Outta The Woods
By Tony Young
There’s some special deer and wild hog hunts in Northwest Florida that have been taking place at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) since 1978 and a unique hunt that occurs on the island of St. Vincent NWR since 1987.
You used to have to go through the landowner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), to apply for and obtain a permit for one of these great hunts. This year, however, the application and issuance process will go through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Total Licensing System.
There are two archery hunts, two general gun hunts and one mobility-impaired gun hunt on the St. Marks NWR, which covers 60,000 acres in Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties. The five-day archery hunts for white-tailed deer and wild hogs take place Oct. 27-31 in the Panacea Unit and Nov. 3-7 in the Wakulla Unit. There are 120 permits available for each hunt, and if you draw one, it’ll cost you only $15.
The two general gun hunts are both three days long and also take place on the area’s two units – Wakulla (Dec. 12-14) and Panacea (Dec. 18-20). There are 150 permits available for the Wakulla Unit hunt and 75 available for the Panacea Unit, but each costs just $15 should you get drawn.
The mobility-impaired gun hunt is only for those hunters that have been certified by the FWC as mobility-impaired. This three-day hunt takes place on the Panacea Unit on Dec. 12-14, and 15 permits are available – again, costing just $15 if you get drawn.
By the way, I should point out that camping is not allowed on the St. Marks NWR.
For hunters looking to rough it a bit more and go after some truly “big game,” the 12,490-acre undeveloped barrier island of St. Vincent NWR in Franklin County is where the hunt’s on for the enormous, imported sambar deer. These reddish-brown deer, which are actually in the elk family, are native to Southeast Asia and were introduced on the island in 1908. They can measure 6 feet tall at the shoulder and offer hunters the chance of bagging arguably the state’s biggest game animal. The largest of these deer was killed in 1991 and weighed 742 pounds!
You also can harvest wild hogs on this hunt, but only primitive weapons can be used – bows and muzzleloaders. Archery hunters can’t use crossbows unless they possess a Disabled Crossbow Permit.
The primitive weapon sambar deer/wild hog hunt takes place Dec. 3-5, and there are 175 permits available, costing $25 if you get drawn. But hunters who drew this hunt last year aren’t eligible to apply this year.
Last year, hunters killed seven sambar stags, two hinds (females) and four wild hogs during this hunt. The bag limit on sambars is two (male or female), and there is no limit on the number of hogs you can kill.
You can get to St. Vincent Island only by boat, and if you don’t bring your own, you can make a deal with one of the local charter captains to take you to the island and pick you back up after the hunt. For a list of boat captains that offer this service, you can contact the local chamber of commerce.
The island has no electricity, so it’s all about primitive camping for three days. You’re allowed to have a small campfire, but only using wood you bring with you or dead wood you find on the ground.
And let me recommend you bring a bicycle, unless you plan on walking everywhere. If you do harvest any game though, USFWS staff will come pick you and your animal up in one of their trucks. That’s the only way you’re catchin’ a ride in a motorized vehicle, unless you’re a disabled hunter. Those hunters receive special accommodations and transportation to and from their hunting spots.
These big sambar deer aren’t like whitetails – they feed on aquatic vegetation, so you’re not likely to find them in drier, upland habitat. It’s best to set up on them in marshes, and the shooting hours for this hunt, by the way, end at 3 p.m. each day.
I should point out that all of these above-mentioned hunt permits are nontransferable, but you don’t even need a management area permit to apply for ‘em. And permit holders under age 16 must have an adult accompany them on all of these hunts, but that person cannot hunt. On the contrary, mobility-impaired hunters are allowed to bring one guest, and they are allowed to hunt. But in that case, both hunters must share a single person’s bag limit.
If you’d like to put in for one or more of these great hunts, get ahold of the appropriate 2009-2010 NWR worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking under “Limited Entry Hunts.”
All you have to do to complete the worksheets is list your birth date and driver’s license number or your customer ID number, which is right above your name on your hunting license. Then, include your name and your mailing address.
Where it says “Hunt Choice,” enter the four-digit hunt number for the hunt date you wish to apply for. You can submit your completed applications at www.wildlifelicense.com/fl, county tax collectors’ offices or retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies through midnight July 30.
These permits are issued by a random drawing that takes place in early August. You may apply only once for each hunt, and there are no exceptions to having to pay the $5 application fee. If you submit your application at a license agent or tax collector’s office, be sure to get your worksheet back from the clerk, along with your receipt, before you leave.
You can check the results of the drawing online at MyFWC.com/Hunting by clicking under “Limited Entry Hunts” and looking for the link, “Check Permit Availability and Drawing Results.” Should you get drawn, you have until the last day of the hunt to pick up your permit and pay for it at any license agent or tax collector’s office. You may not pay over the phone, mail or Internet.
So whether you prefer to hunt native whitetails or wild hogs, or if you’ve got your sights set on one of those 600-pound sambar deer, these special NWR hunts may be just what the doctor ordered.
Here’s wishing you luck in getting drawn for the hunt of a lifetime. Remember to introduce someone new to hunting when you can. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!
Media Relations Coordinator
Division of Hunting and Game Management
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission