you’re like me and not quite ready to give up on deer hunting, have no fear ’cause February’s here! Grab your favorite primitive weapon and head over to the Northwest Hunting Zone where the rut’s goin’ on hot and heavy.